Published 17 February 2021
Dom Fernando (right) with head chef Cherish Priyadarshana
Paradise became an instant hit when it opened in Soho, serving contemporary Sri-Lankan food. Here the founder Dom Fernando tells CODE about the incredible response to the restaurant, adapting over the past year and his favourite spots in Soho.
We set up Paradise to bring the essence of modern Sri Lankan ingredients, flavours, design and style to the beating, eclectic heart of Soho. Charith and I designed the menu to push the boundaries of traditional Sri Lankan dishes – yet keeping spice, flavour and fresh ingredients at the centre of everything we do. The feel of the space is inspired by tropical brutalist architecture, we wanted to create an escape, almost as though we could be dining under a terrace in the tropics.
Sri Lankan food is a mix of so many cultures – from colonial influences such as the Dutch and Portuguese to our neighbours from South India, Malaysia and Indonesia. Each have had their own impact on our food and drink scene – but there are common threads such as our hoppers and string hoppers (with links to Kerala) and coconut and chilli (commonly used in cooking in Malaysia and Indonesia). However, Sri Lankan food has its own distinctive flavour and character.
That’s a hard one as Paradise is all about sharing and building your own menu from our selection of plates, but if I want something spicy and moreish I’m quite happy to sink 1 (or 4) mutton rolls. If I want something fresh and light, I usually opt for the yellow cod curry. If my mood is to get my hands dirty, then nothing beats our stir-fried devilled tiger prawns.
It was amazing – there probably hasn’t been anything like it during my career, to date. All the hard work over the last few years was echoed by seeing people enjoying our new style of Sri Lankan cooking. There’s simply no profession that comes close to hospitality in terms of satisfaction.
Like everyone, it’s been extremely tough and challenging. We were doing so well when we first opened, but the first lockdown really put the brakes on our momentum. This year we’ve just begun a collaboration with Dishpatch for our modern island street feast under our new Hōtal Paradise brand– and I’ve been amazed at the response, the first batch sold out within 24 hours. But we’re counting down the days and nights (like everyone else) until we are able to reopening our home in Soho again.
We were very clear from the outset of our concept of tropical brutalism – taking inspiration from Geoffrey Bawa’s architecture in Sri Lanka. Bringing ‘the outside in’ was a key theme as we developed our thinking – fitting in with the surroundings of Soho. We wanted to create a minimally designed space with beautiful bespoke furniture. I worked with Dan Preston who made everything specifically for us in his studio in Haggerston, we wanted to work with handcrafters throughout, so every detail was special and bespoke to the Paradise experience; we work with London based Sofia Ceramics and Jo Marland, who made all our plates and pottery.
I spent a lot of time looking at different areas but deep down in my heart, I knew that Soho was the best place for the brand. It’s vibrant and energetic with plenty of history. We also share Rupert Street with some of my favourite restaurants (the stellar Palomar and Xu), so it was a no-brainer for soho to be the home for Paradise.
That’s like asking me which one of my aunties or uncles is my favourite! I love places like KILN, The Palomar, Noble Rot… or the Bagel Bar opposite us.
Enjoy the ride – and don’t forget to celebrate your successes! It’s incredibly hard work starting your own restaurant – and hospitality is a 24/7 industry, so get ready for sleepless nights. But if you are focused on what you want to achieve, and you have the passion and determination to see it through, no matter what the obstacles are, then the opportunities are endless. Surrounding yourself with a team that shares your vision, and love for the industry is also paramount to any successful business.
Taking my team out again! We are in Soho after all. I want to be able to give everyone a big hug and celebrate our Michelin Bib Gourmand success.