A humble facade conceals Banana Leaf’s elegant interior; classic white tablecloths and crisply folded napkins in a space punctuated with exotic touches. Three banana leaf murals draw the eye into the heart of the restaurant. The building’s exposed brick is juxtaposed with textured straw wallpaper. Soft mood lighting and over-sized glass candle jars on the tables lend Banana Leaf a romantic atmosphere.
I breathe in the aroma of gently frying spices, and think that I detect the earth and pepper notes of sizzling curry leaves.
Banana Leaf has moved from its large Civic restaurant to a more intimate abode in the suburb of Kingston. The relocation has provided a fresh start and, under the guidance of owner and chef Dayan, the restaurant is returning to its culinary roots.
Banana Leaf’s new focus is to immerse their guests in a uniquely Sri Lankan food experience.
“We are the only Sri Lankan offering in the area, so we stick with what we do best. Most of our clientele, about 90 per cent, have been to Sri Lanka and loved it,” restaurant manager Sharon says.
Not all Sri Lankan food is spicy hot, I discover, as Sharon chats to me about another change Banana Leaf has brought in.
“We have a lot of people coming in who can’t eat spicy dishes or they are allergic to onion and garlic; allergic to a lot of things. We cater to that.
“We cater to many dietary requirements. We cater to vegetarian and vegan. Even our soy sauce is gluten-free.”
One mild offering that is popular with those with restricted diets is the barramundi fillet, a subtly spiced dish. Dusted with Sri Lankan spices and then grilled, the barramundi rests on a bed of mashed sweet potato.
Manil, the Head Chef has a seasoned background in traditional Sri Lankan cuisine; he joined Banana Leaf after 25 years of operating and cooking for a restaurant in Sri Lanka.
Curry leaf is one of the ingredients that defines a Sri Lankan curry powder, he tells me, before declaring that his chicken curry is created from more than 16 ingredients.
“The trick is to cook the curry gently for hours, so you don’t burn the spices.”
Manil tells me about some of the old favourites that regulars consistently order; Lampraise, the pork black smore and lamb shanks.
“Lampraise is savoury rice, chicken curry, a fish fricadelle, and eggplant curry wrapped in a banana leaf”. This Dutch-inspired dish comes with a mild curry sauce, chilli paste and sweet chutney.
Pork black smore is a clay pot-cooked pork casserole, simmered in a special mix of black spices.
The lamb shanks have had a Sri Lankan makeover. Infused with Sri Lankan spices, they are served with milk rice and mung dhal.
I ask Sharon what an initiate to Sri Lankan cuisine should try for their first meal at Banana Leaf and she doesn’t even have to think.
“Chicken pan roll as an entrée,” she says. It is a mild dish with diced chicken and potato, cooked in flavoursome Sri Lankan curry and wrapped in a crepe.
For mains, Sharon suggests balancing a rich meat dish with a lighter vegetarian meal. She recommends ordering a Lampraise with a vegetarian order of string hoppers, which are hand-made rice noodles.
This week, Banana Leaf are launching their own home delivery service. Initially, they will deliver to five local suburbs: Kingston, Kingston Foreshore, Narrabundah, Griffith and Manuka.
The takeaway menu is double-sided. One side features single-box complete meals that come with rice in the container.
The other side is for groups that want to share dishes. Sides like rice and string hoppers come in their own containers.
Delivery is free for orders over $75.
Banana Leaf is located at 17 Kennedy Street in Kingston. It is open for dinner from 6 pm every day except Sunday and for lunch at noon Wednesday to Saturday.
Call 02 61012713 to place a reservation.