Little Pumpkin restaurant: Stunning location, excellent food.
There are a number of excellent little eateries along the beach East of the lagoon and I certainly didn't try all of them in the short time I was in Tangalle. I did, however, find this place relatively early and returned for more than one meal as the food really was so good. The location is picture postcard perfect as you can see from one of the images here with views of a fairly deserted white sand beach fringed by palm trees and lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. I'll discuss the ocean later on. As places to have a meal go, it doesn't get a whole lot better than this.
The next thing to mention is the service which was always prompt and extremely friendly. Whilst friendliness seems to be a national characteristic in Sri Lanka, prompt service is perhaps not their strongest suit so this was a pleasant change. Initially I had only popped in here for a beer on my barefoot walk along the beach as the sun was high and very hot and I thought I could do with a rest and something cold. Yes, I know, a barefoot walk along a tropical beach, how cliched is that? I had picked Little Pumpkin more or less at random but it was the genuine warmth of the welcome (and later the fresh seafood) that kept me there. Within minutes I was laughing and joking with the staff, comparing tattoos and so on. Don't worry, tattoos are not obligatory, although I did see a few about.
I was sitting enjoying the view and a Lion lager, watching the people splashing about in the water which brings me back to my earlier point. It looks lovely but be careful, it can be very dangerous to swim here and I have created a separate tip in relation to the matter on this page.
Whilst happily in somewhat of a little dream world, one of the waiters wandered over with the plate of raw crustacean you can see in one of the images. To my shame, I don't actually know what they are. The are not lobster and they are far too big for prawn so I am guessing some sort of crayfish perhaps. Whatever their scientific classification, they looked absolutely delicious and he enquired if I would like some. I replied that it was far too early for me to eat and also that I needed to go back to my hotel and freshen up whereupon he informed me that he was only enquiring if I would like to reserve some of them for the evening as he said they might sell out. Looking at them, that didn't surprise me at all and I duly put my name on them. I asked what time the kitchen closed and he told me 2300 hours which is quite late by Sri Lankan standards, so another plus point.
I wandered off and returned later, suitably sluiced down and refreshed, had another couple of beers and decided it was time to eat. In the early evening the restaurant was absolutely crowded and I would suggest that pre-booking is essential particularly if you have a large party. As a solo traveller, they managed to fit me in OK.
Then came the next hurdle when the waiter asked how did I want my crustaceans cooked. Frankly, I had no idea as I wasn't even sure what the things were and so I told him to let chef get on with whatever he thought was best and did add the comment that I could eat spicy food (sometimes in Sri Lanka they seem afraid of burning the mouths off Westerners). With a cheery, "Certainly Sir, no problem" off he went. I suspect he was glad that I was letting chef get on with whatever suited him and wasn't making strange requests. I sat back, drank in the atmosphere (and another beer), waited a not unreasonable time considering the number of diners, and it duly arrived.
Chef had excelled himself. The first thing I noticed was that there were three of the beasts on the plate. When the waiter had offered them earlier, I thought that was just a display plate and that one or perhaps two would have been the portion but no, there were three on the plate as you can see. I certainly wasn't going to go hungry. Next item on the agenda was to try the sauce which I would describe as being what Sri Lankans called a "devilled" sauce and the best way I can describe it is to liken it to a Chinese sweet and sour sauce but more sour than sweet and with a definite chilli kick to it. This version of it was possibly the best I ate in three months in the country, it was perfectly balanced and whilst there was certainly enough chilli in it to wake up the taste buds it was not ludicrously hot. It was served with a delightfully fresh tomato and onion salad and a small bowl of rice.
There is only one way to eat these things and so I dived in with the fingers. I have been lucky enough to have eaten some wonderful seafood in various countries but this has to rank up there with the best of them. It was so fresh, so sweet, so tender and so beautifully cooked that it was exactly what you spend time and money on long-haul travel for. I assure the reader that I am not being paid by this establishment, nor do I have any connection to them. I always try to write accurate and honest tips and I genuinely did rate the food this highly.
Had I been in London, I would happily have paid a lot of money for this meal although in the event I paid 1200SLR for the meal which is a bit more than I was normally paying but, in context, equates to about £6 or perhaps $10US which I reckon is excellent value in anyone's book.
So impressed was I that I returned the next night and had a smaller but equally delightful dish of sweet and sour prawns with rice, which you can see in one of the images (the one of my ugly mug!) as I was not overly hungry. That again was excellently done and the sauce not as cloyingly sweet as it can sometimes be.
If seafood is not your thing, the menu offers up the usual suspects of sandwiches, breakfasts and other Western food as well as rice and curry etc. but I really do recommend you go for the seafood as it is very, very good.
An absolute must in Tangalle.
Favorite Dish: The sweet and sour prawn was very good but the un-named crustacean in chef's sauce as described above is superb.
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Serein Beach Hotel: The seafood is excellent
You may have read on my hotel tip for the Serein Beach Hotel, where I stayed in Tangalle for three nights that on the night of my arrival I had had a bit of a fraught journey down (tuk-tuk drivers playing silly sods again). I really didn't feel like going out exploring at about 2000 hours at night, knowing the Sri Lankan practice of closing restaurants and bars very early by European standards not to mention the fact that I really didn't have much a clue of where I was nor where anything else was! I asked the friendly young waiter who had brought my beer would it be possible to dine in the hotel that evening (I was alone in the place so it was difficult to judge) and he said that of course it would be, producing a menu in double quick time and telling me (in slightly halting English) that if there was anything not on the menu that I fancied that chef would knock it up for me if he had the ingredients.
Well, that sounds like my kind of place for a start but I wasn't going to have to put chef's improvisational skills to the test as there was more than enough on the menu to keep me happy. All the usual suspects were there from the Sri Lankan breakfast (order the night before) through pasta, salads, rice and noodle dishes, devilled dishes etc. Fairly standard Sri Lankan fare. I do spout on rather a lot about trying to eat local food as much as I can when I am travelling but in Sri Lanka it is hard to know where the division is. Almost anywhere will have what I would describe as "Chinese" or "European" dishes. OK, the real little local cafes will only do rice and curry, idlis, rotti etc. but I regularly saw Sri Lankans tucking into various dishes that were evidently not traditional to the island and so I had no compunction about ordering a Chinese style chicken dish with chips (French fries). OK, I know that may be a step too far but I really fancied some! At what point does a "foreign" dish become assimilated into a national cuisine?
After an acceptable wait, it was served up and proved to be delightful, just nicely spiced. I can do hot but generally don't bother to, I much prefer a decently spiced dish rather than just something that has had a ludicrous amount of chilli thrown into it. This was extremely tasty and just what was ordered before a relatively early bed after the travel travails of the day. I don't normally bother about sweets / desserts / puddings or whatever you like to call them but a simple plate of ice-cream was very tasty to finish.
Favorite Dish: I only ate there the once but the chicken dish as described was delightful.
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