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