A promising new Sri Lankan restaurant has arrived on St-Denis Street: Nama opened in recent weeks, aiming to showcase the island nation’s multiple cuisines.
Jeya Sivans is the creative head driving Nama — beyond her experience running a catering company in the UK, she has put some hefty research into her home country’s cuisine before opening up. In 2017, she went on an extensive research trip, spending time at a national spice research centre in Sri Lanka, learning the finer points of mixing spices. She also visited food and agriculture departments at universities in Jaffna and Kilinochchi, and an executive chef at a luxury beach resort in the country.
That hard work seems to be paying off, with Sivans reporting awestruck reviews for the restaurant’s dishes.
“I have had Sri Lankan people come into this restaurant who said ‘we feel like we’ve just been home and come back’, and that’s like an Oscar moment for me.”
Such dishes might include kottu roti, a street dish based around chilis, black pepper, eggs, and a choice of meat — Sivans highlights her version with a lamb shank. Then there’s sweet-sour-spicy relish seeni sambol, which Nama serves in a tart, as something of a twist. Then there’s a black pork curry, typical of the city of Kandy, laden with spices and served with pork; Nama is also making its own hoppers, a rice flour-coconut pancake served with various toppings.
Sivans says she’s aware that some people might see Sri Lankan fare as typically more of a cheaper eat, she aspires to make Nama more of a destination.
“People might say ‘oh I can get that for ten dollars in Parc Ex’, [but] we use New Zealand lamb, for example, our shank is from a local butcher.”
Unlike some Sri Lankan restaurants, Sivans says she’s not looking across to India to pad the menu or add dishes that might be more familiar to a North American crowd.
“Some restaurants compensate by adding south Indian menu [items] but we’re on the gastronomical side.”
For example, Sivans points out that Sri Lankan fare is typically dairy free (some Indian cuisines use items like the clarified butter ghee, or paneer cheese) — and she’s keeping things that way.
Come September, Nama will do brunch, featuring the Tamil-style dosai with spiced lentils, hoppers with brunch-friendly toppings like egg, and a classic breakfast plate with ample Sri Lankan touches — spiced eggs, turmeric potatoes, and chutney, to name a few. Nama is sourcing organic tea from Kandy, and a spiced coffee with cardamom, cinnamon, and coriander seeds.
The restaurant just nabbed its liquor permit — that means cocktails to fit the menu are on offer (see: the Colombo White, with vodka, coconut milk, and lychee). Beers will include IPAs, which match will with curries, and a wine list will be carefully selected to match.
It all happens in the space that used to be the restaurant Kiffin — a warm, homey space, given extra atmosphere with vintage furnishings. Here’s a brief look.
STATUS — Nama is open at 3439 St-Denis from 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, noon to 1 a.m. Saturday and noon to 11 p.m. Sunday; brunch to come in September.
- Nama Restaurant [Official]