Review – Moonstone Sri Lankan
Curry Club is now in its fourth round and after last months debacle at Chaula’s, my name was drawn out of a hat to choose this months adventure. Did I spend hours, no not hours, days researching, questioning, debating with (mainly) myself as to where to go? Of course I did!
I toyed with Eastern Eye, Planet India, Ashoka, Ganges and Green Mango plus a host of other Brighton and Hove curry based restaurants. One name that has always stood out and that I’d heard nothing but positive feedback on was Moonstone Sri Lankan on Church Road.
Gathering my merry band of Curry Clubbers, we met in the Blind Busker for a swift one before making our way down into deepest darkest Hove toward Moonstone.
Moonstone is, to my knowledge, the only restaurant in Brighton and Hove that specialises in Sri Lankan cuisine and this fact alone made me excited to be trying something new and different in our wonderful city. Sri Lankan cuisine is famed for its heat as well as its clever blend of spices and for those with a very Westernised pallet like me, I was pleased to learn that Moonstone will cater for any heat upon request.
Arriving on a Monday evening around 7pm, I was surprised to find Moonstone completely empty. In fact, not a single customer except our rowdy table of 12, entered the establishment all evening. Quite surprising for a restaurant of Moonstones reputation.
Seated on a long table, the powder blue decor reeked of needing a huge overhaul and the music filtering through the speaker system instantly reminded us of a Nintendo video game. These atmosphere qualms aside, I delved into the well presented and informative menu given to us by our friendly waiter.
What instantly surprised me was the vast choice of vegetarian dishes. These ranged from mango salad to start and an astonishing fifteen options of vegetable curry, as well as specific vegetarian dishes like the Auberinge and Capsicum Ratatoullie to choose from. Needless to say, the vegetarians in our party were thrilled by the range of choice that Moonstone presented to them.
Carnivores were also catered for with the menu being split into two easy to follow sections: fish & seafood and meat. On offer was a really decent selection of both including squid, kingfish, tuna and red snapper as well as the more usual suspects of chicken, pork, beef and lamb.
I knew I wanted to sample a good mixture of the Sri Lankan cuisine, so after much deliberation and my first glass of slightly over-priced dry Pinot Grigio (£16.50 a bottle), I order the Fish Balls with Sri Lankan Pineapple Chutney – three tuna and potato balls cooked in aromatic spices with home-made pineapple chutney (£4.95) to start and the Traditional Pork Curry – meat cooked in a unique blend of home-made spices and herbs in a cinnamon and coconut sauce (£8.50). I was undecided on whether to sample any sides and when it seemed everyone else was, I thought ‘when in Rome!’ and placed an order for Plain Pol Rotti – Sri Lankan style bread made with coconut and flour (£3.00).
The wait for our starters was slightly longer than I’d anticipated however it did give me chance to get stuck into the wine!
The fish balls were fine. Nothing about them really stood out nor let them down. They were served piping hot and fresh from the deep fat fryer. A pungent tuna sensation running throughout, combined with fluffy potato and a a selection of spices. I enjoyed dipping chunks into the pineapple chutney, but nothing really wow’d me. Nothing said ‘blimey! so this is what Sri Lankan food is all about!’ Mediocre, at best.
At this point it’s worth noting that a Curry Club members starter was served frozen in the centre. He took the right course of action and explained to the waiter and the mistake was soon rectified. However, how can a restaurant state “all food is freshly prepared” on the menu when produce is served not cooked? I guess it’s prepared ‘fresh’, as in taken out of the freezer and bunged in a microwave but not exactly ‘cooked’ fresh to order. A set back that really but a dampener on the evening.
So the starter wasn’t exactly the high flying delve into Sri Lankan cuisine I’d expected. Luckily for Moonstone, the main course was redeeming.
Served in a large, square bowl, the Traditional Pork Curry was bubbling away and smelt glorious. A really strong, creamy aroma of spices and the hints of cinnamon really shone through. I’m glad I went for a mild version as it was just the right temperature for my pallet. A slightly on the thin side sauce oozed coconut flavour and I was pleased with the thin strips of pork swimming in my main along with onion and mustard seeds. A really good insight into the Sri Lankan cuisine, although a few more vegetables would have been nice.
The rice dish was a standout. It was brilliant! Sticky, well flavoured rice clinging to an array of fresh vegetables, delicious stuff. Spooned onto my plate, the rice quickly got swamped with my curry sauce and the two flavours worked well together.
I purchased my rotti, mainly because of peer pressure, and I wish I hadn’t bothered. Hard, round cuts of what tasted like squashed stale muffin. Not enjoyable at all. If they’d at least served a purpose and mopped up the wondrous amount of sauce I had with my main, that may have been a saving grace, but they deteriorated and I ended up with chunks of overly saturated bread in my curry. Not ideal and not pleasant. I think I managed one and palmed them off on an unsuspecting Curry Clubber.
All in all, a mixed bag. A mediocre starter, an enjoyable main, a fantastic rice and a despicable side. Lacking atmosphere and decor, Moonstone underwhelmed me. I felt a bit embarrassed I’d brought along 11 other people with me and doubt I’ll be giving them another try.
Moonstone, I thought you’d be a diamond in the rough, yet you made me want to take myself away and hide under a rock. Poor show.