On the menu at Camellia is Sri Lankan cuisine with its heavenly aromas, exotic spices and vibrant colours. The name comes from “Camellia sinensis”, a superb tea species grown in the rich soil of the Sri Lankan mountains.
Opened in Manuka towards the end of last year, the restaurant is located where Saffron used to be, next to the cinema (Saffron needed a larger home and is now on Kennedy Street, Kingston).
It is an intimate space, with crisp white tablecloths adding a touch of class, and excellent service that, on our visit, included a warm hello from the chef who came out to see how our meals were.Entrees include thin crepes with aromatic fish potato filling ($14.90), a sensational sweet chilli baby octopus with young garlic beans and toffee almond ($15.90) and an intriguing prawn onion and sweet pineapple curry with housemade roti bread served warm ($16.90).
Vegetarians are well cared for at Camellia and gluten-free meals can easily be prepared.
For mains you cannot go wrong with traditional Biriyani – long grain rice cooked with spices and tender lamb curry that comes with cooked egg, mint coconut sambol, crispy pappadam and a cool, yoghurt cucumber salad ($27.90). This dish is said to have originated in Turkey or Persia, but it now has an international presence and you simply cannot count the number of ways it is prepared, including by chefs who hold secret recipes near and dear to their hearts. This version was mighty fine.
My mild beef curry, another traditional dish, was super tasty but I found the meat disappointingly tough and wished it had been slow cooked for much longer. You can order the dish with fish or chicken if you prefer and can no doubt ask the chef at Camellia to ramp up the intensity of the curry. The Basmati rice was light and fluffy.
If you are not enamoured with more fulsome curry flavours, Camellia serves up dishes such as pan-grilled salmon with wild lime chili ginger glaze ($27.90) and a grilled striploin with creamy cracked pepper sauce ($32.90).Sri Lankan tradition carries through to the desserts with steamed treacle spice cake on the menu and Watalappan, a famous custard made with rich, condensed milk, and spices such as cardamom, nutmeg and cloves. Love chocolate? My bet is the dark truffle cake with berry compote is super decadent (all desserts $9.90).
Camellia offers banquet menus and is open for lunch. The restaurant is licensed, although the selection is not extensive or super interesting from my point of view.
Camellia. Shop 8, Capitol Theatre Centre, Franklin Street, Manuka. Call 6295 2756.