No 258, Messenger Street, Colombo 12
Open until 10:00 PM
Shri Vani Vilas is pretty much an iconic landmark situated in Lafeer Mawatha, Messenger Street. Aside from holding the title of Dosa King, they also have a stellar menu that's chock full of delicious South Indian food fare.
More commonly known as Vani Vilas, Shri Vani Vilas has been around for a couple of generations and has a reputation for being one of the best—if not the best—saivars around. They have a huge range of food on offer, from your regular dosais and vadais, to more elaborate dishes such as the tandoori platter, mushroom pepper fry, and Lucknowi dum biryani. The staff are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and make you feel right at home.
There is an upstairs and downstairs section. The downstairs is your regular, fast-paced saivar which is perfect for the working crowd in a hurry, while the upstairs is more like a proper restaurant for families and kids. We dined upstairs, in the airconditioned restaurant.
Their staff are warm—like people you've known for ages—while also being professional. They are caring and concerned about whether you enjoyed the food, and also urge you to tuck into some of the dishes while they are still hot. (They were also keen on helping me with photographing the food).
Now, to get down to the food. We began our meal with regular fare like the vadai and ghee roast.
This vadai (Rs. 60) is hands down one of the best I've tried. There are few places that get this fluffy doughball right. Vani Villas hits the spot by frying the vadais to crisp, golden perfection. Piping hot, the vadai was soft and moist on the insides and wonderful to bite into.
The ghee roast (Rs. 240) was beautifully presented, but slighty doughy on the inside and not up to the standard of the crispy thin ghee roast at Sri Suryas.
The hot and sour soup looked intensely spicy, but it was lacking in heat. It also had an off-putting consistency, having been thickened with corn flour. It wasn't bad overall, and fragnant from the leeks and bits of herbs that had been added to it, but it didn't live up to its name either.
Their honey chilli potatoes were a bit of a surprise because we were expecting potatoes and got fries instead. But the caramelised and lightly syrupy fries sprinkled with chilli powder and chopped spring onion greens, made the dish very interesting.
Garnished with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds, this was a taste that grew on you with every bite.
The Lucknow Dum Biryani was surprisingly good as well, with fragrant grains of basmati rice and fried onions on top. It almost melted in your mouth, and was packed with subtle flavour.
This was good, but everything paled in comparision to the Tandoori Platter, which at a mere Rs. 650 was the most expensive dish of the day. Presented on a sizzling and spluttering platter, it came as a very pleasant surprise.
It was generously laden with paneer (both tandoori and non-tandoori grilled paneer), and a plethora of fruits and greens (tangy pineapple, bell peppers, broccoli and lettuce).
All of them were grilled just right — charred perfectly on the outside, and moist and soft inside. I'm no paneer expert, but that tandoori paneer was the best I've ever had. The stewards were kind enough to show me how to cut it up as well, although I'm sure I would have succeeded if I had tried it myself :D
I was almost about to give Vani Vilas a five-star rating, had it not been for the soup and the overly sweet drinks we tried. This little restaurant whips up some amazing food in its unlikely location on busy and heavily industrialized Armour Street. It's a little jewel in that area, and well-worth visiting.
Shri Vani Vilas still holds the title of Dosa King. Aside from their undisputed dosas, they also serve a whole range of excellent, truly South Indian meals.
Vani Vilas deserves its street cred for being one of the best saivars in the city.
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