58 Riley St
Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
Here’s to the end of the third year of med school! After some really rather gruelling times, I’ve finished (and hopefully passed!) all my exams, and am keen on making the most of my 9 days off before having to head right back into the thick of it. Sometimes it feels like it just never ends, but I guess I’ve made my bed now so I may as well enjoy it!
Like every other even remotely important occasion in my life, this was the perfect excuse for me to splash out on dinner at a restaurant I’ve been eyeing up. This time around I had my mind set on Lankan Filling Station, the one-hatted, somewhat modern taken on Sri Lankan food that has had chins wagging and mouths drooling since it opened just under two years ago.
Unless you’re after the banquet, you’re out of luck when it comes to booking, so if you want to get into this spot that’s as tiny as it is popular, your best bet is to come early – 5:20pm on a Wednesday to be precise. And pretty soon we were perched at the bar overlooking the kitchen, armed with a tick sheet menu and ready to rumble.
It is a huge plus in my books when a restaurant has a good non-alcoholic drinks list, and boy does Lankan Filling Station deliver. The Sparkling Rose ($6), made with high quality syrup and sparkling water, tastes like flowers and magic. Conversely, the Tamarind Iced Tea ($8) is dark and brooding, its firm, bitter tang exactly what’s needed for cutting through a rich curry.
Things work a little differently at Lankan Filling Station (LFS? I’m going to call it LFS). Instead of your usual mains and sides and whatnot, you’re invited to build yourself a feast from a selection of curries, vegetable dishes, and perhaps most exciting of all, a variety of sambals and pickles. Then you go ahead and order your carb, and whilst there’s roti available, what LFS is known for is their hoppers. Start with either a Plain Hopper ($4ea) with lacy edges and a spongy bottom designed to soak up gravy, or the Egg Hopper ($6ea) so that everything you put into it is coated with a decadent layer of yolk. The hopper becomes your bowl, and your fingers your utensils. It is terrific fun, mixing and matching bits and bobs of each dish, and scooping it all up with pieces of hopper.
But hold up! I’m getting a little ahead of myself. The menu also offers a selection of short eats – nibbles to whet the appetite before the main event. And I highly recommend you go for the Beef ($8ea). The name may be cryptic but the dish is not. An order of this will yield you what initially looks like a giant croquette, but once cut open, reveals a centre of spiced beef wrapped in layers of buttery roti. It is all crunch and no grease, and the little dish of pickled chilli jam on the side adds just enough bite. It is simple, but absolute genius.
Moving onto the more substantial dishes, the Meat Curry ($20), made with lamb on the day we visited, seems to be a firm favourite with bloggers and critics alike. Slow-cooked in a potent blend of dry-roasted spices, the meat was so dark it almost looked charred, which makes the sticky tenderness of the meat that much more unexpected. And despite its formidable appearance, it is actually very easy eating. The full-bodied spices were mellowed out by their underlying sweetness, and the 3-chilli rating manifesting more as a gentle warmth than any real heat.
I’m a sucker for a good Potato Curry ($15), and this one is comfort food at its most refined. The fluffy tubers soaked up all the flavours from the gravy, was smooth yet complex, flecked with mustard seeds and underscored with a distinctive freshness from the green chilli. This was once again not very spicy at all despite also being 3 chillies, which means that big bites are strongly encouraged.
The Eggplant ($14) is another favourite. Slow-cooked in tamarind with onions and capsicum until it’s almost chutney-like in sweetness and texture, this is as good as eggplant gets. But despite promising to be rich, soft, and spicy, it only manages to be 2 out of those 3 things – I’ll let you guess which it wasn’t.
The biggest section on the menu is reserved for the sambols and pickles, and whilst you can get their mixed sambol plate, we decided to build our own selection instead. That was mainly because we wanted to get the Raita ($6), though it was obvious by this point we didn’t need it. Still, it was a good decision; the yoghurt was cool and creamy, thickened with generous shreds of cucumber, and a warmed by a hint of cumin. The Seeni Sambol ($6) was like the South-Asian version of caramelised onions, the sweetness tempered with tamarind and spices. The Lunu Dehi ($4) – a sharp little dish of pickled lime and onion – was great for teasing out the nuances of the curry. But it was the Pol Sambol ($6) that was my absolute favourite. An unusual concoction of shredded coconut, pickled fish, chilli, and lime, this was light and airy on the tongue, yet full of rambunctious equatorial flavours reminiscent of grilling freshly cooked fish on the beach. I ended up eating the dregs with a spoon, wishing for a bowl of rice to mix it into.
The portions here may not be huge, but the food is rich and substantial, settling heavily into the stomach. The LFS Sweet Plate ($6pp) is made for situations exactly like this, where you need something sweet to round out the meal, but can’t fit in a full dessert. The Thali Guli is a little ball of sesame seeds, rolled with coconut, kithul (palm syrup), and jaggery (palm sugar). It’s almost reminiscent of the black sesame and red bean desserts you get at Chinese restaurants. The Kalu Dodol is a sticky little rice flour cake, warmed with spices and the toffee-like sweetness from caramelised palm sugar. But the best one of the lot was without a doubt the Salted Milk Toffee. It’s very sweet, very creamy, and has just the tiniest dash of sea salt that makes it unbelievably moreish. Our waiter admitted that it’s amazing that with it around, it’s a miracle any of the staff have any teeth left.
We ordered liberally, and there was more than enough to go around between the two of us, but I can’t help but be slightly shocked when the bill came to over $120. The food here is definitely fantastic, with the most remarkable aspect being how precisely balanced each dish was, despite the multitude of disparate elements. But is it worth it? All up, I’d say yes. Not only are spices expensive – good spices even more so, and they use plenty of that here – but the dishes themselves are labour- and time-intensive. It is definitely on the pricy side, and I can’t see myself coming back very often. But I can say for sure that a visit here would never be regretted.
Rating: 14.5/20 – hop(per) to it.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.