Cinnamon’s Sri Lankan Cuisine, 530 Little Collins St, Shop 1, Melbourne. Phone: 0412 939 482
A fellow in-office food hound had enthusiastically tipped us to an interesting alternative for what has come to be known as “Curry Friday”.
So off I trooped up Little Collins St with a colleague to be really, really impressed.
I mean, how often is it that you’re in a food court situation and the air is redolent with the aroma of cooked curry leaves?
And where there are dozens of people happily queuing for a lunchtime spice fix?
We did good, but takeaway is only a takeaway, as good as this lot was, and only ever a second-best option.
As well, while ordering I’d got a good eyeful of the magnificent-looking eat-in platters being dispensed, and that made returning for a proper sit-down lunch a matter of some urgency.
Even if that required a train trip to the CBD on a day off.
On the upside, it was the perfect opportunity to fulfill a long-standing lunch invite from Andy of the world-famous Thaicentric website, Krapow. Andy works at this end of the CBD so has all the top spots nailed, and later gives me a mini-tour.
Turns out he’s familiar with Cinnamon’s, is a fan, loves the eggplant curry as my colleagues did the previous week and is definitely up for a lunch meet.
Cinnamon’s, a CBD sibling of a more formal establishment on St Kilda Rd and another branch in Docklands, is pure food court aesthetic – adjacent to a Hudson’s coffee outlet, a noodle place and so on.
But more accurately, it’s better to describe it as part of a rambling warren that is a jumble of office block lobby, various eateries and retail services such as a newsagent, drycleaning and so on.
The surrounding area is very food-intense, with some places looking very appealing and others seemingly of the quick-and-forgettable lunch fix variety.
There’s plenty of table seating to be had at this Cinnamon’s, though.
Even better, the food is served on large, handsome, square, white plates.
And having seen the sort of quantities being dispensed to customers the previous week, I am well aware that my lunch with Andy requires no more than the basic three curries, rice and raita for $10.50.
I believe that there are specials of a more specifically Sri Lankan nature on some days of the week, but today the colourful options seem like a basic if very attractive curry array that look not much different from one of the Indian species. Perhaps there’s a lighter touch, more coconut and more dry curries, such as cabbage and potato.
Andy goes for the $10.50 plate of chicken biryani, eggplant curry, beef curry and an ace-looking dal, with a dollop of raita on the side.
Andy’s choices make me confront a straitlaced belief about of Indian/Sri Lankan food I am unaware I have been harbouring.
For me, biryani is biryani and a meal in its own right, and so has no business sitting side by side with curries on a mixed meal deal.
(I can hear Andy’s snort of derision even as I write …)
So I get a very excellent plain white rice flecked with herbs the nature of which I do not know, a dry potato curry, the eggplant curry and the spicier of two chicken curries. (And, no, that’s not a fly sitting atop my rice …)
It’s all sensational.
The spuds have the aforementioned curry leaves and red capsicum, some chilli and turmeric. Simple and delicious.
The eggplant is sweet, smoky and packed with the sort of real-deal aubergine flavour that most of its kind hardly ever are.
The two chicken pieces are fall-apart good and the gravy thinner than would be found in the northern Indian equivalent.
One of the topics Andy and I discuss over lunch is how for so very long the Eurocentric meal template of appetiser/entree/main course/dessert had, in Australia, been forced on various cuisines, frequently giving a quite misleading picture of how such food should be eaten … and, of course, jacking prices up, too.
In the past decade, we seemed to have moved on from that rigid sort of set-up, and Cinnamon’s is testament to the change.
We’ve paid $10.50 for three curries, rice and raita.
Getting a similar diversity in a more formal restaurant situation will likely cost at least $20 and even $30.
And not too far from where we’ve supped in the CBD, there are places where you’d be looking at $40 or even $50.