It will be Singapore’s first full-service Sri Lankan restaurant when dine-in service eventually resumes, but fans of Kotuwa's cleverly curated takeaway menu can also look forward to a uniquely inspired showcase of indigenous flavours, cocktails included

It might surprise fans of Singapore’s diverse food scene, but even the most adventurous diner would be hard-pressed to recommend a favourite spot for authentic Sri Lankan fare on the island. And that had chef Rishi Naleendra thinking.

The Sri Lankan native has made quite a name for himself with his winning brand of mod‑Australian fare, having moved from Melbourne to Singapore to establish the Michelin-starred Cheek by Jowl restaurant (now rebranded as Cheek Bistro) and, more recently, Cloudstreet. Both are in partnership with hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng’s Unlisted Collection, and it’s at the latter that the enterprising 35-year-old feels he can explore his heritage further, while still proffering a refined cuisine style that’s grounded in modern European cooking. 

(Related: A Masterclass In Zero-Waste Cooking By Rishi Naleendra And Kirk Westaway

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Kotuwa chef-owner Rishi Naleendra with his wife and business partner, Manuela Toniolo
Above Chef-owner Rishi Naleendra with his wife and business partner, Manuela Toniolo

To properly indulge in his desire to champion the flavours he grew up with, Naleendra decided to launch traditional Sri Lankan restaurant Kotuwa, also with Unlisted Collection.

“It’s something Peng and I have been talking about for a long time, and when Ashish Manchharam, founder and managing director of 8M Real Estate, approached me, we felt like the Wanderlust hotel in Little India, which 8M Real Estate had purchased from Peng in 2018, would be the perfect location for this project,” he says. Kotuwa was slated to open in April before the Covid-19 pandemic brought the restaurant industry to a standstill.

(Related: Even With Public Support, Singapore's Restaurants Face A Grim Reality Amid The Covid-19 Crisis)

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Pickled lychee achcharu (left)
Above Pickled lychee achcharu (left)

But Naleendra remains hopeful about opening the restaurant in September should the situation improve by then. In the meantime, eager food lovers are already enjoying a taste of things to come via a curated takeaway menu of snacks and appetisers to complement a modest selection of meat, seafood and vegetable dishes—all designed for sharing. “The more people you have with you, the more dishes you can enjoy,” he muses, adding how it is his intention to “stay true to this generous dining culture of Sri Lanka”.

Both Kotuwa’s head chef and head bartender are from Sri Lanka. The latter, Naleendra asserts, is a particularly good fit “as he’s able to marry native Sri Lankan flavours with modern handcrafted cocktails”, which will be the focus of the beverage menu.

(Related: Cocktails With A Local Twist That You Can Easily Make At Home)

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Black pork curry
Above Black pork curry
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Above Love cakes

The food menu promises to be equally exciting, comprising most of the Sri Lankan staples. Expect a selection of hoppers, crab cutlets and mutton rolls, as well as popular one-dish meals such as the kottu rotti, an unassumingly delicious serving of chopped rotti cooked with a mix of chicken and vegetables; alternatively, the meat-free version is made with meaty baby jackfruit.

Speaking of tasty vegetable dishes, the kaju curry features cashew nuts simmered in a light, aromatic coconut gravy with green peas and pandan. This is an ideal accompaniment to the dallo baduma—battered and fried calamari tossed in a compelling chilli butter—that boasts just the right amount of sweet and heat.

(Related: Restaurant Esquina Shares The Only Recipe For Burnt Basque Cheesecake That You Need)

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A selection of moreish vegetable dishes include curries starring cashew nuts, beetroot and butternut squash
Above A selection of moreish vegetable dishes include curries starring cashew nuts, beetroot and butternut squash

“We will also have lamprais, which is the Dutch version of rice and curry,” a noticeably excited Naleendra shares. It’s even better paired with a selection of house‑made sambols, achcharu and preserves. As would a rendition of the feted black pork curry, named as such for its appearance, having been braised with a complex blend of spices that have been first roasted.

The dessert section, he adds, will include inspired plates, such as a yoghurt parfait with salted kithul caramel and cracked pepper. It also has us wondering if this would be the restaurant to help Sri Lankan cuisine find its place in Singapore's progressively vibrant dining scene. 

The June 2020 issue is now available with our compliments on Magzter.

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