Ceylonta, on Somerset was the first Sri Lankan restaurant in Ottawa. As a big curry fan, I have been wanting to try this place for a while, but I kept my expectations low to see if it would live up to the hype. Ceylonta is tucked in a little plaza near the corner of Bank and Somerset just down the street from Hartman’s. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it has developed a following, mostly through word of mouth.
We visited for dinner on a Monday night. The atmosphere was relaxed, and our server was excellent, very knowledgeable and friendly. This small restaurant has enough space for about 50 customers and was relatively busy with an assortment of families and small groups. A steady stream of customers popped in for takeout while we ate.
Ceylonta specializes in Sri Lankan cuisine, mostly curries, inspired by Sri Lanka’s proximity to southern India and its large Muslim population. Sri Lankan curries use a lot of coconut and seafood; vegetarian and vegan dishes are especially prominent, and all meat dishes are halal.
We opened our meal with a couple of starters: Ulunthu Vada (donut shaped black gram dhal) and Kadali Vadi (spicy fried patties made from lentil, urid dhal and chickpeas) served with a side of coconut chutney. Both were delicious. The Ulunthu Vada is packed with flavour and the Kadali Vadi is a little more mild, but wonderfully crunchy. The coconut chutney was tamer than I expected and more of a puree than the jam like chutney’s I am used to, but it works as a dipping sauce.
For our main course, we went with the vegetable thali: an assortment of six curries (lentil, spinach, eggplant, green bean, potato and butternut squash) served with basmati rice and papadam. Papadam is a type of crispy flatbread perfect for scooping up rice and curry. The variety of flavours you get with an order of thali makes it an excellent dish to share with a group, and for the less adventurous, several of the dishes are quite mild with slight undertones of coconut. A heated and ultimately unsettled debate started in our group over which was better the eggplant or green bean curry (both are rich and savory).
We also ordered several sides: deviled chicken (cooked in a tomato based chilly sauce), chicken palandi (roasted chicken marinated with Sri Lankan chilies and ginger-garlic sauce) and fried, crispy nan. Both of these meat dishes were tasty and the palandi had a nice bit of heat, though not overpowering. We finished the meal with Ceylon Tea, chai tea made with fresh cardamom, ginger and condensed milk. It’s a slightly sweet beverage and the perfect way to wrap up a big meal.
Ceylonta may not serve the best curries I have had in my life, but it is certainly among the best available in Ottawa and will be one of my new go-to places when looking for somewhere fun to go with a large group.
Bryan has taught English in Spain, the Dominican Republic, Toronto and Ottawa. In his travels, Bryan has eaten: bull’s tail, sheep’s brains, horse, kangaroo, black bear, alligator and numerous spicy dishes ranging from mild to volcanic. He has sampled dishes from every continent except Antarctica (although he recently discovered a recipe for penguin ragout). Bryan is not a picky eater.