Monday, 2 February 2009

09. Lihiniya

66 Cricklewood Broadway
020 8208 2658

Gourmand writes: With no staff in sight, we edged towards the back of the restaurant. Surely somebody worked at Lihiniya? Eventually, a confused-looking woman emerged from the kitchen.

"Can I help you?" she asked.
"We'd like to order food, please."
"Khana Indian restaurant is next door."

It's never a good sign when a restaurateur assumes you've gone to the wrong place.

"No, we don't want Indian food. We want Sri Lankan food."
"Not now. We're about to go out"

It was 7pm on a Saturday. There was a pause.

"What food do you want?"
"Hoppers, string hoppers," I replied.
"OK, no problem," she said, gesturing towards a table.

I hope I'm not making our host sound unpleasant. She was polite and sweet, but it still felt like we'd unwittingly stumbled into her private residence. Unopened envelopes and crumpled napkins sat on the tables and at the back of the restaurant there were a couple of chairs, a computer and a load of videos. This was their living room.

Twenty minutes later a large tray of food arrived. String hoppers (rice noodle pancakes), egg hoppers (bowl-shaped rice flour pancakes cooked with an egg), coconut and seeni (sweet onion) sambols, and lamb and chicken curries. The meat wasn't fantastic, but for £5 each it was a bargain.

"I thought you had the wrong restaurant," our hostess chuckled as we settled the meagre bill.
"No, we like Sri Lankan food," I replied, hoping Gormless wouldn't reveal we had to visit Lihiniya as it was the next restaurant on the street.

Oh, Lihiniya. Insecure, confused Lihiniya. Here's some advice from the Gullets lads. Design a menu. Put up a new sign or two. Don't be so scared of customers. Have some self-belief. Look deep inside yourself and you'll find an real-life restaurant just bursting to get out. You can do it. We know you can.

Gormless writes: I'm sorry to demystify the Gullets process, but this was not our first visit to Lihiniya. We called into the restaurant a couple of weeks ago to see when the advertised Hopper Night took place. In the course of our conversation it became apparent that Lihiniya staged a nightly paradox: every evening is Hopper Night, yet Hopper Night never occurs. There are never any customers to make it happen. On Saturday night we turned years of on-standby hopper readiness into a real, existing meal situation.

I have been to a Hopper Night once before. It was a high concept mishmash of Easy Rider (starring Dennis Hopper), space hoppers and pogo sticks. This one was all about the pancake or noodle-style bases we were invited to combine with curry and other dishes into a layered meal. I enjoyed ripping fragments from my egg hopper and pinching chicken bits with them.

We sat on the lower of two levels. The eating area was dressed to host a Christmas wedding. The higher level featured a neglected beach bar. The whole place is like an installation designed to illustrate themes of abandonment, neglect, potential… that sort of thing. Yet, we roused this dormant operation and it delivered. Fine Sri Lankan music filtered through the PA, the bewildered staff turned chatty and the food was very good and very cheap. Truly, this is the kind of eventual eating the Gullets team thrives upon.

Overall score: 13.5/20
The Sri Lankans enter joint third place with Mango Grills


  1. Sri Lanka. Home to a lot of strange food.

    But I do love string hoppers - with egg curry for breakfast. MMMmmm!

  2. That's quite tragic- the poor hostess! I'm not that suprised though. While Sri Lanka does have some superb food the general feeling there is one of 'eat to live' so it hasn't really taken off as a cuisine yet. I'm glad you liked the string hoppers. They're my favourites and really quite tricky to make. If you go again and there's any kiribath on the menu try some of that.

  3. I ate lots of wonderful Sri Lankan food in Sri Lanka and Dubai, and I'm sure there's lots to be found in London. They can cook at Lihiniya, and it's very cheap, but they seem to have no idea of how to run a restaurant. I don't think they have a menu as such. Would love to eat lumpries followed by watalappan, but doubt they're available.

  4. By the way, Gullets is on a temporary hiatus. Gormless, do you care to explain why?

  5. He iz wiv us now. Harsh times make u realise who rly cares about u.

  6. Haha that is quality. How do they make any money? I may pop in there an surprise them too

  7. Gullets returning in March, for deffo.

  8. I'm just waiting for my Giro to clear.

  9. I love going to Lihiniya. You're right, feels a little like customers come as a surprise. I am hosting a charity fundraiser there on Sunday 29th March, it has been a pleasure to go to the restaurant every once in a while and plan the event. They have offered me food every time I've popped in, like visiting the family. I like the owners very much and the food is great. I have hosted a fundraiser there once before and it worked really well- I think events are how they make their money. There often seem to be meetings and committee get-togethers there.

  10. When you say 'charity´, Charlotte, are you talking about Lihiniya?