Having never been to Sri Lanka (but people I know who have been have loved it – lovely people, beautiful scenery and great food it seems), I was very curious as to the opening on Mill Lane (not my favourite spot in town I have to say) of the Coconut Tree – a small chain with branches in Bristol, Oxford, Cheltenham and now Cardiff specialising in the street food available in Sri Lanka.
Open until late (serving food until 22.00 or 23.00 depending on the day) it was deemed (by me) to be the best option (after a rather good South African wine tasting event at Fly By Night).
I am a bit pathetic when it comes to too much chilli heat (I like spice, but also want to taste what I am eating rather than have my tastebuds nuked by something incendiarily hot) and Sri Lankan food has a reputation for being a tad on the warm side. As a result I went with a little trepidation, whereas J (a chilli fiend) was positively salivating at thought of chilli burn to the max.
Three of us (me, J and friend), fortified by some rather nice Saffer wine,
ambled down from the top of the High Street to Mill Lane to check the place out.
Located in the unit where the Juboraj use to reside, it is a big old space split into multiple rooms. Nice decor, with a mix of (dolls house) chairs, benches and stools (arse numbingly hard even with the cushions and my already well cushioned derriere).
I thought it quite nice with an ability to hear each other talk being a welcome bonus, although the seating is not the most comfortable.
Service was very good, with front of house more than happy to explain/recommend dishes and knowing their way around the fulsome menu.
The menu itself looked a nice mix of meat fish and plenty of stuff for veggies and vegans
and it is good to see indications of Sri Lankan spiciness on the menu (so the unwary don’t get caught out).
With the post title, we had to start off with something nutty and the cashew nuts with peas in coconut milk (£6) seemed to fit the bill nicely.
Quite possible my favourite dish of the night, this had some nice spicing (with an element of chilli heat and lots of turmeric) which was tempered by coconut milk. The nuts and coconut milk gave the dish a lovely creaminess.
Very moreish stuff, with the sweetness of the peas and coconut working well with the nuttiness of the cashews and the moderately hot spicing. The lack of meat didn’t bother me at all.
Keeping to the initial veggie theme (I know odd for “carnivore” me) we then tried the pineapple curry ( £4.50 – which came with a warning of Sri Lankan levels of spiciness).
I am generally not overly keen on fruit in/as savoury stuff (with a pineapple and ham pizza being an abomination and absolute proof that the Devil exists to my mind), but there are exceptions such as pork with apples or prunes, tagines and boboties.
Whilst looking very much like a dessert dish (pretty sure it was tinned pineapple, but could be mistaken), it fell firmly in the 👍camp with the sweetness of the pineapple and coconut milk acting as a rather lovely counterpoint to the (fine for me) chilli heat and spice (turmeric, clove and cardamom to name but a few).
My only qualms was (with it being just pineapple and spices) it became a bit the samey, unless you used it as an adjunct to other dishes (in reality that is sort of the idea with small plates I suppose). To me it was more a side dish to a meat dish than a centre piece dish. The cashew dish would have been fine on it’s own but this one would have been a bit odd to eat solo I thought.
Next up was a hopper, a fermented rice flour and coconut milk pancakes (£3.50, with or without an egg) that seem to be a quite unique feature of Sri Lankan food.
Whilst a Sri Lankan classic, this was my least favourite dish of the night. The accompaniments (a coconut sambal, a seeni sambal and a lunu miris) were nice and punchy, but the hopper itself an unappetisingly shade of grey (the lighting did it no favours on that front). It also didn’t have the delicate filigree I have seen with hopper on the internet. The whole ensemble was also somewhat tricky to eat.
I was probably doing it wrong, but when the egg was pierced the hopper disintegrated, leaving a soggy mess. Maybe an eggless one would be more to my taste (although it is unclear to me why an eggless one is the same price as one with an egg in it)?
Moving on we followed that first tranche of dishes with a mix of meat and fish dishes.
A prawn and cuttlefish curry wasn’t a looker, but delivered on the flavour front with juicy (not overcooked) prawns and melt in the mouth tender strips of cuttlefish,
The dish was spicy rather than hot (despite a warning on the menu) and had a nice fragrance from the heavy application of both cardamom, and black pepper. Turmeric gave it a golden hue that the lighting and my phone camera hasn’t done justice to I fear.
I was keen to try the goat curry (£7.50), with goat a very underrated meat in my opinion. J was less keen, but eventually relented (saying it better be nice) as I refused to yield.
