A Li Yaa’s dining room, with its polished cement floor, bright white walls, minimal art, and two walls of French doors leading to outdoor seating exudes cool tropical modernism. This Sri Lankan restaurant’s offerings are a fine introduction the country’s easy-to-like cuisine.
But first you have to get beyond the confusingly laid out menu. Soups give way to ‘tapas’, a peculiar classification for deviled dishes and cutlets. ‘Combos’ are followed by ‘family style’ dishes (shared from one dish). Some foods in the ‘combos’ section also turn up under ‘family style’ but many do not, and vice versa.
Why not serve everything family style, since this is the way most Asian food, aside from snacks, is eaten anyway? I also wished for more explanation of dishes. Many diners will recognize rasam but how many know kool? Relishes called sambol are a key component of the Sri Lankan table, but plunked as it is at the end of the menu (sans elucidation), A Li Yaa’s laudable selection of these brilliant bites is easily overlooked.
Happily perseverance is rewarded here. The Sri Lankan crab may be pricey (9.50 per 100 grams) but is easily the meatiest crustacean to have ever passed my palate. Skip the black pepper version (you’re here for Sri Lankan food, remember?) and go with the curry (thin, brick-red, and incorporating perhaps every warm spice known to man), which somehow manages to complement rather than overwhelm the shellfish.
Odiyal kool, a wonderful tomato-based seafood soup exhibiting a rich brininess that suggests long, careful simmering, is like a Sri Lankan bouillabaisse. The recommended mutton paal porival brought small pieces of surprisingly tender dry-fried meat thickly crusted with a moist, fragrant mix of spices. For peratal, long beans (or, if you prefer, lady fingers or daal) are rendered silky soft in a caramelised onion-enriched mild yellow curry.
Now, about those sambol. They’re only three ringgit a piece so order all four. Sambol pol is a vibrant pounded mix of onion, grated coconut, and saffron, while lively katta combines grated coconut with lime juice, onion, green chili, and loads of cilantro. Seeni is a cooked sambol of onions sweet from stewing and tart from tamarind, its flavour reminiscent of balsamic vinegar. Save room for vaddilappam, a firm flan-like egg and coconut milk custard imbued with the seductively smoky flavour of palm sugar.
The non-food experience could be improved. One shouldn’t have to request extra plates for refuse, a crab cracker, and finger bowls after a messy dish like crab curry is placed on the table. We seemed the charge of no one particular member of the affable staff, so service was sometimes catch as catch can. But the kitchen is working it: A Li Yaa serves scrumptious, truly unique dishes. With some tweaking of the menu and a bit of direction in the lovely dining room it would really shine.Robyn Eckhardt
|Venue name:||A Li Yaa||Contact:|
48G & M
Jalan Medan Setia 2
|Opening hours:||Daily, 12noon-3pm; 6pm-11pm|