The menu at Blue Elephant looks similar to most Sri Lankan restaurants in Sydney, dominated by South Indian staples with a scattering of Sri Lankan specialities. However, behind the menu is an exciting list of Sri Lankan dishes accessible only with 24-hours notice.
Ask in advance for ambulthiyal, a dry and sour fish curry that, when made traditionally, is slow cooked until it hardens into jerky-like chunks. Restaurant manager and chef Siva Kumaran says the reason it’s absent from the regular menu is it’s so difficult to make. Aside from the time taken to dry out the fish, the dish relies on the availability of a rare fruit called goraka, which is essential to give the curry its distinct, sour flavour.
Similarly, the restaurant makes a fried rice dish with samba, a starchy Sri Lankan rice grain that belches out a fetid odour some people liken to durian. To offset the stench, fresh pandan leaves are added. Pandan, when used fresh, adds sweetness and a buttery, pudding-like aroma but while common in frozen form, the fresh variety is hard to find outside of Sydney’s western suburbs.
To experience the best part of the regular menu, we’d recommend Blue Elephant’s traditional Sunday brunch. It is centred on the country’s many forms of bread and bread-like snacks. Try pittu, steamed cylinders of ground rice and coconut; and kirri bath, which is similar to rice pudding made with coconut milk. Both are extremely common in modern-day Sri Lanka. Usually they’re served next to dhal, curry and a selection of sambals. Blue Elephant’s sambals are all homemade. There’s a dry coconut pol sambal, with dried fish flakes, lemon, garlic and black pepper; seeni sambal, made with sweetly stewed onions, tamarind and curry leaves; or lunu miris, which is simply (and dangerously) just chilli and salt.
Hoppers – bowl-shaped pancakes made with fermented rice and coconut – were once only found in Sri Lankan homes at breakfast time, but now they’re proliferating as a popular street snack. On Friday nights, Blue Elephant hosts hopper nights with an unlimited buffet and live music. Get your hoppers with a beer or some arak and a crab curry, made with murunga (drumstick) leaves; it’s only available on hopper night (or pre ordered like the other menu secrets).
If you end up drinking too much Sri Lankan liquor, order some kothu roti, the most easily enjoyable pre (or post) hangover dish you’ve probably never heard of. “It’s a late-night food. After drinking, at around 11pm, you eat this,” says Kumaran. It’s like Sri Lankan bubble and squeak – roti is rhythmically and loudly (it’s all part of the experience) chopped into coarse strands and then tossed into a wok with whatever you want, really – egg, vegetables, curry, cheese – whatever.
2 City View Road, Pennant Hills
(02) 8401 1508
Mon to Sun 5.30pm–10.30pm
Thu & Fri 11am–2pm
Local Knowledge is a weekly Broadsheet series shining a light on the unassuming, authentic Sydney restaurants that are worthy of appreciation beyond the neighbourhoods they serve.