17 July 2021: Jaffna House - New owners
With a desire to give many of the old Tooting haunts a second, more current and informed review, I've been revisiting them one by one, several years later. Having caught my attention with a makeover and a new menu, this time it was Jaffna House to which I returned.
On this occasion I was fortunate enough to come equipped with experience of having tasted Sri Lankan food first hand, having been on holiday there a few years back. I was also (more or less) sober.
Joining me for yet another LCB outing was the unremitting James Spellins on what was a rather hot Saturday evening.
This year Jaffna House celebrates it's pearl anniversary having been present at 90 Tooting Hight Street since 1991. The story of founders Siva and Raj can be found here, but they have now passed the baton of ownership of London's first Sri Lankan restaurant onto Siva's nephew and a new management team. Keeping things in the family, but bringing the restaurant into a new era, this tricenarian has been given a makeover with a new orange store front and interior. Indeed, gone (I think?) is the two room restaurant format they used to have, with the front of house now far improved.
On the walls are painted women cooking in traditional dress. This colourful triptych of murals is offset by fairly muted, dark wood covers, but various edison bulbs and a fishtank add a little extra flair. Otherwise, Jaffna House's position on the corner of Coverton road offers windows on two sides to complete a simple, but pleasant, light and airy, surround.
With a bonus point for its place in Tooting curry history it's 7/10 for Venue.
Starters and sides
Sizzling Garlic Chilli Prawns
The new interior is matched with a new menu offering a great selection of Sri Lankan dishes. For those unfamiliar, Sri Lankan food has many parallels with Southern Indian fare, with many seafood dishes, and flat breads as opposed to the North Indian naan. There are also a few unique dishes, notably the hopper (a breakfast pancake), string hopper (vermicelli-style noodle nests), and kothu - a chopped roti stir fry.
We started with sizzling garlic chili prawns and mutton rolls. The former was quite the spectacle as it came out fizzing and popping in a clay dish. The sights and sounds were a little more impressive than the taste, as the garlic, and particularly the chili, hadn't quite infused in the prawn, but it was still a nicely cooked and tasty dish. Better were the sizeable mutton rolls that contained large chunks of meat and potato in a croquet-style cylindrical crumb casing. Quite the mouthful, and arguably better than the offering at Hoppers, central London's more renowned Sri Lankan favourite.
With our curry we had sides of pilau rice and a veechu roti. This Sri Lankan specialty bread was a doughy, folded roti/parotta, slightly meatier than a typical roti or chapati and perfect for soaking up curry sauce.
With plenty of other exciting and unique starters and sides it's a strong showing for Jaffna House. Add Sri Lankan Lion lager into the mix and it's a solid 7/10 for Starters and Sides.
For mains we had a chicken kothu, crab curry and potato pirattal. Along with the bread and rice this proved to be a bit of a carb overload, but one that left us well satiated.
The signature kothu went down well with James who'd never sampled one before, and was certainly filling. Slightly stodgier and drier than the very best, this was still very tasty with its chopped mix of roti, onion, and chicken.
The pirattal had more moisture with its tomato based sauce, but failed to really set the world alight despite a chili kick. Most notable though was the house special crab curry, served in a rich, spicy, and traditionally tasting sauce. The crab meat was a little hard and messy to get to, but this delectable mustard seed, coriander, fennel and cumin number really took me soaring back to the heights of Ella. Luckily there was plenty of sauce to mop up with our veechu roti - a delicious curry!
With new management presumably has come a new and youthful staff. Friendly, if a little shy and tentative, I'm sure they'll build in confidence as they get more hours under their belts. They did, however, put up very well with the slightly blunt takeaway ordering of one particular gentleman and were equally polite with us. With no complaints, it's a 7/10.
Value for money
A quick cast of your eyes down the menu here won't fail to disappoint, not just for the dishes on offer, but due to the low numbers next to them. With curries on average around the £6.50 mark and some veg curries £2 cheaper, outstanding value can be found here. Perfect prices for sampling a range of dishes, especially for any vegetarians or vegans amongst you. Only the bottled Lion lager is even close to being punchy at £5.50, and dish sizes are favourable too.
It's no mean feat to stick around in the London food scene, particularly give the year and a half we've just had. With other local legends like Sree Krishna falling by the way side it's always great to see a stalwart like Jaffna House hanging in there. It's even nicer to see it create a new chapter in its history with a new refurb, website and menu to bring it in line with its contemporaries. Indeed, with other local restaurants like Lahore Karahi and Mirch Masala upping their interior design and digital marketing games its good to see Jaffna House do the same and hopefully continue to reap the rewards. Overlook the unique, Sri Lankan food on offer here at your peril. At such low prices it would be unforgiveable not to give it a try!
Click here to read our last review from Indian Ocean in Tooting
Address: 90 Tooting High St, London SW17 0RN
Cuisine: Sri Lankan
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Simple eatery offering authentic, great value Sri Lanked dishes