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How A Sri Lankan Fine Diner Became One Of Best Restaurants On The Mornington Peninsula

In an unlikely destination, sandwiched between small boutique shops in Red Hill sits Many Little. The black-painted restaurant juts against its natural hinterland bush backdrop where inside the focus is entirely on wine and Sri Lankan-style dining

Part of the Polperro Winery group, Many Little is a rarity for the Mornington Peninsula, where typically in the wine-rich region contemporary Australian and European dining reign supreme. 

What Many Little is today is part happy accident, the restaurant which originally began its life as a bistro was forced to pivot like many when lockdown struck in early 2020. 

At the helm is Executive Chef, Gayan Pieris, a Sri Lankan native who grew up in the hilltop region of Kandy in the country’s centre. 

Chef Gayan and the Polperro team saw an opportunity at the time to develop a takeaway offering while people weren’t able to dine in, utilising his own Sri Lankan heritage and repertoire of the cuisine to fill the void in the meantime. 

“Growing up in Sri Lanka these kinds of things happen, not necessarily COVID but because of the civil war and such, the school would close for months, so you grow up always being patient, you know that time will eventually pass and you adapt,” says Gayan. 

Tapping into the things that gave him and his family personal comfort during these times, the takeaway curries connected with the local community, “It just absolutely took off, we were selling out and I was able to bring back my entire kitchen team.” 

Chefs cooking hoppers at Many Little in Red Hill, Victoria.

As lockdown and restrictions eased the sheer popularity of the Sri Lankan-style offering and the passion that it provided the team steered the restaurant into a bold new direction, proving to be a perfect pairing with the vineyards’ range of quality cold climate wines, from their single vineyard Polperro wines to their Even Keel range.

Upon re-opening the restaurant to dine in, Gayan alongside owners Emma Phillips and Sam Cloverdale led Many Little into a new territory for the Mornington Peninsula, offering up a blend of cutting-edge fine dining and Sri Lankan cuisine, serving a chef’s menu selection where dishes harness the flavours and textures of Sri Lankan cuisine but represented in fine dining format. 

“The way Emma, Sam and I looked at it was an opportunity that was nothing like us around, we wanted to do something different, they put so much faith in me.”

Stepping into Many Little now, you’d never guess it was meant to be anything else, its sleek modern and edgy interior with dark timbers, concrete and brick provides a quiet backdrop for the high-level execution of food and flavour to do the talking. 

Utilising produce from Polperro’s farm that services its restaurants, the seasonal growth provides up to 90% of the restaurants’ vegetables and fruit, providing a guiding framework for Gayan and the kitchen team to develop their dishes within. 

“I really want to highlight the soil, we grow our wine in this soil and that’s the story we want to celebrate,” says Gayan. 

A view of the front of Many Little in Red Hill, Victoria

Since 2021, Many Little’s diverse and innovative amalgamation of Sri Lankan and Australian cooking has cemented the restaurant among the country’s best, bestowed with a hat from the Age Good Food Guide awards

“Sri Lankan is often registered as street food, but the ingredients we use and the techniques we use are in the same class as many world-class cuisines.”

Originally starting with more traditional and recognisable Sri Lankan staples the menu now features timeless classics from a pulled lamb pan roll with Jaffna spices and sweet tamarind chutney to more contemporary creations like South Australian grilled octopus which is wrapped in turmeric leaf and served alongside a rich sambol and Suwandel Kiribath (milk rice). 

At Many Little, quality is at the heart of every dish, imbuing each recipe sometimes with up to 15 different spices that Chef Gayan still sources personally every single Friday from the markets in Dandenong. 

“Spice is key because Sri Lanka has always been a spice-rich country, I still make time to go to the market and make sure what we’re getting is the absolute best, it’s also some time for myself.”

Now, Many Little also offers an ala carte selection of small and substantial plates. The grilled scampi with sambol butter and roast paan remains one of the restaurants most incredible creations or you can opt for the build-your-own curry selections, from the Kandyan black pepper to the Matara coconut milk fish curry paired alongside hand-stretched roti and aged basmati rice. 

Through winter returning July 5th the restaurant is even hosting a special “Hops and Hoppers” a dinner series taking over the outdoor starlit terrace and specialises in the Sri Lankan deep-fried rice flour pancake baskets alongside charcoal grilled meats and curries alongside the special edition rice lager beer that they’ve developed with Burnley Brewing

The Specifics:

What: Many Little
Where: 2-5/159 Shoreham Rd, Red Hill South
Many Little is open Thursday to Sunday, head over here for more

Photography: Ella Taylor & Polperro

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