The t Lounge on Chatham Street by Dilmah: Refreshing iced teas near Dutch Hospital
It was a hot afternoon in Colombo in March 2014. We had just wandered around the markets near Colombo Fort railway station and we were increasingly in need of some respite from the sun. We were looking for a comfortable air-conditioned cafe serving cool, refreshing drinks. That's exactly what we found when we stumbled across The t-Lounge on Chatham Street by Dilmah on the egde of the city's trendy Dutch Hospital district.
Inside, we found a cosy and relaxed atmosphere, a modern tea house with comfortable chairs, friendly staff and a long menu of exotic sounding iced teas and "t-mocktails". Large bookshelves lined one of the walls, giving the place the feel of a peaceful bookshop cafe. As well as books, those shelves contained colourful tins of tea and other tea merchandise which I assume can be purchased from the cafe.
As we studied the menu, a friendly waitress brought us complimentary shot glasses of tea and explained to us what it was. It was carrot and honey iced tea, complete with a stick of carrot in the glass, and it was very refreshing!
The menu contained lots of different Sri Lankan teas (with in depth descriptions of each one), as well as cakes, crepes, sandwiches and other light meals. However, we focused predominantly on the cool iced teas and t-mocktails sections.
It was difficult to choose – they all sounded so good; Chilled Cinnamon, Prince of Kandy Lemonade tea, Ginger Fizz, Natural Vanilla, Moroccan Mint, Sweet Rose, Minty Oolong, Cinnamon Orange...
I eventually opted for:
First Ceylon Blast - 330 Rs / £1.65
Chosen from the t-mocktails section and described on the menu thus:
"The fruit notes of apple juice combined with the tangy taste of grapefruit served with Dilmah t-series First Ceylon Oolong and a touch of grenadine, topped with two red cherries and a wedge of pineapple".
It was served ice cold, was very sweet and really refreshing. It came with only one red cherry though, and a slice of orange rather than a wedge of pineapple.
Emma opted for:
Prince of Kandy Iced Tea - 270 Rs / £1.35
Chosen from the Iced Teas section and described as:
"A delicate iced tea with a golden infusion and light flavour of Prince of Kandy tea".
It was served in an unusual shaped glass jar, topped with a large block of ice, a sliced lemon and two red cherries. It was as cool and refreshing as my tea was – just what we were looking for!
The service was slow (we waited a long while between ordering our teas and receiving them and the cafe wasn't busy at all), but we weren't in a rush and it was worth the wait in the end.
A huge selection of Sri Lankan teas, with a particularly impressive array of refreshing iced teas and mocktails. A fairly upmarket tea house on the edge of the trendy Dutch Hospital district. Cool and comfortable, peaceful and relaxing. Highly recommended!
Bubble Queen: Bubble Teas on Galle Road
We first discovered Bubble Tea during a visit to Ho Chi Minh City in May 2013. Since then, Emma has become particularly fond of it (and I quite like it!) and we have sought out Bubble Tea cafes on our subsequent trips.
Prior to visiting Colombo in March 2014, we did a search for Bubble Tea cafes on Google Maps and were pleased to see that the first result, for Bubble Queen, was located just a few metres from the hotel that we were staying at – Casa Colombo on Galle Road in the Colombo 4 (Bambalapitiya) district of the city. We visited Bubble Queen a couple of times during our stay.
Bubble Queen is a basic cafe with a few tables and chairs in a cool and airy dining room. It offers a long list of Bubble Teas, fresh fruit juices, milkshakes, soft drinks, ice creams, coffees and a few snacks (such as french fries, spicy wedges and fried chicken).
Bubble Teas are available in small (from 120 Rs / £0.60) and regular (up to 260 Rs / £1.30) sizes. There are fruity teas and milky teas to choose from, hot and cold teas, and you can add flavoured jelly, taro balls or popping balls (thinner taro balls filled with mango, lychee, blueberry, green apple, passionfruit juice).
