On March 17th, in London’s historic Borough Market, Cynthia Shanmugalingam will open Rambutan, her debut restaurant.

Rambutan is inspired by Sri Lankan cooking, centering on the food of the ancient Tamil region in the North of the island, Cynthia’s ancestral home.

It is the product of years of cooking and collecting recipes, from her hardworking aunties in Coventry, to the chefs and home cooks who have shared their secrets all over the island. The menu is a mashup of old and new, with carefully sourced ingredients from Sri Lanka and Borough Market; heritage dishes with an immigrant twist.

Like the village kitchens in the Sri Lankan country, built around a traditional fire aduppu stove, the open kitchen at Rambutan will be the hearth at which every guest is welcomed, emitting smoke, fire and flame, and the scents of toasting spices and meat crackling on the grill.

Enclosed by a green marble counter, the restaurant will gravitate around the theatre of the kitchen counter, the focal point of an interior full of dark woods and bright colours, inspired by the post-colonial style of Sri Lanka’s most famous female architect Minette de Silva.

A meal might start with a Sri Lankan short-eat, a snack which might be served at a Tamil party or packed in a lunch box for a big journey, like a Chicken Sambol Bun or Fried Mutton Roll. Onto the curries, thoughtfully sourced ingredients including Flourish Farm vegetables or native breed livestock grown on the Yorkshire Dales, will be brightened and enriched by spices carefully tempered and blended, such as Burnt Cabbage Varai, topped with crispy lentils, mustard and cumin seeds. 

From the grill, Turbot heads with all their gelatinous glory released, will pair with a delicate, comforting Sodhi broth, fragrant with lemongrass and pandan leaves and a gentle hit of fenugreek. Perhaps Sri Lanka’s best-loved dish, its slow braised Black Pork, imbued with the deep, aromatic spice of curry powder roasted until it’s blackened and burnt. A venerated ancient Tamil of small-grain samba rice, Chicken Pongal, will be cooked slowly with saffron, coconut milk, poppy seeds and cinnamon.

Championing Sri Lankan artists, Cynthia has worked to commission a number of independent Sri Lankan designers to create one-of-a-kind pieces for the restaurant. Sustainable Ceylon teak chairs and tables, handmade ceramic tiles by Tamil ceramicist Gayi Soori will be used throughout the space, alongside brightly coloured clay and concrete.

Downstairs, the scarcely-lit bar will provide a hideaway, with a menu of cocktails giving a starring role to spirits banned by colonial rule in Sri Lanka and beyond include: mezcal, cachaca and Sri Lankan arrack. There will also be a dynamic line-up of low intervention wine, and ice-cold south London beers.

Rambutan will open for lunch and dinner on March 17th.

10 Stoney Street