Stacey Black tries out tapas-style Sri Lankan street food at The Coconut Tree, without going nuts over the bill
Since opening its doors on Gloucester Road in October 2018, award-winning restaurant The Coconut Tree has enjoyed considerable success in providing its customers with a variety of delicious and affordable Sri Lankan street-food dishes. It boasts a selection of small- to medium-sized sharing dishes created with a variety of veggies, fish and meats, which can all be washed down with an assortment of tropical cocktails. With the mission statement that “everyone is welcome to the table”, my dining companion and I decided to pull up a pew at the Gloucester Road branch.
Arriving during the dinner rush, we were seated at a large table by the window. With great views over the bustling Gloucester Road, we really had a prime spot. Initially around half the tables were occupied, but that soon changed and we were quickly part of a very busy restaurant. Vibrant, lively and inviting, the large space was decorated with vivid murals in mouth-watering colours, and above each industrial-looking chunky wooden table hung a cluster of twinkly vintage lights. Not a wholly unappealing place to spend a blustery Wednesday evening.
Our extremely helpful server, Lea, promptly appeared at our table to take our drinks order. Friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, she directed us to her favourite cocktails. At her guidance, I chose the Drunken Sri Lankan – something of a signature cocktail – made with a mix of Ceylon arrack, fiery ginger beer, turmeric and lime. This arrived in a delightful elephant-shaped mug (a portion of the profits go to the Elephant Sanctuary, Sri Lanka), and was as refreshing and warming as promised. My partner opted for the TCT Old Fashioned; a tropical twist on the classic cocktail. A perfect fusion of bourbon, coconut arrack, and chocolate bitters were chilled nicely by the giant orb of frozen coconut water bobbing in the glass, and the addition of a slab of dark chocolate and a sliver of orange peel were divine.
Drinks drained, Lea was back to find out which dishes took our fancy. Opting for a selection of smaller plates, we chose a combination of veggie and fish-based offerings. The hot battered spicy mushrooms (£5) were a particular delight. Piping hot and crusted with seasoned polenta, they sat on a dollop of sticky-sweet caramelised onions. These were gone in a flash. Next up was the Fat Sister (£4), two huge wedges of skin-on pumpkin slices nestled in a rich sauce of coconut milk and turmeric. This was too delicious to share, and I devoured it double-quick. Also a hit were the chickpeas (£3.50), stir-fried with onions, garlic, mustard seeds and crushed chillies. Feeling guilty for not sharing my pumpkin, I let my dining partner have a scant tablespoon of these.
New to the menu, the coconut sambal (£4) offered a refreshing foil to the robust food with its freshly grated coconut, blended with a mix of green and dried crushed chillies, and shallots. A small, but seemingly bottomless, pot of slow-cooked tuna (£5.50) provided a deep tamarind-like boldness to our meal, with its blend of sour and peppery flavours. A platter of fluffy triangles of parota rotti (£2.50) were a great way to mop up all the delicious sauce from our plates. As we were first-timers, we were encouraged to try the hopper (£3.50). This was a rather unique bowl-shaped coconut milk pancake, stuffed with coconut sambal, cinnamon-flavoured caramelised onions, Sri Lankan salsa and a fried egg. Enjoyably crispy and light, the fresh relish filling was a nice distraction from the richness of our other dishes.
Since I was far too full to eat dessert, I only nibbled politely at the edges of the Drunken Banana (£3) that my friend had ordered to finish off our meal. This was a neat portion of treacle-dipped, caramelised banana in a beer batter. Moreish, syrupy, but not oversweet, it was just enough to round-off an evening of ample flavours.
An impressive list of highlights, including being recognised for its top-quality customer service and affordability, are surely a source of pride. With a fourth restaurant on Clifton Triangle opening just before Christmas (other branches can be found in Cheltenham and Oxford), it seems there’s no slowing down for The Coconut Tree. We left feeling very welcome at this table.
The Coconut Tree
237–239 Cheltenham Road
0117 924 0284