On our first visit, I had a refreshing cold lychee tea filled with taro balls (210 Rs / £1.00) and Emma had a very sweet and milky strawberry tea also filled with taro balls (260 Rs / £1.30). We shared a plate of garlic crackers (120 Rs / £0.60); like prawn crackers but with a strong taste of garlic and sprinkled over with hot paprika and served with a dish of chilli sauce.
On our second visit, I had a milky chocolate tea filled with chocolate flavoured taro balls (250 Rs / £1.25) and Emma had a lychee tea filled with mango popping balls (240 Rs / £1.20).
A large selection of refreshing Bubble Teas on Galle Road!
T-Republic: Refreshing ice teas @ Casa Colombo
T-Republic is one of the three eating and drinking establishments located within the grounds of Casa Colombo hotel; the others being HVN Restaurant and Zaza Bar. All three establishments are open to non-guests of the hotel.
T-Republic enjoys a lovely outdoor setting, in a quiet corner facing the facade of the impressive historic mansion in which Casa Colombo hotel is housed. It is just metres from the bustling Galle Road, but feels like the proverbial oasis of calm in a hectic city.
It features comfortable, cushioned seats, many of which are shaded from the intense sun by a canopy of overhead trees. If you choose a table by the edge of the terrace, you will find yourself sitting next to an ornamental pond with water lilies and koi carp. All very tranquil!
There is an impressive selection of drinks available, hot and cold, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, with a particularly good selection of teas.
I would particularly recommend the ice teas (250 Rs / £1.25 each) – served in tall glasses with plenty of ice – very refreshing on a hot Colombo afternoon. We sampled the Cinnamon and Ginger varieties during our stay. Other flavours include Vanilla, Moroccan Mint, Jasmine and Chamomile.
T-Republic is also a great place to enjoy breakfast. You can choose from platters of exotic fruit, croissants, pastries, eggs, sausages, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms and traditional Sri Lankan breakfast items such as hoppers, string hoppers and kiribath – all served with hot curries and spicy coconut sambal. Our excellent breakfast was included in our room rate, but it can also be purchased by non-guests.
Refreshing ice teas and delicious breakfasts in the idyllic surroundings of Casa Colombo!
HVN Restaurant @ Casa Colombo: Delicious food in chic surroundings!
HVN Restaurant is located within Casa Colombo hotel, but is also open to non-guests. It is located just off Galle Road in the Colombo 4 (Bambalapitiya) district.
We ate there twice during our short stay at Casa Colombo; first we had lunch from the tapas menu and then we had a 3 course evening meal from the main menu.
The prices are undoubtedly high by Sri Lankan standards, but are still very reasonable compared to those in the UK. This might explain why the restaurant was never very busy during our stay; we had the whole dining room to ourselves at lunch and there was only one other couple (also hotel guests) eating there in the evening.
We had hoped to eat al fresco (in the comfy seating area of the hotel's T-Republic cafe), but at lunch time the overhead sun would have been overbearing and in the evening it had started to rain. So we ate both meals in the cool, air-conditioned dining room. In keeping with the rest of the hotel, the decor is a mix of traditional (ornately carved ceilings in what was once the Grand Hall of the mansion) and modern chic (with designer chairs). One wall is dominated by a large painting of what I took to be "Heaven" and which the hotel's website describes as "Rishis meditating in the clouds". There is also a huge ceiling fan which spans almost the whole width of the dining room.
At the time of our visit, HVN was offering a special lunch time deal of any beef tapas dish (there were several to choose from) and a glass of red wine for 900 Rs (£4.50) plus taxes and service charge. It would have been good value given the usual price of wine in the restaurant, but we decided instead to choose a selection of dishes from the standard tapas menu.
There were 14 dishes on the tapas menu; a mixture of seafood (grilled octopus, calamari, tuna, sea bass, anchovies and shrimps), meat (beef kebabs, mutton cigars, chicken lollipops and chicken liver pate) and vegetarian (mushroom and artichoke empanadas with pesto, mini cheddar choux buns) dishes.
