The Coconut Tree in St Clements was absolutely heaving when we arrived on a cold, wet Tuesday night, when most restaurants are shut. But there wasn’t a spare seat in the house.
Huge tables cavorted and ate, birthdays played out around us, students popped in – sports kit in hand, couples arrived for a quick bite, it was all going on.
A queue had formed inside the door as eager customers perused the menu waiting for a table. Business as usual then at Sri Lankan inspired The Coconut Tree.
I’d been several times over the years since it opened in 2017, but had forgotten how good it was. Perhaps because there are now Coconut Trees popping up all over the country and I’d wrongly assumed it might have lost some of its unique, convivial and enticing Sri Lankan vibe.
I was wrong, judging by the thriving ambience we encompassed on arriving at the funky bar and restaurant, where cocktails were being produced at a rapid rate in various incarnations, from blazing Sriki Tikis to pineapples filled with pina colada.
Luckily we’d booked the big table by the window or we’d never have got in. Two Sriki Tiki’s in we ordered almost everything on the menu, but then there were seven of us. It’s all so irresistible, and with 50% off all food bills Mon-Wed it was easy to go overboard.
What The Coconut Tree also does so well is offer something for everyone, so kids under 10 eat for free, there are numerous veggie and vegan options, (which is why The Coconut tree was a finalist in the Ox In A Box Food Awards https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/vote-now-best-veggie-vegan-category-in-the-ox-in-a-box-food-awards-its-the-future-after-all/) and the spicing varies from mild to hot.
So what is Sri Lankan food? Characterised by lots of fragrant spices, all forms of coconut, and rice, it’s novel and fun with variations on the classics, as well as lots of introductory dishes.
You don’t order starters and mains but order about three dishes each and then try everything all together and share, although the goat curry was definitely a no go after my son commandeered it, as was the slow cooked pork belly.
Particular favourites? The pineapple curry cooked in coconut milk, fennel and a hint of cinnamon (£5.20), the zesty Five Cs Salad (carrots, coriander, chillies, cucumber and grated coconut) which was zingingly fresh and tasty, the Straight Up Bonchi green beans toasted in coconut oil, curry leaves & chilli flakes flash fried with toasted coconut chunks which blew your head off, the devilled chicken wings in a spicy sticky sauce, mixed with peppers (£6.40) and the curried chicken Kotthu – a Sri Lankan street food made with finely chopped roti with egg, vegetables and/or meat (£8.60).
We had to try their signature hoppers – a bowl shaped coconut milk pancake served with coconut sambol, seeni sambol (caramelised onions with a hint of cinnamon) and lunu miris (Sri Lankan salsa), with or without egg £3.75!
The hot battered spicy cuttlefish polenta battered cuttlefish (like calamari) mixed with spicy caramelised onions were piping hot, crispy and delicious, and the TCT VE-GAN fried rice with carrots, onions and leeks, served with a chilli hot relish was hugely memorable.
Throw them all into the mix and you have a feast of epic proportions and much guzzling, chewing and licking of fingers ensued. It’s a sociable and fun way to eat.
Pudding was another big hit, the treacle hopper with vanilla ice cream a lovely sweet, sticky pancake, and the coconut panna cotta with treacle, pineapple, mango and a hint of lime had me at hello.
Stomachs groaning we were ejected back out onto St Clements, the warmth and endemic hospitality slowly ebbing away behind us. What sugared the pill was the bill – really, really good value for money (around £15 a head without drinks).
I won’t leave it so long next time, The Coconut Tree’s calypso vibes now impossible to resist.
The Coconut Tree 76 Saint Clement’s Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX4 1AH https://www.thecoconut-tree.com/oxford