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Winner: Lankan Filling Station
Have you been to the casual Sri Lankan diner tucked in Darlinghurst for hoppers yet? You have? Have you tried the brunch menu, where you can get some spicy AM kicks with a soft milk bun stuffed with sweet seeni sambol? Yes? Well there’s always the monthly crab curries: a Sunday set menu where your tiny table is so laden with flavours, spices and colours that it’s like dining inside a kaleidoscope.
Those crab lunches book out well in advance, and with good reason. You pay $60 and in return they Tetris onto your table little fried lentil fritters, sunset coloured sweet’n’sour pickles, shredded beetroot relish, snake beans with Maldive fish and coconut, lime pickle (so pucker-powerful you might turn inside out), coconutty pol sambol, spicy katta sambol, soft red lentil dhal, and a never-ending supply of pappadams. Last to arrive is a bowl of nutty red rice and a terracotta pot with two blue swimmer crabs in a roasted curry fragrant with cumin, coriander seeds and the sharp freshness of fennel seed.
Imagine a keyboard that sounds amazing regardless of what order you play the notes. That’s the approach here: sweeten your curry with a spoon of beetroot, brighten your dhal with lime and chilli. Scoop everything onto the crunch of pappadams and accept that you will not finish it all. You will, nevertheless, throw yourself at the mercy of the dessert gods to ensure your share of caramelised pineapple pieces on sour kefir mascarpone finds safe passage.
The do-it-your-way approach to every aspect of O Tama Carey’s skinny slip of a restaurant is what ensures you’ll come back again, and again. Like a really excellent capsule wardrobe, you can remix everything on the menu into countless combinations – there is no such thing as dining fatigue here. If your visit to Lankan Filling Station lands on a regular evening’s service, you will receive your white paper menu for selecting your curry, from the mildest coconut base to the power of a dry spice mix that’s been roasted almost to the point of burning. You choose your sambols, your hoppers (yes, you want the egg), and your drinks, which includes a whole bunch of local beers and fun, natural wines that disprove all naysayers who think spice and vino don’t mix.
In a year of classic Italian dominance, Lankan Filling Station is the tropical heat wave that stormed onto Sydney’s dining scene, and now we can’t remember a time when hoppers weren’t the first thing we wanted when someone suggested dinner out. That’s the mark of a great restaurant – and it’s certainly why we’ve named it our Best Casual Restaurant and our Restaurant of the Year for 2019.