Food News

Coming soon to Singapore: a polished Sri Lankan restaurant from an alumnus of Tetsuya’s and Yellow

He’s flown the flag for modern Australian cooking in Singapore; now chef Rishi Naleendra will celebrate his own culinary roots.
Black and white portrait of chef Rishi Naleendra leaning against a reflective wall.

Chef Rishi Naleendra.

In Colombo, Kotuwa is the Sinhalese name for the Sri Lankan capital’s central business district. Come April, it will also double as the name of Singapore’s newest Sri Lankan restaurant, headed by chef Rishi Naleendra of Cloudstreet and the Michelin-starred Cheek Bistro (formerly known as Cheek by Jowl).

The interior design moodboard is a colourful pastiche of retro fabric, yellow flamingos and tropical modernist touches inspired by influential Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. It’s a fitting backdrop for Colombo-born Naleendra to espouse the joys of his homeland’s cuisine.

Naleendra previously worked at Tetsuya’s and Yellow in Sydney, and relocated to Singapore in 2014 with wife Manuela Toniolo. “Sri Lankan food is fresh and super light,” he says. “We don’t use any diary. It’s always coconut milk or sometimes coconut cream. Compared to Indian food, we don’t use as many dried spices or masalas. There’s a lot of fresh lemongrass, curry leaf and pandan.”

According to Naleendra, Sri Lankan food is deeply regional and heavily influenced by migrant groups. Muslim merchants, for instance, have been arriving in Sri Lanka since the 7th century and brought biryani to the island nation’s shared table, while dishes from the north are heavily influenced by Tamil flavours from southern India. Malaysian migrants have also shaped the food culture with Naleendra citing the Sri Lankan-Malay dish watalappan, a spiced coconut and palm-sugar custard, as one of his favourite desserts. The food at Kotuwa will celebrate all these influences.

Next month, Naleendra and business partner Loh Lik Peng of hospitality group Unlisted Collection are taking off on a research eating trip through Sri Lanka. Although the menu is still being finalised, crab curries will definitely star – diners can choose from three spice levels ranging from a mild mustard number through to a fiery red curry. Street-food favourites kottu roti, mutton rolls and fish cutlets (spiced fish croquettes) will also make an appearance, as will Sri Lanka’s famous Lion beer. While the kitchen might tweak one or two things – ambul thial, a classic fish curry soured with brindleberry, will be remixed using venison – Naleendra will mostly be playing a straight bat.

“We don’t want to manipulate dishes too much,” says Naleendra. “In Sri Lanka, there’s a reason for why and how we eat things. It’s about sharing. It’s about the occasion. It’s about meeting people and having a good time. I want to keep it that way.”

Kotuwa is slated to open on 3 April at Wanderlust Hotel at 2 Dickson Rd, Singapore.

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