Famous for her show-stopping hoppers at Carriageworks Farmers Market, O Tama Carey has finally flung open the doors to her first permanent restaurant, Lankan Filling Station.
A shrine to Sri Lankan cuisine, the new East Sydney venue is headed up by the renowned chef and curry queen (who previously worked at Berta, Bistro Moncur and Billy Kwong) who has put together a hands-on menu of hoppers, sambols and curries.
Designed by David Mitchell Architects, the long, slender dining room has a sleek, industrial fit-out of polished concrete walls and brushed copper lighting. Every inch of the floor plan has been used, creating an obstacle course of bentwood chairs, bistro tables and happy, curry-stained patrons.
The build-your-own menu employs a check box system and it takes all the restraint in the world not to go on a mad ticking spree. Start by ordering a few hoppers, which are bowl-shaped crepes, known for their soft, spongey centre and crisp lacy trim. Variations include the string hoppers, made from vermicelli webbing, and one with a fried egg in the centre.
Next up, choose a sambol. This is the dip to your chip. Those who love a good tongue torturing will appreciate the kata sambol, made from a deadly medley of onion, chilli and lime. Those with a more delicate palette will prefer the green pol sambol, a fragrant mix of shaved coconut and coriander or the seeni sambol, a sweet and sour mix of caramelised onions and tamarind. If in doubt, get the mixed sambol plate and play Russian roulette.
Turn it into a proper banquet with a few of Carey's curries. A delicate white fish curry is richer and less creamy than its subcontinental cousin, with gentle warmth emanating from the dry roasted spices. If you're after screaming heat, go the red hot chicken curry, you can always recalibrate with a side of cooling raita. There are a bunch of vegetarian options too, including fat yellow lentils simmered in mustard seed and coconut, or the silky eggplant and tomato stew. Now all that's left to do is tear into your hopper, and start dipping, dunking and dribbling your way through the different spiced bowls.
As tempting as it is to wipe every bowl, dish, and table stain clean, be sure to leave room for dessert. The watalappam is unmissable. This sweet, caramelised custard comes crowned with an aromatic smattering of seeds, nuts, spices and toffee shards. Pair it with the ginger and turmeric gelato, a creamy, subtle-spiced ice-cream, which brings the evening to a faultless finish.
While hoppers go exceptionally well with hops, there's more to the drinks menu than just beer. If you're looking to quench the heat, try one of custom-blended Sri Lankan tea. Otherwise, there's natural, minimal intervention wines available (including sangiovese rosé on tap) as well as mead, faluda and Ceylon arrack, a Sri Lankan spirit made from fermented coconut flower sap.
A combination of Lankan Filling Station's amazing food, tiny dining room and no bookings policy can make it difficult to get a table straight off the bat. All we want to know now is, when will they open a second one?