Vibrant new restaurant is a first for Nottingham food lovers

Nottingham’s latest restaurant is bringing something zingy, dynamic and new to the city’s food and drink scene. Colombo Street is the first Sri Lankan restaurant to open – with a whole new vocabulary of flavoursome dishes to get acquainted with, from hoppers and sambals to kottu and gothamba rotis. Street food and home-cooked classics feature on the menu, devised by Pasan Nissanka, who first came to the UK to study aerospace engineering at university.

He said: “When I first moved to the UK something I really missed was Sri Lankan food. It’s not very common here. I started cooking as a hobby for myself and my mates and fed a lot of people.

“In 2018 I started a street food business trading out of a gazebo, going to events around the Midlands including quite a few in Nottingham.”

The 29-year-old went from a gazebo to a brightly decorated truck, which made appearances at Nottingham Street Food Club at Sneinton Market and The Garage in Chilwell. “In 2019 we traded nearly every weekend. It was challenging but good fun”, said Pasan, who at that time had a full-time job at Bombardier (now Alstom) in Derby and was busy seven days a week.

When Covid hit in 2020 the business pivoted to offer home delivery, with many fans saying he should open a restaurant. In May this year, he got the keys to an empty property in Adams Walk, off Fletcher Gate, which used to be Rub Smokehouse, an American barbecue restaurant which introduced Nottingham to Nugzilla, a giant chicken nugget, and epic food combinations.

Vibrant new restaurant is a first for Nottingham food lovers

After a massive overhaul from top to toe, Colombo Street is now open with vibrant pop art designed by Sri Lankan architect Charith Wijesundara covering the walls, colourful masks and a huge rattan chandelier. The restaurant offers two menus – street food during the day and a traditional dining experience in the evenings.

Kottu is one of the most popular dishes, a roti chopped and stir fried with vegetables and curry spices, served with chicken, fish, mutton or jackfruit and pots of homemade coconut chutney and sambal, a traditional condiment packed with flavour.

Vibrant new restaurant is a first for Nottingham food lovers

Hoppers are crispy paper-thin pancakes shaped like a bowl, which are served with a variety of accompaniments, from an egg at brunch time to curries in the evening. Coconut-based curries include Ceylon mutton, jumbo prawns,. chicken, white fish and jackfruit. For starters there’s classic snacks such as lentil wadey, chickpea sizzle, calamari, and chicken wings or a veggie version with cauliflower.

Vegans have a healthy choice and there’s a stack of gluten-free dishes. For diners whose stomachs aren’t at bursting point, there’s a dessert menu to tackle. No matter what the cuisine, there’s usually chocolate involved and here it’s a pudding made layers of biscuits and mousse.

Vibrant new restaurant is a first for Nottingham food lovers

For something lighter and less rich try watalappan, a creamy coconut custard sweetened with jaggery, the sugary sap from palm trees traditionally gathered by workers on high wires.

Pasan said: “The cuisine has evolved quite a bit over hundreds of years and because it’s a small island there was lot of influence from other countries. For example we have empanadas but we have made them our own with Sri Lankan spices, and croquettes as well – but we have done our own thing. “There’s a bit of a blend of South Indian, Indonesian and Thai.

It’s a bit of a melting pot of different flavours.” Dishes are flavoured by Colombo Street’s own spice blend, imported from Sri Lanka. “It’s really about the flavours – that’s what we are passionate about.

It’s not just about making it hot. Sri Lankan food is known to be quite spicy but it’s not about blowing your head off. We have been working quite hard to get the right balance and make it a nice enjoyable experience,” said Pasan.

There’s beer, wine, spirits and soft drinks plus a number of classic cocktails but for an authentic Sri Lankan tipple go for Cosmic Colombo, which uses arrack, made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers.

Vibrant new restaurant is a first for Nottingham food lovers

Now the 80-seater restaurant is now up and running, it’s not the end for the street food side of the business, which reached the finals of the 2020 British Street Food Awards. Pasan plans to continue it and expand into catering for events such as weddings. “I want to keep the van as it’s a great way to reach people.

Sri Lankan food is not very accessible and we want to get to as many people and that’s the best way. “There’s no true Sri Lankan restaurants. There’s south Indian restaurants that do Sri Lankan dishes but that’s it,” he said.

Investors are already interested in the hope that the restaurant model can be expanded further afield.

Vibrant new restaurant is a first for Nottingham food lovers

Getting the property shipshape was a massive challenge – from a major clean up to changing the layout, hindered when one of the crew came down with Covid and ended up in intensive care, and others having to self isolate. Even now the executive head chef is still stuck in Sri Lanka but with the lifting of travel restrictions yesterday he should soon be winging his way to the UK. Hospitality consultant, Tomas Vanek, who project managed Colombo Street, said the flavours leave a lasting impression on the taste buds for several hours.

“It’s a nice combination of spices. There is nothing like this in Nottingham – the difference in the cuisine and how vibrant it is. “It’s good to see after Covid people getting on trying to pursue their dream opening their own restaurant, bringing something new for people to enjoy.

I am extremely proud of what we have achieved here.”