Living in Malabe has a large downside to it. Not only is everything "far" but in terms of restaurant eating, we don't have much going on. Which is why I get a bit excited when I find out we have a review in Malabe; because the sheer thought of getting food from somewhere other than Bojunka is a treat in itself.
Coconut palmed roof, mud walls, clay tiles and close to no light inside the building, Niyabalawa is quite literally the epitome of what a good rice and curry spot that's trying to follow the theme should look like.
With a couple of bamboo trees on the outside serving as chairs and a whole heap of wooden benches and tables on the inside, the ambience at Niyabalawa was brilliant. It's utterly horrible for taking pictures in (the inside), but, if what you're looking for is a decent place to get your rice and curry fix in a really nice way, we don't think anyone does it better than they do. Plus, the place may look small, but, there's enough space to seat at least 2-3 dozen people without much effort.
There's a couple of differences here and there, but the main concept of it follows suit to many of other spots of the same genre.
With one side of the building being glassed off and the rest serving as the dining area, the food choosing process was the standard, choose rice, choose protein and 4 curries method we're all very used to. They've got a giant board at the back with pictures of the food and the prices so you know what you're getting yourself into before you dive in.
A table full of around 15- 20 clay pots filled with curries and 3 giant clay pots on the side, we found our chosen ones.
Made drier than the usual gravied variety, the dhal curry, was, in essence like any other dhal curry you'd get at a store. Flavourful to an extent, this was nice in terms of toning down the spice. The creamy eggplant, on the other hand, was wonderful. Cut up into fairly large bits, the eggplant was doused in chopped up onion bits and cooked till it was squishy to the touch. Again, not very spicy, we really liked it.
The Capsicum curry also happened to fall along the lines of the eggplant. Not particularly flavourful, this was more creamy than anything else. Not too spicy and a tad hard in some ends, this was okay. Unfortunately, the chicken curry was not the best. What we mean by not the best is that while it was packed with spices and such, this was very much like any other chicken curry you'd get in any other buth kadey.
Chosen One #2 was of the Dunthel variety (Rs. 300). Smothered with a variety of spices and local herbs, the Dunthel buth at Niyabalawa was fantastic! Seriously, it wasn't particularly salty, you could taste the herbs like rampe and we found a giant piece of cinnamon in our plate, we doubt it gets better than this.
Nonetheless, served with a side of very tomato sauced up soya which I didn't particularly like, but my lunch partner loved and a dose of beans that tasted like a mix of buttered beans and the beans curry we're used to, this was superb! Substitute the chicken with a side of pork and you've got yourself a winner.
Our final Chosen One was the Red rice with Pork (Rs.300). Served on a steaming serving of red rice, the long beans fell along the same lines as the green beans of Chosen One #2, tasting almost buttered with a slightly hard interior, we liked it. The creamy cabbage curry was perfect in terms of toning down the spice from the pork. But, that being said, as a cabbage curry, it wasn't amazing just because there wasn't much creaminess to it.
What really stole the show was the pork curry. Heaped onto the rice, the pork was tender with a couple of oily bits and was smothered, and we mean, smothered with spice. Honestly, if you happen to eat pork and happen to visit the area, get the pork curry. You won't regret it. The final curry we decided to go with was the cabbage with coconut. More or less like the other cabbage curry, this was okay.
We also happened to get a serving of kiri maalu (Rs. 150) on the side and we're so happy we did! Served in a pretty large bowl, the serving of fish came as a rather large piece sinking into a deep layer of creamy, tomatoed gravy that's ideal for a serving of white rice or string hoppers.
The staff at Niyabalawa was surprisingly quite nice. It's not every day that you find staff at rice and curry spots who were that helpful and nice and it wouldn't be fair not to acknowledge it.
As for the conclusion? we love it. Sure, a couple of the curries weren't perfect but they were nothing to rant about. Plus, with an ambience like that and a pretty good set of members of staff, we really can't complain. We'd recommend it!