It all started with a Sri Lankan friend who I’ve known since my high school days. He’s suggested this place to me a number of years ago as a good place for Indian and Sri Lankan food. Actually, his words were something along the lines of it being the “best bang for your buck”. He acknowledged that you could probably find better food elsewhere but it was great for what you paid for.
Spoken like a true Sri Lankan :)
I’ve been to Janani quite a number of times since that fateful evening many years ago. Things have changed since that time, at one stage opening 24 hours until some spoil-sport local residents complained to the council and ruined it for everyone. The food has changed too but I’ll get to that later.
The restaurant has a very down-to-earth feel to it, with an ambiance that is somewhat akin to an Indian version of a roadside diner. It’s a place where the dining experience focuses solely on the service of good, honest food at a reasonable price. In other words, it’s all about the eating and less about the “dining experience”, if you get my meaning. Oh, and feel free to dig in and eat with your hands. When in Rome…
We’d started with an order of drinks. The mango lassi was smooth, sweet and pretty nice. The consistency was right but a little more mango and a little less sweet would have been my preference. The ginger milk tea came with sugar on the side, which was a nice touch. I’ve been told by my dinner guest that you don’t always have the option. The tea itself had a mellow ginger flavour to it, which made it pleasantly refreshing.
The rice (hiding under the roti) and accompaniments were nice from what I was told. However, the roti was dry, tough and chewy. It’s hard to tell whether they used a precooked roti which was fired in the microwave for a little too long or they’re looking to experiment with a new line of roti jerky. In either case, it was one for the bin. It’s really a shame because I’ve had some great roti here in the past.
My meal selection of the chana bhatura, chickpea curry (chana masala) served with fried bread made from wheat flour (bhatura), was ok. I say ok because I’ve had so much better here in the past. The chickpea curry was alright but it lacked the spicy kick and slightly sour twang that had, at one time, made it my favourite curry. Yes, even over the meat based curries.
The fried bread was stiff and had a great crunchy and flaky texture to it. Though it tasted fine, it not only made it somewhat difficult to eat with the chickpea curry but the real problem was that it’s not meant to be served that way at all. The bhatura is meant to be a soft, elastic and pleasantly chewy bread with a slightly crisp exterior due to the frying. Once again I had the feeling that they were reusing precooked or old stock. That twice-fried crunch was unmistakable.
To break step with the geriatric reminiscence of “the good old days”, we come to the highlight of the evening in the form of the plain dosai, the “shared” meal between my dinner guest and I. The dosai and its accompaniments are as they were, and as they should be. The fresh, ridiculously oversized pancake-like device was warm and delicious. The accompanying curries are spicy enough to offer an enjoyable kick, and are clearly not watered down in order to cater to western standards.
This is one of a number of dishes that shines when eaten fresh but can be seriously lacking if consumed as a take-home meal. Call it the dosai dichotomy. Perhaps even the puri paradox, as the puri package (not pictured or eaten this evening) also suffers the same fate.
If you’re after a taste of India and Sri Lanka without breaking the bank, this is not a bad place for it. Though I’ve mentioned that it’s somewhat lacking when compared to its former glory, there is still some value to be found with some of the meals that they offer.