This came, pleasingly, sans the usually fiddly bones that are often a characteristic of goat curries I have had elsewhere.
The tender goat sat in a rich gravy heady with spices from a jaffna curry powder mix (blended inhouse, I believe, to a family recipe). The potatoes added a bit of starch and operated to soak up the rather fine gravy. This vied with the cashew nut and pea curry as the dish of the night, with J begrudgingly admitting it was very nice and thus a good call on my part.
The final dish we ordered was a chicken kotthu (meat with shredded roti).
This dish was a large portion (good value for £7), with the spicing coming from a Sri Lankan curry blend which was spice rather than chilli heavy. I though this out of all of the dishes was, perhaps, the most tame spice wise and dare I say a touch on the bland side (we were flagging a bit at this point from the earlier booze so it may have been my tastebuds at fault).
Notwithstanding this the chicken was tender and plentiful and the shredded roti added bulk and texture to the equation (making it a nice alternative to rice or spuds with meat – a sort of “special fried bread”). Good as a side to a meat dish, I thought (a bit like the pineapple curry) it would have been a bit wanting if ordered on its own or as the centre piece meat dish.
Whilst we had been talking about the potential merits of the black pork (a pork belly dish) as we contemplating the menu, keeping our server waiting as we dithered as to whether or not to add it as an extra dish, we decided against it when ordering. Rather nicely a portion of the black pork (usually £7) was provided gratis.
The black pepper (copious amounts of it), clove and cardamom from the spice mix really came through making this possibly a bit of a marmite dish. I love clove and cardamom so it ticked my boxes, but I know many who loath their perfumed aroma and taste (and it is not the dish for them i.e. you Rach).
Up there with the cashew and pea and goat curries as one of my favourite dishes of the night.
On the booze front that have a nice mix of wines, beers and what they call cocotails. Not sure about this continued bastardisation of the word “cocktail” with anything with “tail” on the end seeming fair game. As someone who isn’t a big cocktail drinker I passed (so more a case of “I’ll get my coattail”😁).
Whilst the wine list is short there is some decent stuff on it (with the Sandbar Bacchus from Lyme Bay winery, particularly, catching the eye). Mark ups seem pretty fair (at least by UK standards) with the Lyme Bay (retailing at just under £15) £35 on the list here and, at the lower end of the price scale, the Lanya Sauvignon Blanc (retails at just shy of £8) on the list at £20.
If I had been minded to drink wine I would have probably gone for the Riesling (a USA one) on the list (always a good wine with spice) at £27 (retails at £12.95) or the Grenache rosé (rosés tend to work well with spice, especially if more off dry in style – sweet goes with heat as the saying goes) which is fairly priced at £22 (retails at just over £9).
I went for a beer as I decided I had had already consumed enough wine for a school night. I wanted the Sri Lankan Lion beer, but they didn’t have any left so settled for a Camden lager (£4.50). It was alright without really exciting, but I had had enough booze by then and should have probably stuck to a soft drink as I didn’t really appreciate it.
A cup of Sri Lankan tea would have probably been nice, but that would have led to much age related ridicule from J and friend I strongly suspect (“Sure you don’t want a cocoa or a Horlicks Grandad” that sort of thing!!!)
I rather liked The Coconut Tree. The “small plates” format allows you to order a good spread of dishes, are decently proportioned and are priced at not break the bank levels.
Nice to see a stemming of the flow of automatically added (at your discretion, you tight git) service charges. We gave one because service was very good.
For three of us (all being pretty stuffed), I though the bill (with minimum booze and sans a well deserved tip) of £56.50 was pretty good value.
Despite the fear of ferociously hot stuff, I though the spicing was much more to the fore than any chilli heat. This made for a nice balance of heat and spice, which was very much to my tastes.
We had a very nice meal, with the best dish (to my surprise) being the cashew and pea curry (run close by the goat and pork dishes) and the only slight disappointments being the hopper and the kotthu
Booze is reasonably priced and the list offers a decent selection on all fronts.
Would I go back? Yes, it is a good all around offering and a very decent addition to the City centre for both eat in and takeaway (with a good spread of dishes catering for vegans, veggies, pescatarians and omnivores).
Address: 10 Mill Lane, Cardiff, CF10 1FL
Tel: 029 2034 3266
Website: Click here
Opening hours for food: Sun – Thurs: 12.00 – 22.00; Fri – Sat: 12.00 – 23.00.