3, Havelock Road, Bambalapitiya, Colombo 4
Open 7 AM–10.30 PM
Sri Vihar (formerly known as Shanthi Vihar) is a well-known vegetarian Indian restaurant located at the Thummulla Junction. Veering towards the south Indian side of things, they offer the standard selection of dosas, thalis and idlis as well as some north Indian dishes.
Sri Vihar has been around for several years now, and we had heard that their ghee dosais are nice. Given the rumours (and the fact that it's been about three years since we last reviewed it), half of the Yamu staff decided to crash the restaurant for lunch on a gloomy Monday morning. There's nothing wrong with gloomy Mondays — I think rainy weather is epic, although half my colleagues would beg to differ. Anyway, moving on. The review of Sri Vihar awaits.
This seems to be (pretty sure it is) one of those old bungalows that's been converted into an eatery. It's quite spacious, with huge arches separating the different areas of the hallway. With peeling paint and a slightly rundown appearance, it could possibly use a bit of renovation. But it's clean and decent otherwise.
The service was a bit disappointing because the staff were quite slow. We were seated for quite a while (around ten minutes or so) before a steward headed our way and handed over a couple of tattered menus. Once the food finally started coming though, the service picked up and the stewards were a bit more attentive.
I've passed this joint so many times and had it recommended to me by a good friend, so I was expecting great things out of it. Sadly, this was not to be. Having dragged along a few of my fellow forever-hungry workmates (including my editor who's Indian, so we got instant feedback if what we had was legit or not), we settled down and selected more than we could eat. Mistake Number Two (after Mistake Number One, which was to expect great food). We ordered a ghee roast (Rs. 140), butter naan (Rs. 100), curd rice (Rs. 200), palak paneer (Rs. 300), rasam (Rs. 100), ulundu vadai (Rs. 120), samosas (Rs. 160), and a few rava, onion and cashew dosais (price: unknown. Because it wasn't included in our bill, and we realized this way later).
The first things to come were the samosas and ulundu vadais. Though generous in size, the crust of the samosa was under-fried and a bit chewy. The potato stuffing was really quite nice but lacking in salt. The condiments (sambar, chutney and all that) were also lacking in salt. The samosas were accompanied by a tamarind sauce which was interesting — quite thick and sweet, but surprisingly greasy, sporting an oil slick on top.
The ulundi vadais were quite heavenly after this. Soft and light on the inside and fried to a light crisp on the outside, they disappeared in a matter of prolonged seconds.
A nice chutney with this would have been great, but alas. I don't think Sri Vihar favours the use of salt, so the chutney on our table was a sad substitute for the tangy and flavourful condiment that is normally served alongside.
The ghee roast we were so looking forward to was an utter disappointment because of how poorly it was prepared. There were clumps of dough on the inside, and it clearly hadn't been 'roasted' properly or for long enough. Add to that, we all got the strong flavour of margarine instead of the aroma of ghee. I think it was Astra. The dosai looked good enough though, coming in two long and perfectly rolled cylinders.
What you see under the ghee roast is the rava onion and cashew dosai (because the steward rolled the ghee roast off a platter onto the platter of dosai already on our table), which we found pretty epic. The dosai was light and crispy, and perfectly prepared with a really generous dose of sliced cashew nuts sprinkled throughout. Being roasted, the cashews had a pronounced nutty flavour, and went well with the crunchy, finely chopped onions.
This is what that glorious dosai looked like. I know it appears somewhat scrappy and messy, but it's well worth a go. It's a very interesting take on the traditional dosai — and more importantly, they have got the formula right.
Let's have a quick run through the other stuff we tried. Don't opt for the butter naan unless you're partial to rubbery bread, 'cause that's what you're going to get. It was slathered in butter, but we missed that toasty, golden flavour of a well-prepped butter naan. The palak paneer (spinach-and-paneer curry) was surprisingly good and had a tad more flavour than the sambars and other sauces which accompanied our dishes, but it was still underseasoned. (Why, Sri Vihar, WHY DON'T YOU USE SALT?) Also lacking salt and was the rasam, which had the basic flavour and sourness right. But it didn't have much heat, and didn't have the sinus-clearing effect that this soup generally does. It was also a bit more thicker than the usual rasam, and I found it disappointing both in terms of taste and texture.
Sri Vihar is reasonably priced, and has killer ulundu vadais and kadju dosais. Apart from those, however, most of the other stuff we tried was mediocre. We'd go back just for the crisp vadais and that kadju thosai. But if you dare to venture beyond those, temper your expectations.