We opted for:
Firecracker Shrimp in Chilli Dressing - 600 Rs / £3.00
A delicious dish with around half a dozen shrimps in a spicy chilli dressing served on a bed of salad leaves and topped with tomato and cress. Similar to a prawn cocktail – but with added spice! Presentation is clearly important at HVN; the plate on which my dish stood was liberally dotted with fruit coulis and the dish itself was stood on a thin layer of mashed potatoes (a fact that I wouldn't even have noticed had Emma not pointed it out to me!).
Roast Beef Kebabs in Ginger Coriander Marinade - 350 Rs / £1.75
Two skewers each containing three succulent cubes of beef, onions and red and green peppers. The accompanying bowl of ginger and coriander "marinade" was nice enough, but not as nice as the sweeter, stickier ginger and coriander "salsa" that accompanied the chicken lollipops.
Chicken Lollipops served with Ginger & Coriander Salsa - 450 Rs / £2.25
Five chicken drumsticks in breadcrumbs served with red, green and yellow peppers and a small dish of delicious ginger and coriander salsa.
Mini Cheddar Choux Buns - 450 Rs / £2.25
Five small cheese-filled pastries, drizzled in pesto and topped with cress.
All of the food was well presented, tasty and good value for money. The tapas menu proved to be ideal for the light lunch that we were looking for.
We steered clear of alcohol at lunch time and opted for something more refreshing.
Ginger Ice Tea - 250 Rs / £1.25
Served in a tall glass with plenty of ice. It was cool, refreshing and had a strong taste of ginger to it.
Orange & Ginger Fizz - 350 Rs / £1.75
A cool, refreshing orange juice with pieces of ginger in it.
After government taxes and a 10% service charge, our total bill was 3,044 Rs (around £15) for 4 tapas dishes and 2 drinks – good value for money in our book!
We returned the same evening for a more substantial meal. We booked (via our Casa Domo, or butler, Gayan) a table for 9pm. We needn't have made a reservation as there was only one other couple dining there that evening.
The menu was very extensive and contained lots of creative dishes. Soups included roast tomato, Sri Lankan curry prawn bisque, and coconut, lemongrass and chicken, while the selection of entrees included grilled calamari rings, shredded buffalo mozzarella, seared tuna sashimi, and vegetarian options featuring pasta, aubergine, mushrooms and artichokes.
The choice of main meals included seafood (tuna steak, confit of salmon, Arrack-flamed jumbo prawns, lobster...), meat dishes (beef fillet steak, chicken leg and breast, New Zealand rack of lamb...) and Sri Lankan specialities such as Kottu Roti and, of course, curry and rice.
As we perused the menu, we ordered our drinks (a 750ml bottle of Lion lager (470 Rs / £2.35) for me and a Cinnamon Ice Tea (250 Rs / £1.25) for Emma). We were also presented with a complimentary basket of toasted bread fingers and two dips; one was tomato with chilli, which was supposedly medium spiced, but was spicy even for me, and the other was a much cooler coconut and mint dip which was an excellent contrast to the chilli. We soon polished off the bread fingers and they were immediately replenished by the very attentive waiters.
The waiters continued to be very attentive throughout our meal. They regularly topped up our glasses of mineral water when they could see that they were getting low and they frequently (but not annoyingly so) enquired as to how we were enjoying our meal. They also got Emma a replacement Cinnamon Ice Tea (and then a complimentary Ginger Ice Tea) as they thought the first one contained too much ice.
Emma took advantage of a wine tasting offer that was advertised inside the menu. You could sample shots of wine (minimum 3 shots) for just 100 Rs (£0.50) each. Emma chose 3 from the Nederburg Wine Master's selection; a 2011 Chardonnay, a 2012 Riesling and a 2011 Special Late Harvest.
