Another day, another hotly tipped restaurant. With The Times’ Marina O’Loughlin waxing lyrical about Paradise, it’s perhaps understandable that it’s already damn hard to nab a table at this no-reservations Sri Lankan spot in the heart of Soho. So having put our name down at around 7pm, we finally got the call to say our table was ready at 9.30pm (grab a drink at Boulevard, a stone’s throw away, whilst you wait). But was it worth hanging around for? Oh lordy – Paradise just high jumped straight into first place of the restaurants we’ve eaten at this year.
It takes over the old Spuntino spot, a place I fondly remember having quite a vibe back in the day (in fact, I remember eating some pretty good meatballs there on a pretty mediocre date – not a metaphor). The space is all exposed concrete, with a mixture of banquette and counter seating, although the latter is best saved for couples.
So, what to order. First things first, you’ll want to check out the wine list. Spicy food can be tricky to pair with but the robust flavours of skin contact or ‘orange’ wines are PERFECT. Paradise has a cracking bottle from Slovakia on the menu which can be ordered by the carafe if you’re already feeling pretty pissed from the wait (I’m obviously speaking from experience here).
In terms of food, we didn’t have a duff dish. From the ‘short eats’ section, you’ll definitely want to order the mutton shoulder rolls which arrived looking nothing like I expected them. In my mind, I was thinking we’d get something along the lines of a keema pau a la Dishoom but instead, two oversized croquette-type things appeared, stuffed with softly pulled meat and fermented chilli for dipping. Our waiter was excellent at making sure we ordered a good variety of food, swapping out a curry at one point for something less sloppy for balance.
We munched our way through a simple turmeric and fennel seed hopper which if you’ve not had before is good for all manner of dipping, wrapping and general hoovering up of all the other dishes. A pot of coconut and chilli pol sambol was ordered on the recommendation it goes well with everything. It did. An overall highlight was the fried aubergine and jaggery moju (even after I’d eaten this I still needed to google – it’s a traditional Sri Lankan pickle apparently). I’m not really sure what goes into transforming our favourite emoji into this exciting, concentrated flavour bomb but I don’t need to know the details. Just trust me when I say it’s fab and you must order it. Garlicky dahl hit the spot as did the chopped chicken and cheddar kothu roti, substantial, comfort food at its best. Mini coconut flat-breads with pol roti, green chilli, garlic and curry leaf oil encouraged more dipping, this time into the mild, sweet yellow cod curry with coconut and fenugreek.
It being nearly ‘chuck out’ time we skipped desserts in favour of an excellent cardamom espresso martini & a ghee arrack old fashioned which were so good I can’t imagine any dessert trumping them.
Paradise is one of those rare restaurants that makes you realise that the majority of food you’ve been scoffing until this point, is actually rather mediocre. As such we’ve told just about everyone we’ve met since they need to go, and now we’re telling you!