This is the 2nd of my Taxi! series of reviews, which means this restaurant was recommended to me by a taxi driver. Please read, visit and dine without prejudice.
Ayubowan is a tastefully decorated Sri Lankan restaurant in cluster N of JLT. My first thought on entering was, how on earth can an RTA taxi driver afford to dine here (and here I was being all righteous talking about not being prejudice). Before I go on I must confess I know zip about Sri Lankan food. Zip, and that their curries are really good (duh!), coconutty and fiery hot. So I looked at my Kashmiri food buddy, Ashwani, for inspiration and guidance. He just shrugs his shoulders, tilts his head and say, YOU wanted to come here, not me; I know zip about Sri Lankan food too. Okay, I actually know how to solve this problem. Smiley, friendly waiter comes over and answers yes to my question, do you guys do a thali? So that’s what we ordered, a thali. Am I smart or what? A thali will give us a little sample of several dishes, eh. Yeah but in my heart of hearts I also know that a thali is not necessarily the best representation of a restaurant. And this was the case with Ayubowan.
We started with the Prawn Trio, basically small-medium sized prawns deep fried in what tasted like seasoned batter made from besan flour (garbanzo bean or chickpea flour). They came in original, spicy and cumin flavours, accompanied with three dips, two mayo based and not at all to my liking, and the third a much better sweet-chilli. I felt the besan (or whatever flour they made their batter with) added an earthy, almost nutty taste to the prawns – interesting but I wouldn’t order them again.
Our non-veg thalis came with one non-veg dish and five veg dishes, hmm. Ash ordered beef and I ordered chicken as our curries. The veggies came in the form of a daal, mango curry, Thai aubergine curry, string bean bhaji and a finely grated coconut bhaji. And we also got a plate of coconut rice laced with spices and curry leaves. Yeah, coconut plays a big part in Sri Lankan cuisine. My chicken curry was really good. Like the other curries, it too was coconut based and deliciously spicy. The same cannot be said for Ashwani’s beef curry, the sauce was great but the beef wasn’t anywhere nearly as tender as it should have been. Same for the mango curry, the big chunks of mango were too tough, but the thick, dark sauce was gorgeous. The daal was…um, just daal.
We had the Sri Lankan pancakes for dessert along with Sri Lankan tea with ginger. This is after I ate a bowl of their sweet mango chutney (they were kind enough to bring me a refill). Neither of us liked the pancake wraps, known in Sri Lanka as pani pol pancakes; pani pol referring to the sweet coconut mixture filling. The tea and ginger however was brilliant.
Service was very, very good; welcoming, friendly and attentive throughout our meal. As I mentioned above, thalis are good for sampling a wide variety of dishes in one shot but they aren’t always a true representation of the potential of a restaurant. Ayubowan is a case in point, I feel it has more to offer than came across with the thali. Although I did not like everything, I enjoyed my meal and the restaurant. I shall therefore come back to try a curry on its own (and not part of a collection of dishes), and also for the warm hospitality. So, if you’re in the neighbourhood and tired of Indian or Thai curries AND love coconuts, or simply want to try something different, I suggest you give Ayubowan a try.