Food&Drink writers Caitlin McGraw and Youssra Al Hajji attended Birmingham based restaurant The Coconut Tree’s ‘Come Dine with Me Roadshow’ event
The evening included street food, unique ‘Cocotails’ and a dining experience guaranteed to transport guests to the South Asian nation. The Coconut Tree was the first Sri Lankan eatery opened in Birmingham with the goal of sharing Sri Lankan flavours among the local community. Walking into the restaurant, you are immediately drawn in by the unique layout– a palm tree overlying the tables and a vibrant coastal interior.
Neither of us had tried Sri Lankan food before, so the 3 course menu with its selection of dishes allowed us to sample key flavours that we’d never experienced before. The Come Dine with Me menu costs £18 per person for three courses, or £39 for 3 drinks alongside the restaurant’s year-round menu packed with extensive small plate options.
I opted for the vegetarian menu and the staff were accommodating and warm. They were on hand to adapt the meal to our dietary requirements and made me feel welcome.
My starter consisted of vegan cutlets and ‘isso wadey’, similar vegetable mixtures encased in a crispy fried coating and served with tangy dipping sauces. The pineapple ketchup was particularly mouth-watering and stood out from the typical condiments I’m used to, providing an exciting and unexpected combination of flavours.
Next, a variety of small plates covered the table, including hearty dishes of coconut and vegetables, and curries packed with goat and pumpkin. The smaller red lentil and mango curries were aromatic and spicy, with the sweet smoothness of coconut milk and fruit fragrance There was vegetable kothu (a luxury street food) included roti which made the texture of the dish unexpected and was filling. The highlight of the meal for me was the pumpkin curry cooked in coconut cream and curry leaves due to the sumptuous flavour and texture of pumpkin; I wanted a huge dish of it to take home!
To finish, we shared vanilla ice cream and treacle syrup poured onto a crunchy hopper pancake, contrasting the piquant flavours of the main dishes and lightly topping off the meal.
I tried the ‘Drunken Sri Lankan’ served in an adorable elephant glass and topped with coconut flower whisky (hence ‘Cocotail’). Dessert was accompanied by a ‘Sri-Presso Martini’, an Asian twist on the classic coffee cocktail infused with cardamom. Both were drinks I wouldn’t usually order but I was pleased by the innovative flavour pairings. Typically priced at £6-10, The Coconut Tree’s ‘Cocotails’ are reason enough to visit the restaurant because of their bargain price, Sri Lankan spirit and novelty glasses.
Starting off with the crispy lamb balls deep fried to perfection, I was pleasantly surprised by the punch of flavour they packed and the way the lamb melted in my mouth. The prawn ‘isso wadey’ starter was interesting to try especially with the sweet pineapple dip, but admittedly it was a mission finding the prawn flavour.
We had the opportunity to try our hand at cooking; the restaurant has a ‘Hopper Station’ where we were guided through the steps to making ‘Egg Hoppers’ by the chef. The iconic Sri Lankan street food, made from a simple pancake batter with a coconut twist is cooked in a small rounded pan, allowing the batter to cook so the bottom is soft but the edges turn out crunchy. I then added my egg and spices to the centre of the dough and once this had poached, we were good to go!
The hopper was served with a selection of Sri-Lankan garnishes including caramelised onions, salsa sauce and coconut sambol which transformed the dish into a rich melange of smoky and perfumed flavours. I was still in my own little world of Hoppers and relishing the experience of doing my own cooking at a restaurant as mains were served. The highlight for me was the succulent goat curry, cooked to perfection, with a beautifully fragrant and balanced blend of spices.
I noticed the use of coconut in many of the dishes, from savoury curries to sweet drinks which worked quite well, reflecting the restaurant’s name based on the versatile ingredient. There was nothing better to wash down all this Sri-Lankan goodness than a non-alcoholic Pina-Colada fresh out of a pineapple.
The Coconut Tree is perfect for sharing food with a group of friends or family to a soundtrack of hip-hop and RnB tracks. Exploring global cuisines is the beauty of Birmingham’s food scene, and the opportunity to try authentic Sri Lankan food and even cook some ourselves made it an unforgettable foodie experience. Despite some communication issues throughout the evening between staff, The Coconut Tree is a must-visit location complete with an island-vibe guaranteed to transport you to the beaches of Sri Lanka.
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