One of the advantages of living in a city as cosmopolitan as Oxford is that one can practically ‘eat the world’. We are spoiled for choice with flavours from six continents, but there are notable gaps.

The arrival of The Coconut Tree a few years ago was widely greeted, filling, as it did, a Sri Lankan-shaped hole on the city’s culinary scene.

While far less familiar than the offerings of its huge neighbour, India, Sri Lanka has a sophisticated and quite unusual cuisine of its own. A product of its location, moored just off the spicy subcontinent with the culinary powerhouses of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to the east, its cooking is at once unique but also something of a cocktail of flavours. It is also immensely fun, with the tradition for sharing from a large selection of small portions making for an enjoyable communal dining experience more familiar to lovers of Thai and Chinese food or, even, tapas.

It is, then, the perfect place to go for a bit of a party.

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Occupying the long, thin space left by the former Duke pub, and, after that, the less successful beer and hotdog purveyor Joe Perks, The Coconut Tree feels more like an upmarket bar than a regular restaurant. Indeed, a good number of those packing the place on our visit were there for drinks alone, the exciting-looking, award-winning cocktails or ‘cocotails’ appearing to go down particularly well.

The list was packed with unfamiliar concoctions – all given an authentic Ceylonese twist by the use of strong Sri Lankan ‘arrack’ – a punchy aromatic spirit distilled, rather evocatively, from the sap of coconut flowers – which makes it sound more romantic than it tastes!

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The fanciest creations came as sharing portions, served in hollowed out pineapples, coconuts or cute elephant-shaped jugs.

At the suggestion of the cheery manager Bernard Biju, we plumbed for the most outlandish choice on the list – a Wild Bling Ting (£55 for five to share). This was a combination of Ceylan arrack, Mahiki coconut rum, lemon and guava served in a ‘Ruby’ a large ceramic elephant topped off with, wait for it, glitter prosecco – the entire bottle being delivered to the table to allow the brew to be topped up (or sipped separately).

Oxford Mail:

As if that wasn’t already flamboyant enough, the thing was served with four straws and a firework. Not a actual flare! Even among a clientelle as urbane as theirs, necks were craned and eyebrows raised. This is obviously not a place to come for a secret assignation!

As we gathered round and sucked away at Ruby, replenishing the mix with fizz, we finally narrowed down the list of dishes from the slightly bewildering, yet thoroughly tantalising menu of dishes.

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The trick is to order about three dishes each, depending on your hunger, and a couple of portions of carb to soak it up. We were also advised to go for one of the establishment’s hoppers – a bowl shaped coconut milk pancake served with a few dollops of spicy sambal and salsa, and topped with an egg (£3.50). They are thoroughly traditional and practically compulsory – and a great ‘gateway’ to the highly-spiced offerings to come.

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Of these, we particularly loved the chicken curry on the bone (£5.50) - which was drenched in the most delicious of sauces, with just a tickle of chilli and the Jaffna goat curry with potato (£7.50) – a hearty dish of slow-cooked meat and spud in a thick, spiced and highly addictive gravy. Each dish is served in a small white and blue enamel bowl, giving the whole feast a rustic home-cooked flavour.

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Also wonderful were the devilled dishes – chicken wings (£6) and king prawns in the shell (£7) – which also packed a delicious punch, being cooked in spices and banana peppers and finished with crushed chillies. Hottest of all were a deceptively innocent-looking bowl of juicy button mushrooms. The heat was tempered with springy roti (£2.50) and savoury mixed fried rice (£8).

It’s not fancy, but it is tremendous fun – and quite, quite delicious.

Next time you fancy a curry, I strongly advise you check out The Coconut Tree. And if Sri Lankan food isn’t 2020’s next big thing... I’ll down a Wild Bling Ting all on my own... glitter and all. And that’s a promise.


EAT: The Coconut Tree, 76 St Clement’s St, Oxford OX4 1AW
BOOK: 01865 421865 or email
HOURS: Sunday-Thursday: noon-midnight; Friday and Saturday: noon-1am
PARKING: If you’re lucky you might find a place on St Clement’s - but better to leave the car at home and try those amazing ‘cocotails’.
DO TRY: The goat curry is delicious and delivers a hefty kick. Also exceptional is the chicken curry on the bone. You can't leave without tucking into a hopper too. If you're not doing Veganuary, get one with an egg - they are delicious and fun.