Tuesday, October 2, 2012

An offering to the tastebuds @ Araliya

The Araliya mala, more commonly known as the frangipani flower is known for its aromatic fragrance and is often associated with worship in Sri Lanka, and the flowers are used as an offering. Thus, one could expect a restaurant named after the temple flower to also serve up a meal fit for Buddha himself.

Being of Sri Lankan origin and having a constantly burgeoning Sri Lankan community here in Melbourne, it always astounds me how few Sri Lankan restaurants we have. Yes, there are plenty of take away options available if you want some savory rolls or a hot Sri Lankan curry, but when it comes to having a proper sit down dinning experience in an actual restaurant, I could probably count the number of 'proper' Sri Lankan restaurants in Melbourne on one hand.

I'm always excited to find a new Sri Lankan restaurant, in fact I had heard about Araliya quite awhile ago, but it wasn't until U's birthday last week that I actually visited it. U,V, R and I headed to Araliya for a late dinner last Sunday night. When we arrived there were two tables full of people, but other than that the restaurant was pretty empty. We were seated promptly and offered a wine menu, they appeared to have a fairly decent wine list, but none of us felt like any and we settled for lemon and lime bitters instead. R however decided he wanted a tea. He loves his tea (like any good Sri Lankan), so we asked for the drinks menu to see what they had. There were different types of tea but they were the type you could get anywhere else, nothing particularly Sri Lankan at all. I would have liked to see some plain tea with jaggery on the side.

The waiters were friendly but not very attentive, despite the restaurant being quiet. As for the menu, I felt it could do with a few more vegetarian dishes that came with curry, as opposed to being on the dry side. For me there's nothing worse than dry rice with dry curry, just a tad bit difficult to get down!

Having two vegetarians amongst us. We mostly stuck to herbivorous choices, well all but me. I ended up ordering the string hopper pilau with beef ($18.50), which is basically like fine noodles mixed with vegies. U ordered the vegetarian string hopper pilau ($16) and R and V decided to share and ordered two serves of steamed basmati rice ($5ea), a deep fried chilli onion sambol, otherwise known as lunu miris ($4), the pepper fried okra (bandakka) sans the sun-dried white bait, to make it vegetarian friendly ($14) and one of the specials of the day, the pennywort salad (gotukola sambol). The salad consisted of; pennywort leaves, shredded coconut, tomato, onion and lemon juice. I'm not sure how much the salad was, I think it was around the $14 range, but it's not a regularly available option on Araliyas' menu.

I enjoyed my pilau, though U found hers to be too oily. The carrots were on the crunchy side, but they actually added a nice texture, and the spice/chili balance was perfect for me (I requested medium hot). There were a few chunks of beef in mine, but I would have really liked to have a couple more. I also sampled the vegie dishes, to see how they rated. The chili onion sambol being an accompaniment was rather small, but it was divine and it's not even something I normally like. The okra on the other hand was nothing special, not bad, but I have to say my mum makes better. Similarly, my dad makes a mean pennywort salad, Araliyas' version was different to his, with the inclusion of coconut and tomato. I have to admit it worked and it successfully managed to downplay the usual bitterness of pennywort. The serving sizes were average but on the smaller side, yet it was plenty for the four of us.

The food was tasty but not outstanding and it was on the pricier side. Had I tried the meat dishes I would have expected something pretty amazing if I was going to part with nearly $40 for a dish. I can't but help compare Araliya to Elephant Corridor (another Sri Lankan restaurant, located in Glen Waverley). The latter wins hands down and definitely gives more bang for your buck.

Given we stuck to vegetarian options the prices were not too unreasonable, but flicking through the menu, their meat and seafood dishes were well overpriced. The jaggery beef caught my eye, but at $36 looked a little steep, as did the deviled prawns which were priced the same. The desserts were similarly pricy, all ranging between $14 and $15. Though we didn't try any at Araliya, I absolutely love and would recommend you try watalappan, which is a baked coconut custard with jaggery (palm sugar) and if you like cake, you really can't go past love cake.

From Araliyas' website it looks like they have a curry night every Wednesday from 6pm onwards, where you get eight dishes with a glass of premium wine, all for $45.00 per person (minimum 2 people). I think this option may in fact be better value for money if you're itching to try Araliya out.

Araliya on Urbanspoon
My Rating: 7/10

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