Paradise opened in December 2019 in the heart of Soho, serving Sri Lankan food in the space that once housed Spuntino. It was set up by a gentleman called Dom Fernando and at the time of writing was without a head chef, having two sous chefs running the kitchen. The small premises has a few booths and several tightly packed bar stools. What it does not have is a telephone, just a website that spends quite a lot of time emphasising the maximum dining time (90 minutes for banquettes and 80 minutes for counter stools) and the charges that will be made if you turn up ten minutes late or with fewer diners than you originally booked for, or no-show, or in some way annoy the restaurant (I made that last one up).
There was a short wine list of just eleven labels, ranging in price from £35 to £52 with a median price of £45 and an average markup to retail price of a fair 2.7 times. Example offerings were La Cuca de Llum Trepat 2020 at £35 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £14, Domaine Charmay Beaujolais 2020 at £43 compared to its retail price of £16, and Malinga Riesling Kamtal 2020 at £52 for a bottle that will set you back £42 in a shop.
I began with a pair of slow-braised pig’s head cutlets (at £6.80), served with damson and tamarind ketchup and pickled Bombay onions (a variety of red onion). The pork croquettes had plenty of flavour and a pleasant kick of chilli, with the tamarind in the ketchup bringing some sweetness. Balance was brought to what would otherwise have been a very rich dish by vinegar in the pickled onion, which cut through the richness of the meat nicely. This was a very enjoyable dish (14/20).
Also good was a little curry (priced at £17.50) of three Scottish scallops and Devon crab kiri-hodi, a coconut milk gravy, with rambutan acharu (normally spelled achcharu), grains and curry leaves. Achcharu is a roadside snack made using the rambutan fruit, which is rather like lychee. The scallops were good quality and lightly cooked, the coconut gravy a pleasing foil for the shellfish, while the acidity of the rambutan nicely balanced the natural sweetness of the scallops. For me the crab seemed missing in action, but the dish certainly worked well (14/20).
Less successful was fermented thosai pancake (£12.10) made from rice and lentils, filled with maitake and chestnut mushrooms with thel dala (fried potato). Maitake mushrooms are bland at the best of times, and the rather plain potato and pancake added up to a rather bland dish where the main flavour was the maitake mushrooms, which are never going to be thrilling. It was curious to find almost a complete absence of spice in this dish given the quite lively pork starter, and a kick of chilli would certainly have been welcome here (12/20). Roti (£5.80) flavoured with ghee had good texture and although I have encountered better versions of this dish in southern India and even in London it was perfectly pleasant (13/20). Samba rice (a rice variety from Tamil Nadu) is a short grain rice and was garnished with a few curry leaves.
Service was polite, though quite why it would seem reasonable for a restaurant to ask you to keep your used cutlery between courses eludes me. That 80-minute wait limit need not trouble you – from sitting down to leaving took me barely 40 minutes, so this is not a place to linger. The bill came to £56 with just mineral water to drink, and this is my main issue with the restaurant. If you drank beer or wine then you would quickly run up a bill of £75 or more, which seems to me quite a lot of money for a quickfire meal on a bar stool. In literature, paradise may be eternal, but in Rupert Street it is remarkably quick and not cheap.