I started with:
Coconut Crusted Tiger Prawns with Sweet Chilli Sauce - 650 Rs / £3.25
Four large prawns in a very tasty coconut and breadcrumb coating, served with cherry tomatoes (doused in balsamic vinegar) and cress and a bowl of chilli sauce. Very nice! The presentation was again key. This time, there were three strands of uncooked spaghetti balancing atop the prawns. Emma suggested that it was just for show, but I nibbled away at them regardless.
Emma started with:
Shredded Roast Beef & Gotukola Mango Salad with Tamarind Dressing - 650 Rs / £3.25
A plate of salad leaves, shreds of tender roast beef and mango. Having now Googled "Gotu Kola" it seems to be the green plant that I have incorrectly been referring to as "cress" throughout this review! Sorry about that! Feel free to go back and replace my cress references with Gotu Kola if it bothers you.
For my main, I ordered:
The Casa Kottu Roti with Grilled Garlic Prawns - 800 Rs / £4.00
A freshly prepared and chopped up roti mixed with vegetables, egg, curry sauce and topped with half a dozen large prawns with their tails still attached. There was an accompanying dish of garlic sauce. The prawns were delicious and, while the Kottu Roti itself was very tasty, it was also a bit stodgy and heavygoing, and I slightly regretted ordering it – but I was determined to sample this Sri Lankan speciality while in Colombo!
Ginger & Lemongrass Chicken Fillet with Coconut Risotto and Mango Salsa - 900 Rs / £4.50
Emma really enjoyed this dish. It was very well presented, with a succulent chicken breast sat on top of a heap of milky coconut rice with accompanying salad leaves, pineapple and mango salsa.
We could just about manage desserts...and the selection looked pretty mouthwatering! Choices included rhubarb crumble, hot chocolate cake, roti rolls filled with chilli salted caramel, cashew nuts and vanilla ice cream, and deconstructed tiramisu.
I opted for:
Arrack-Flamed Pineapple with Creme Brulee Topping - 450 Rs / £2.25
Lots of small chunks of pineapple cooked in the strong Sri Lankan spirit, Arrack (produced from coconut sap), topped with creme brulee, crystallised sugar, a fruity sauce and half a strawberry. Nice!
Belgian Chocolate Empanadas with Strawberry Coulis and Orange Crisps - 400 Rs / £2.00
Two pastries (like small Cornish pasties) filled with a warm chocolate sauce, topped with icing sugar and drizzled with droplets of strawberry coulis. The "orange crisps" proved to be a solitary grilled slice of orange. Emma enjoyed it!
Our final bill, after taxes and a 10% service charge, was 6,259 Rs – roughly £30 – or £15 each – for 3 delicious courses and drinks. Perhaps expensive by Sri Lankan standards, but very good value for money compared to prices back home.
Delicious, creative food in chic surroundings. Plenty of choice, including Sri Lankan specialities, and good portion sizes. Friendly, attentive staff. Highly recommended!
Cricket Club: Burgers Salads wraps and more
The pub is filled with cricket memorabilia it has an inside and outside eating area as well as a designated smoking room. They offer a range of different lagers on tap and bottled.
On my last visit I met up with Britta & Nath who are living in Colombo and involved in the fashion and artitectural industry. We sat outside and enjoyed a excellent lunch and chat. Britta had a large greek salad and even though she said she was not hungry it was all gobbled up I was hoping for some feta cheese, Oh well never mind. Nath had the lamb wrap and I enjoyed a burger although it is a little smaller then the last time I was here.
Its open daily 11am to 11pm and has tv screens for cricket matches.
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
Burger King: Burger King comes to Sri Lanka
Fast food at its best and so much nicer then MacDonalds which has a few chains in Sri Lanka. I was treated to a meal here by vtér Threshi after telling her that I am mostly restricted to chicken in Kandy and the very occassional mutton briyani. I was bundled off in the car with Treshi and her son who was also excited to try out the new burger king chain.
We supersized with a double whopper and cheese, large fries and large coke. It was simply delicious sloppy with mayo and absolutely filling. A little more pricey then I expected perhaps this is why it was not so well attended by locals.
There is a childrens playground and nice toilets. The sound does travel a bit so possibly eating in the courtyard may be a better option.
