After 113 days of closure, Paradise re-opened last weekend.
A relatively new Sri Lankan restaurant in Soho, Paradise opened towards the end of last year – seeing first-time restaurateur Dom Fernando team-up with Sri Lankan chef Charith Priyadarshana, following a string of successful pop-ups. After just five months of opening, however, the restaurant was forced to close for almost four months, due to the outbreak and effects of the coronavirus.
“It has been a difficult four months, and the implications on what this situation means for our industry is uncertain,” says restaurateur Dom Fernando. “There is a vagueness in the government guidelines around safety measures, guidance has various different perceptions so the lack of clarity means we have spent more time discussing what we should all be doing for our guests, and how this needs to be done.”
Having re-opened on Saturday 11th July, the restaurant has adopted new measures, intended to safeguard both staff and customers. Most notably, around 50 per cent of the 32 covers have been removed from the tiny 51-square-metre site (formerly home to Spuntino). Since changing hands, the site has seen a complete makeover, now decorated with minimalist brushed concrete walls, steel accents, and a few banquettes which join counter seats. Outdoor seating has also been introduced, for the first time.
“We haven’t got our full teams back, many people that work in our industry are from all over so that has been a challenge. This means the industry is operating on a slimmer model, which is stress inducing as an owner. We have had to reconsider our business models as a whole, ensuring social distancing measures means removing around 50 percent of covers, purchasing safety equipment and outdoor seating, screens, we all want to make sure that everyone is getting the best possible, whilst being safe and this does comes at a cost,” explains Fernando.
While thousands of restaurants and pubs have begun to re-open since Saturday 4th July, the future of the hospitality industry remains uncertain. Businesses are continuing to operate with reduced covers, experiencing a loss in footfall, not forgetting the amassing rent costs before staff overheads, rates, energy bills, produce, and so on. “No show” culture is also hugely problematic to restaurants, having made headlines earlier this week.
“The last thing we need is people not turning up. We are relying upon serving our guests and we have put a lot of effort into giving them an experience that they feel safe and brings them joy. Please, please let the restaurants know if you aren’t able to make your booking.”
As many restaurants pivoted to serving take-away offerings (many of which delivered), most Soho restaurants abstained given the low number of local residents, with footfall virtually non-existent during April and May.
“I think there is a strong sense of community among businesses here, but we do need to work together with more cohesion. The pedestrianisation of streets is helpful, but also I think customers need to feel more comfortable coming to Soho,” Dom explains. “Everybody needs to work together to make sure safety regulations are met, and people have an enjoyable experience when coming to the area. Due to the small spaces in Soho restaurants, lack of clear rules and the limited trade in the area, we are seeing some of London’s most loved places like Kiln and Hoppers unsure of their reopening dates. We need to see an increase in weekday trade, it’s the Wednesday to Thursday work crowd, the theatre crowd that brings the 5-7pm trade. This is all going to take time.”
He also stresses the importance of an intervention from the government on the landlord-tenant relationship. “We aren’t going to be able to pay our rents or rates if the government don’t intervene, we need a national timeout. We need to regulate to provide equitable solutions on rent payments for the next 12 months and a solution to address debt and costs for our business.”
Before lockdown, Paradise was quickly becoming recognised as one of central London’s most exciting new restaurants, impressing with its menu of dishes from Dom Fernando’s family’s home, inspired by annual childhood trips to Sri Lanka. The Hoppers comparisons have been countless, yet inevitable. While Sri Lankan food has been a fixture of many London communities outside zone one of the tube map for decades, Paradise (like Hoppers and Kolamba) offers a contemporary experience.
Launch menu highlights included Paradise’s exemplary take on mutton rolls, featuring slow-cooked shoulder meat armoured by crisp shells, joined by a fiery ketchup laced with fermented chilli. They’re not the cheapest mutton rolls on the market, but the quality of ingredients is second-to-none, as is the Highland pork cheek which stars in a generously-spiced curry with a fruity sauce rife with Lion stout, lemongrass, cinnamon, fennel seed, cumin, cardamom and vinegar, crowned with shards of toasted coconut.
Devilled prawns were also generously-spiced, cloaked with thin, edible skins, their head juices demanding to be sucked in an undignified manner, lashed with thick sauce fragrant with ginger. Crisp at the top, leading to spongy bases with runny yolks, Paradise’s hoppers are arguably the best in central London.
For the new ‘homecoming’ menu, the team have been further exploring Sri Lankan ingredients and traditional cooking methods over the past few months. Reflecting Sri Lanka’s Portuguese, Dutch, Malay and South Indian cultural influences, the launch of the new menu has also seen the kitchen team actively looking into the history of individual cuisines. Blackened beef brisket with coconut floss takes cues from Malaysian rendang. The yellow cod curry’s crispy cod crackling takes influence from Portugal, and mackerel is cooked in fresh banana leaves, taking cues from South India.
“It’s a fresh new menu for summer that still retains the punchy flavours of Paradise, all served and refined in a contemporary manner. We are really proud of it,” says Dom Fernando. “On a positive note, the time has given us an opportunity to look at our supply chain. We are fortunate enough to source all our products directly from one supplier who works with the best Sri Lankan ingredients. We are focusing on fresh Ingredient led cooking. We have spent time back in the kitchen looking at our menu, looking at the dishes and exciting flavours that feels right for the summer months. The homecoming menu is a lighter, vibrant menu and interesting Sri Lankan ingredients that you might not have come across before.”
Moving forward, the restaurant are currently developing their own hand sanitisers with essential oils of mandarin and basil, also looking at bergamot and ylang ylang in spray form, as well as looking to set up the Paradise Store in the coming months. Here, items will “pay homage to the lives of people who inspire and are involved in the Paradise brand and Sri Lanka. All [are] handcrafters, passionate and focused on their skill. We want to work together to support each other.”
Paradise can be found at 61 Rupert Street, London, W1D 7PW. Reservations for two guest or more can be made via the restaurant’s website.