William Sitwell reviews Paradise, London: 'These aubergines are the sort I would travel far for'

William Sitwell
Our critic finds a slice of paradise in Soho, London - John Neate

Paradise may be closer than you think. Indeed I have been there so can bear witness. Paradise is now on Rupert Street in London’s Soho, in the guise of a Sri Lankan restaurant. It’s quite a small place. There are stools around a counter top bar, some high window seats, a small semi-private table up some steps at the far end and then a smattering of fixed booths with spaces for four.

Paradise purports to bring to London the energy of the Sri Lankan capital Columbo and since I’ve never been there if any of it is anything like Paradise then it’s a city with corners of brutalist luxury. The design of the restaurant is a triumphant mixture of concrete and comfort. It’s a pity the designer wasn’t fixing up places in the 1970s because perhapas he would have found a way to soften the edges of the new flyovers, underpasses, office blocks and towers blocks that brought such an aggressive post-war feel to the look of London.

Because, quite honestly, as a rural soul who finds comfort in the old, in weathered stone and fields I’ve never felt so comfortable in such modern surroundings. I sat in Paradise and stroked her unpolished cement walls, I dined beneath her beams of black steel and wood and relaxed as bespoke leather cushions assuaged the solid grey furnishings.

And I loved it. And before I get on to the food I should tell you that if you’re trying to find out how to turn a small cupboard into a chic lavatory see what they’ve done with the loos at Paradise, it’s a wonder.

The menu is a contemporary version of the street food of Sri Lanka, so there are hoppers – which are like crepes shaped like delicate earthenware pottery – little snacks such as lentil donuts, and a load of small plates.

We went for a smattering of dishes starting with mutton shoulder rolls with a dip of fermented chilli. The rolls were crisp and filled with earthy mutton, with that familiar flavour that I can only describe as like rolling around in the hay with an old sheep. Which is to say I loved the flavour, and as for the dip, whatever they did when they fermented the chilli the result was blissfully hot.

Jaffra spiced lamb chops at Paradise Credit: John Neate

Then the other dishes all piled onto the table at the same time. There was a beautiful bowl of little strips of aubergine where the chef did that miracle of making the skin edible but not burnt and the flesh not overly soggy. It upsets me when people burn the skin and then scoop out the flesh; not eating the skin is as idiotic as spurning the jacket of a crispy-baked potato. These aubergines were the sort I would travel far for, and they came gleaming with a long green chilli on top.

We also had a dish of cashew curry which we had ummed and ahhed about ordering. I don’t think you can improve on a precious roasted and salted cashew and the idea of a slow roasted curry of them seems wantonly extravagant, like making smoothies from strawberries. And it was more fine than fabulous. We also devoured some stir-fried, devilled prawns in a very hot sauce.

My only issue was as they were in their shells whole I felt we should eat with our fingers, but they hadn’t brought finger bowls so we wasted time extracting them with a knife and fork. A triumph was the lamb chop, a large cut of meat, marinated and arriving covered in mustard seeds. It was tender, pink, nicely spiced and very juicy.

There’s a small but excellent selection of wines, from France, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Spain and the US; the service is very upbeat, professional and friendly. I yearn to return and eat the rest of the menu. Paradise is indeed on Rupert Street and you deserve its luxurious fulfilment.