You can find good Sri Lankan food at plenty of places in Sydney these days. But Colombo Social is doing things a little differently to the rest. The menu highlights the complexity of the cuisine through traditional home-style cooking and a more fusion-styled menu, but something else sets it apart: it's a social enterprise asylum seekers and refugees.
Colombo Social works with refugee-support agency Settlement Services International, the Asylum Seeker Centre in Newtown and the SkillMe program, to recruit recently-arrived asylum seekers and refugees to work in the kitchen or front of house.
The goal is to help them transition smoothly to life in Australia, acquiring skills they can use to find other employment later on. Colombo Social also makes sure their partner agencies are able to provide ongoing mental health support to the workers, both before they're hired and while they're working.
Head chef Chamara Pathiranage has designed a menu in two parts: the first features a modern fusion of Australian classics with traditional Sri Lankan favours, while the other is home-style cooking.
But fusion abounds: soft-shell crab is coated in spices and deep-fried and put in tacos made of roti bread instead of tortilla, with mango salsa, fried curry leaves, sambal and desiccated coconut on top. There’s also a vegetarian bahji (similar to a fritter) of beetroot and caramelised onion served with a coconut yoghurt raita, a dipping sauce blended with herbs and mint. For the more traditional menu dishes include curry gravy, vegan dhal and vegetable curry. (They’re flagged on the menus as “Amma’s”, or “mum” in Sinhala and Tamil, Sri Lanka’s official languages.)
The spicy, fruity cocktails are also inspired by the South Asian country, with ginger, coconut, mango, cardamom and turmeric featuring. The Lankan Love Affair, for example, is made with Ceylon Arrack (a fermented coconut spirit), Brookie’s Macadamia Gin, lemon, ginger and cardamom syrup.
The colours and tones of the Sri Lankan landscape form the space’s palette. There are woven light shades, teal banquette seating, lush greenery and stacked terracotta pots to break the room into sections.