The Coconut Tree
Reading RG1 3BJ
0118 338 3921
THERE’S a set formula for food reviews. Set the scene, list the food, leave some impressions and end with a few witty bon mots.
For The Coconut Tree, bringing something unique to Reading’s restaurant scene, let’s eschew thousands of words as a preamble. Instead, let’s get straight to the point: you simply have to try it.
Here is something very different, and very tasty.
It’s Sri Lankan street food and cocktails at a price point that sees it compete with fast-food chains. Meals are made with fresh ingredients and there’s plenty of choice for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free.
Based on Kings Road, minutes from Jackson’s Corner and in the home of the old Zizzi, The Coconut Tree exceeds expectations. After all, few of us have tasted Sri Lankan food before, and if you’re expecting a fusion between curry and Thai, well, think again.
Reading is one of eight branches, offering tapas-style dishes, starting from £2.50. All are freshly cooked from an open-plan kitchen at the centre of the dining area. There are no hiding places, and no chance of chefs being tempted to take shortcuts.
The menu is extensive and if you can’t decide, The Coconut Tree has a tasting menu for £20. It’s not a set menu as such, as they’ll make some dishes aimed at your palette.
The first dish served was the Egg Hopper (£3.50), a bowl-shaped coconut milk pancake with an egg, coconut sambol, seeni sambol (caramelised onions with a hint of cinnamon), and lunu mirris, a Sri Lankan salsa. The pancake resembles the injera you’ll find at Tutu’s Ethiopian Table, you can use your fingers, use the cutlery, peck at it or wolf it down.
It’s very filling and would make a satisfying lunch on its own.
The empty dish was repurposed as a plate, for helpings from the next plates to arrive.
Polenta Battered Mushrooms (£5) came with spicy caramelised onions. I thought this would be my favourite, but the Cheesy Colombo (£6) then appeared: cheese cubes in a lightly spiced sticky sauce which are delicious.
Black Pork (£7) is pork belly slow-cooked in dark roasted spices – oh, my. How amazing.
Two Kotthus were served: this is a Sri Lankan ‘luxury’ street food, and comes with a finely chopped roti bread. It comprises scrambled egg, onions, chillies, spices and is from £5 for a vegan version to £9 for a chicken and cheese.
My favourite dish had to be the Stir-Fried Chickpeas (£4.50), a simple dish made with onions, garlic, mustard seeds, coconut chunks, curry leaves and crushed chillies. It’s flavoursome and a far cry from a greasy, heavy ruby murray.
In case you hadn’t guessed, these dishes are best shared. The plates might look small when they arrive, but order an assortment and you’ll quickly run out of table room unless you let everyone have a nibble. Sharing is caring. For hygiene, serving spoons are provided.
The food is just one part of The Coconut Tree’s offering. Its ‘cocotails’ is a menu that fuses premium Sri Lankan spirits, sharing party pieces, low sugar and low or alcohol-free drinks, served in appropriate glasses, some imported specially.
There’s much to enjoy here, particularly the bill. It is outrageous value for a meal out.
The environment is cool, with a funky soundtrack, great street art on the walls, and friendly staff who go out of their way to make you welcome.
Instead of napkins and posh tablewear, there’s a roll of kitchen towels on the tables and instructions to expect warm Sri Lankan hospitality, sweet and fiery cocktails, and candles in half coconuts.
The final décor and tables is still on its way, but will complete the authentic Sri Lankan vibe.
There’s also a private dining room downstairs for parties.
Opening offer gives 50% discount
For its opening, it is offering 50% off food until Saturday, September 4, then the same discount on Mondays to Wednesdays.
The catch is you need to pre-book. But then you’ll need to book anyway. The word on the street spread quickly and seats have been snapped up, with queues outside.
It’s great that Reading has something completely different joining its blossoming food scene, and it’s cool and funky. It’s a place that will make your party go wow, and is somewhere you can’t wait to return to.