Lihiniya, Cricklewood, London
Disclaimer 1: I love chaos in my restaurants
…. So when we walked into Lihiniya on a Saturday evening around 6pm and the place was a mess, tables not set and a very friendly owner emerged smiling from the kitchen talking about how busy they had been the previous evening and that lunchtime, I was immediately excited. How busy? What did you serve people? How satisfied were they? These were some examples of the one-track, stream of consciousness monologue that was going through my mind at the time…
Disclaimer 2: I love to be told what to eat
….So when we were offered hoppers and curry I was impressed. When we asked for the menu, and had it handed it us reluctantly I was very impressed. Solid Sri Lankan dishes with a mix of meat and veg curries, string hoppers and plain, egg and milk hoppers. We managed to push the ordering a little and settled for an okra curry, dhal, string hopper biryani and plenty of hoppers.
Disclaimer 3: I love it when there is a female genius in the kitchen
….Ordering done, it was time to introduce ourselves to the kitchen. Meepali is the creative genius behind Lihinya. She controls the hopper mix and hopper pans which is the most important part, and covers every other dish on the menu. Meepali takes massive pride in her food and her kitchen, and so she should because everything is sensational (get to the actual meal later).
Disclaimer 4: I love it when the genius has no formal training
…. Amazingly, she was not a cook before coming to the UK 30 years ago. She was actually an accountant and learned everything while in the UK. She learned pretty well because her hoppers are now famous across the UK with visiting dignitaries all stopping by to get their hopper fix. This is home cooking at it’s finest. No Michelin stars. No ‘Best of London 2012’. Home cooked food, made with love, and fresh.
I know that we haven’t even eaten yet. But I had to set the scene. This style of eating is not everybody’s choice. But if you like home cooked food and if you are willing to put your expectations of what a restaurant should be aside to get what you like, you will be in heaven. Lihinya is the Thattukada of Cricklewood.
Disclaimer 5: I love hoppers
…. Not everybody obsesses over these fermented rice pancakes. But hoppers are my thing. I indulged in 8 during this visit, an email split between plain and milk hoppers. All I can say is eating hoppers at Lihinya is like stopping at a street vendor on a rural road in Sri Lanka and having a plate of freshly cooked hoppers placed in front of me. They were that good. The curries were really delicious. Simple flavours, nothing too complex or different here, just Sri Lankan curries done really well (and not too spicy). The final note goes to the string hopper biryani. While the end result tastes a little like nice maggi noodles, you have to give credit where it is due. String hoppers take plenty of time and effort, and these were light and delicious. The chilli, carrot and spring onion complemented the cut noodles perfectly and for a brief five minutes nothing else in the world existed.
Disclaimer 6: I love community coincidences at my restaurants
…. Not wanting the meal to end we lingered and had a chat to one of the customers who happened to be the guy that designed the menu and has been coming for plenty of years. Apparently Lihinya is the place the Sri Lankan community converges, as they are spread across London. If you don’t live locally and so regular visits are not an option, they make their own spice mix and sell it in-store. This was the barman’s idea.
It’s not Zucca, it’s not dinner by Heston and it’s not Busaba. So as long as you know what to expect, head over to Lihinya and see what happens (apparently weekend buffet is a highlight, call in advance).
Disclaimer 7: I love a meal that is more than a meal
…. You won’t only eat at Lihinya, you’ll be forced to adapt to a different world, experience a new sense of time and maybe make some new friends.
66 Cricklewood Broadway London NW2 3EP
020 8450 9052
Just a bit of an update on this place. I made it here a few weeks ago and my companion and I had a pretty good meal, but it was pretty much an amalgamation of everything they had that day. The buffet was off as the owner's wife (who is also the cook) is away in Sri Lanka until April 10th.
Saying that, egg hoppers were absolutely perfect. Kattu sambol was also very good and clearly homemade. It could've used a tiny bit more lime, but it was otherwise the best version I've had. Less stellar were the regular hoppers as they were not made to order (whereas the egg hoppers were.) The veg (dal curry and a spinach dish) were OK while the chicken curry was actually quite excellent (though they didn't even have a full portion of that left as we came very late on a Sunday.)
Overall the meal was good and the owner was unbelievably nice, but we need to make a return trip once his wife gets back. My dining companion gave Lihiniya her Sinhalese stamp of approval even with it seeming like the kitchen was operating at 10% of its potential.
Anyone want to join?