Banana Leaf is back. Well, ‘New’ Banana Leaf. Those golden grains ensconced in thick, emerald palms, the hefty hunks of masala-smothered chicken, the crispy deep-fried boiled egg…this was one of my – and perhaps even Colombo’s – favourite Sunday lunchtime repasts. When Banana Leaf suddenly vanished from the buth lunch circuit no one really knew why – and it was a cause of minor despair amongst hard core fans. While a solitary sheet of A4 paper stuck to their front door promised a speedy return, the sun-faded blue ink indicated otherwise.
But as promised, the (rice) king has finally returned, conquering Taprobane (the bookshop) to construct a shiny new, palm-patterned kingdom, complete with excellent, attentive attendants.
Moving a few doors down from its former location, the once ubiquitous yellow rice and masala chicken packets have finally resumed their place in Colombo’s carb-happy dining scene.
Mounds of saffron rice await behind glass walls, the most generous portions of succulent, reddish-orange chicken and deep pools of thick, savoury hothi. Under ‘The Banana Leaf Specialties’ comes this legendary meal, christened the chicken biriyani (Rs. 350). But ignore the name – this is nothing like an authentic biriyani, more a savoury rice and meat dish, that despite its bold borrowing of the expectation laden name is about as satisfying as you’d expect an authentic biriyani to be – just different. There’s something very special about the masala chicken – the generous, whopping portion aside, the meat is tender and soft – packed to the brim with spicy, piquant flavours. Instead of being fried to death like the standard biriyani accompaniment, the chicken is more gently handled, and liberally brushed with a heavy masala paste.
But while we wax lyrical about the ‘biriyani’ that Banana Lead is so well-known for, they also offer other dishes: crab, mutton, prawn and so on – none of which we’ve tried. And dessert wise they serve a formidable wattalapam – just the right consistency, and with that perfect burnt-caramel look and taste.
While Banana Leaf – actually New Banana Leaf – may be under different management, it’s still the same, taste wise. And true to their name, all meals are plated on the glistening green frond of a banana leaf, infusing that special leaf-wrapped taste that makes you question the point of ever eating on a plate. In short, we’re glad they’re back. All hail the New Banana King.