Fitzroy North’s Citrus is all owned and run by one family. 24-year-old Ravindu Somaweera and his sister Mansala manage front of house, while mum Shiyamalee and dad Keerthi stay in the kitchen and prepare a $15 all-you-can-eat Sri Lankan feast.
Originally called Citrus Gate, the restaurant started with an a la carte menu of burgers and a few Sri Lankan dishes, but it became clear pretty quickly that the Sri Lankan food was more in demand. They scrapped the Western dishes and added a buffet – typical in Sri Lanka for lunch, the biggest meal of the day.
At lunch and dinner, you’ll find 15 or so dishes from all over the island country. A vegetarian combo plate is $10, or you can get the $15 free-for-all. Pick up a plate and lay your foundation with two types of rice – saffron and vegetable. Then, hit each bain-marie for an assortment of dishes that change daily, including yellow-lentil curry, spiced potatoes, fried soy beans, hot buttered fish with peppers and more.
Next, swing around the island bench and find room for spicy coconut sambol, chilli paste, and chutney made from ambarella, a small green tropical stone fruit that tastes like a fibrous pear when stewed. Wash it down with a mango lassi (Ravindu admits this is traditionally Indian, but delicious and popular in Sri Lanka nonetheless), fresh juice or one of the many bottled Sri Lankan soft drinks in the front display.
Citrus’s dry spices and coconut milk are imported from Sri Lanka, and the flavours replicated here are close to what the Somaweera family ate in their home town of Kandy in the Central Highlands. Shiyamalee works to ensure every dish is gluten-free, the non-meat dishes are vegan and most of the buffet curries are mild, so diners can add chilli to taste.