Everest Curry King, London: ‘It’s a simple place, but oh so good’ | Curry

Everest Curry King, 24 Lompit Hill, London SE13 7SW (020 8691 2233). Rolls and patties £1-£2.50, Curry, stir fries and stuffed dosa £7.95-£11.95, Dessert (six pieces) £6.95-£8.95

At Everest Curry King in Lewisham, they serve a beetroot curry that will calm even the most intimate of conversations. It’s not just the color that suggests a busy day at the slaughterhouse, courtesy the star ingredient, a neat trick for the vegetable, a favorite of vegetarians. It has a texture that has both bite and tenderness, and a sweet-sweet depth that comes when the generous spice and coconut milk are cooked together. It has a pervasive, soothing power. Describes the food offered here at a restaurant with a name that speaks of Nepal, but which mostly serves dishes from Sri Lanka and South India, 1,500 miles to the south.

It was a product of disappointment to eat beetroot curry, but as it turned out, a happy ending, though not for everyone. Today, you are reading about an interesting fish restaurant in Northern Ireland. In time you will. Unfortunately, within days of my eating there, they temporarily closed for renovations. We couldn’t get inside to take our lovely pictures. these things happen.

'It has a pervasive, soothing power': Beet curry.
‘It has a pervasive, soothing power’: Beet curry. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

I needed an emergency review and the much talked about Sri Lankan restaurant from chef Cynthia Shanmugalingam in London’s Borough Market. Rambutan is the restaurant of the book, which is to say that the award-winning cookbook came first, and if the restaurant is anything like it, oh boy. This isn’t just a collection of recipes, although they are delectable enough: for blackened pork belly curry and crispy fried potatoes with turmeric, for coconut lentils with kale, for shrimp curry with tamarind and more So many. It is also an excellent pictorial journey into the culture and history of Sri Lanka through its food. It is a song of coconut and sambol, tangy spices, fresh curry leaves and fruit with salt and pepper. After digging through the book, I was curious about the restaurant. I booked a table for a late lunch at short notice. And then, an hour ago, he texted. The restaurant was filled by storm. It was closed and lunch was cancelled. Apologize

I was on deadline now. It was my partner, chef and writer Tim Anderson, who suggested we head to Everest Curry King, not far from where he lives. That said, it will be very different take on Sri Lankan food. It was also recommended to me by many fellow South Londoners over the years. It is a simple place, he said, but oh how nice. And now, after a mad dash across London, and a walk through all the looming tower blocks around Lewisham station, here I am.

'Boldly Spiced': Chicken Biryani.
‘Boldly Spiced’: Chicken Biryani. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

Everest Curry King was opened by the Shivraj family over 20 years ago to serve the local Sri Lankan community and is basically, a takeaway with a few tables. There are glass-fronted cabinets, metal trays filled with brightly colored curries and stews, and more trays piping hot with patties and rolls, made of the flaky, turmeric-yellow hue of pastry . Another counter is full of bhajis and rotis and rainbow-coloured Indian sweets. There’s a bank of microwaves on a counter in the back. The arduous work of layering the tempering spices in these dishes was done hours ago. Microwaves get the job done.

At this weekday lunch, a queue of eager locals quickly forms. One person told me she came here from Greenwich. Others say it’s the best thing about living in Lewisham. I will not argue. Sure, the appeal is obvious. The menu on the wall lists dishes to eat for between £7.95 and £11.95 and the portions are large. Don’t expect to pay a lot for really a lot. Our lunch consists of a huge plate of golden-grained, boldly spiced biryani, topped with tender bone-in chicken, hard-boiled eggs, crisp fried fresh curry leaves and ribbons of red chillies. It is the foundation on which everything else will lie.

'There Is Just Space': Sweet Chili Prawns.
‘There Is Just Space’: Sweet Chili Prawns. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

That’s beetroot curry, and the other is eggplant, which is slow-fried until it has a rich, toffee-like quality, and a third is shredded cabbage with a fine sour edge. There are two mutton curries on offer, one spicy, one milder. Both are good dark brown stews. They simmer ingredients that braise with each other for a long time, until the meat is almost part of the gravy. We have a spicy version. It’s not the heat that slaps you straight about the chops. This builds up, until you suddenly notice that your cheeks are lightly sticky with sweat.

There are crispy-shelled mutton rolls, filled with more tender meat and spiced potatoes, and fish and vegetable patties bound in a flaky pastry that spread out in front of you. These are the refreshments of so many deities. Along with offering dosas filled with vegetable curry, amazing crepes made from a fermented rice flour batter, they also have rust-coloured string hoppers or idiyappams. These are comforting spirals of steamed rice flour noodle that come with sothi, a rich coconut milk broth. You dip one into the other. It is a meditative and enjoyable process. Add a little coarsely grated coconut to their sambal.

'We get take away boxes': Sweets.
‘We get take away boxes’: Sweets. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

By now our table is full, as are we. This lot cost us £35 and it is obvious that some of it will have to be boxed up for the journey home. Digging into the popularity of Indo-Chinese cuisine, this is just the place to try sweet chilli prawns from a selection of deep red stir-fries. Everest doesn’t have a license, but there is a fridge full of unfamiliar soft drinks, including King Coconut, a sweet coconut water with a lightly salty edge, and Masala Jeera, a soda made, as the name suggests, with cumin. Obviously, it’s designed to aid digestion. It’ll happily give you the rich scents of your spice cupboard. We get to take away the boxes of sweets. Everest Curry King is a business built to serve a specific community. It works so well that it has become a favorite among many others as well. I sympathize with Rambutan, who was swept away by the cloudburst. Pick up the book, then maybe try the restaurant. But I can’t pretend. I am glad that due to the severe floods, I found a way to make beetroot curry.

news bites

Chef Alexis Gauthier, who turned his eponymous high-end restaurant in Soho completely vegan a few years ago, is expanding. Next month he is opening two restaurants in a space on Tottenham Court Road in London. 123V Bakery is a vegetarian cafe that serves baked goods and rustic salads and a variety of lunch items. It is a continuation of the idea first tested at department store Fenwick in 2021. Meanwhile Studio Gauthier, like Gauthier’s in SoHo, will serve a vegetarian tasting menu, which, he says, will be a bit more relaxed than Motherhood. at 123vegan.co.uk.

While there is clearly a lot of dismal news around the hospitality sector right now, there are still those who see it as a worthwhile investment. Restaurant company MJMK, which is behind both Cole and Lisbota and Peri Peri chicken group Casa do Frango, has announced it has recently passed its £1m crowdfunding target. The cash will be used to open a second Coal and a fourth Casa do Frango. At the same time Rosa’s Thai brand, which has 33 sites in England and Wales, has secured £10 million in funding for expansion.

Livia Alarcon, former head chef at Murray’s in Liverpool, and head chef at Queen’s Bistro in the city when I so reviewed it, is now in charge of her own restaurant. La Bistrotheque inside Liverpool’s Baltic Market is best described as a European bistro. The menu includes popcorn mussels with salt and vinegar, a rosti with creamed spinach and chimichurri, and a duck confit and peppercorn choux bun. Check out balticmarket.co.uk.

Email Jay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1

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