Exploring Sri Lankan cuisine with Jessica Heath and NC Supper Clubs
Some of you may not know this about me, but I was an extremely fussy eater growing up, and my palate only really developed after the age of 20. I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since, so when NC Supper clubs invited me to discover Sri Lankan cuisine with none other than Jessica Heath, a former Masterchef USA contestant, I couldn’t refuse. Especially as I recently booked flights to Sri Lanka and couldn’t think of a better way to get in the mood for the trip!
Supperclubs are a wonderful concept, and since I’ve been in London, I’ve experienced quite a few. They can range from a simple meal in somebody’s house to a full-on gastronomic experience, and Jessica’s was definitely the latter! We were lucky enough to attend both of her London supperclubs within a week, and had a very different experience on both days. It was a wonderful introduction to a cuisine I knew nothing about, and if I hadn’t already booked my flights for July, I would have been hitting up Skyscanner that very evening!
Jessica’s background is somewhat eclectic, as she went from fashion and modelling to being the first contestant to bring Sri Lankan food to Masterchef USA (Season 8). Her supperclub showcased some very traditional Sri Lankan dishes, and the invitations were clearly in huge demand, making the evening almost too crowded for my liking. But all this was forgiven when we started tasting her wares.
I had wondered beforehand if Sri Lankan food would be similar to Indian food, which I know so well, and was surprised yet pleased to find that it wasn’t. Whilst some of the ingredients were known to me, the flavours were entirely unfamiliar, and Jessica created magic with every dish, even more so than the actual magician who wandered through the room showing off tricks!
After a beautiful performance by traditional Sri Lankan dancers, we started off with some amuse bouches; spiced crab cutlets and hummus canapés. I was blown away by the flavours within the crab, as its zinginess and zestiness reminded me a bit of Thai food, but with a surprising heat that rested on my tongue long after I had swallowed the mouthful. The pol roti hummus was more subtle, but we loved its flavours.
My friend and I were determined to try everything on the menu, so we planned our orders to ensure we could split and shared every dish. I was so glad we’d done this, as the two starters were worlds apart in flavour, texture, and appearance.
The gnocchi reminded me a bit of one of my favourite Bengali dishes, aloo posto – mainly due to the addition of curry leaves. I couldn’t detect the mascarpone, but I loved the golden colours and the hint of spice in the aftertaste. A winner all around.
The Isso Wade salad surprised me, as it didn’t look or feel like a salad at all, but rather a kind of lentil mash with a crispy cutlet and perfectly cooked prawn on top. The spicy aftertaste made my senses tingle, though I wonder if it may have been too much for people with a lower tolerance… luckily, there were a few juicy mango pieces to balance the chili!
We were already overwhelmed with flavours, and then the mains came in… oh my. Both options were incredibly generous portions overflowing with different elements, and the combination of all the flavours and textures was sublime. The beef was tender and falling apart and reminded me of American brisket, the ghee rice was soft yet textured, the noodles were crisp as crisp could be, the sambal added the zing, and the potato curry softened it all.
With the vegetarian option, we were pleased to see that it wasn’t just a vegetarian version of the carnivorous number, but rather a standalone dish. The cashews took centre stage, which isn’t something I ever thought they could do, and the sweetness of the nuts and coconut rice cut the spice of the sambal perfectly. I’m not normally a fan of beetroot, but this pickled version complemented the curry and wasn’t at all overpowering.
And then, and THEN. The two desserts. The Mumma’s Spiced Love Cake felt like passion and love was bursting out of every mouthful. Jessica told us she’d made it seven days in advance, which is a pittance compared to what her grandmother would do (60 days)! It was nutty, moist, and ever so slightly alcoholic – what more could you want in a cake?
The dark chocolate watalappam was completely different, but no less spectacular. The salted nut brittle on top tantalised my tastebuds, and we couldn’t figure out what the other ingredients were. It’s safe to say we gobbled up every last spoonful trying to discover it…
More than the spectacular cuisine, Jessica’s warmth and passion for her origins and associated flavours shone through the evening. Even though we were slightly cramped at our table, we had some fascinating conversations with interesting people (do check out The Little Indian Kitchen), tasted incredible food, and the heat probably brought the Sri Lankan climate closer too! NC Supper Clubs organised the event impeccably, and particularly going back on Thursday for round two was so much fun, as Jessica took a slight fusion turn to the dishes, and we even danced to some live music. I preferred the atmosphere on the second day, as it was far less hot and crowded, but it was the traditional food on the first evening that really won me over. I can’t wait to visit Sri Lanka and eat more of it!
If anybody has any travel or culinary tips for Sri Lanka, do let me know…
Jessica’s cookbook CeyLove is available here – the recipes look fantastic so do give it a read!
I was a guest thanks to NC Supper Clubs but we paid for our own drinks and as always, all opinions are my own.