- Family Travel
Dinemore restaurant, Wellewatta.: Not so fast food but very good.
I had seen this place a few times as it was near my hotel and I had wondered what it was like. I had actually walked past it a couple of times quite early and knew that it did not open until 1100 in the morning and stayed open until 2300. I had heard of the famous rice and curry, the staple of the Sri Lankan lunch menu and had determined to try it. It is the Sri Lankan equivalent of the Indian thali, namely a selection of dishes and pickles / accompaniments all served with the basis of a large amount of rice. You should know that it is always rice and curry, not curry and rice as we would designate it in the UK as the rice is deemed to be the principle ingredient. It is, in fact, the staple food of a great proportion of the world's population. I am told that the Lao people do not actually have a verb "to eat" as the word literally translates as "to eat rice". Everything else is just an add-on.
I wandered in and was immediately directed upstairs. There appeared to be people sitting about downstairs but I took these to be staff as all the eating action appeared to be on the upper floor. I parked myself at a table by the window overlooking Marine Drive which is an interesting view. It is always amusing to watch people risk life and limb on the road as you eat for that is effectively what the Sri Lankan road system is, a trial by ordeal. It is sort of like watching people performing the Wall of Death on motorcycles as you eat and makes for a wonderful if unintended "floorshow".
I had decided the rice and curry was going to be the thing, it really is a staple here, so which one to choose? I went for the mutton, ordered from the very friendly waiter who did not speak a whole pile of English. No matter, why should he? The menu boasts predominantly "Western" dishes and my Sri Lankan friend Treshi, a wonderful VT member later informed me that this particular chain, for such it is, is known for it's subs and sandwiches. It had a vaguely "chain" feel to it although it was much better furnished than say a McDonalds, KFC or Burger King in UK. The major difference was that there was waiter service. I suppose with labour being so relatively cheap here they can afford to. I do not know for sure but I am sure the concept of the minimum wage does not apply here. The staff were friendly although without much English spoken. No problem, the menu was in English so it was a matter of "point and nod". Further reinforcing the "chain" idea was the fact that both the bottled water and the obligatory ketchup were marked as having been specifically produced for Dinemore.
The title of this tip should give you an idea as to what happened (or didn't) next. I waited about 20 - 25 minutes for my meal. I do not offer this as a criticism, it meant to me that the food was freshly prepared and when it turned up it was delicious.As you can see from the image, there was the "main event" curry, a bit of dhal, an offering (on the bottom right of the image) that was like a mildly spiced potato salad and very tasty, mango chutney, a poppadum and another onion sambal. I should mention that further papad were brought as I ate.
The entire meal was extremely flavoursome and at less than £1:50 Sterling, extremely good value.
There was one amusing interlude. The waiter was watching me but pretending not to and I knew it was to see whether or not I would eat the three chillies that had been offered. With a little trepidation I smiled at him, held it aloft and bit the whole thing off the stalk. Those of you with knowledge of Asian chilli will know this could have been a potentially catastrophic thing to do but it wasn't that hot (I can eat quite spicy things) and he sort of nodded at me in a knowing way that suggested "you've done this before, Mr. European". That pleased me a bit.
I don't suggest you go here just to demonstrate how hot a chilli you can eat but I do recommend it as an excellent place for a cheap and very good meal. The final image is of an excellent chicken tikka masala which I had there on another occasion and is only available in the evenings. I don't want the foodies to get on my case and I know chicken tikka masala is not even proper Asian food but I lke it occasionally and this was a very good example of the type.
Incidentally, the website states it is the newest addition to the chain, so new in fact that there is no address given but you won't miss it.
There is a downstairs area which would be wheelchair / stroller accessible although both times I visited I was asked to dine upstairs. I am sure this would be waived in the appropriate circumstances.
Favorite Dish: The rice and curry as described was my favourite although I did revisit and have another excellent evening meal here.
- Food and Dining
- Budget Travel
Sapphire Hotel Restaurant: What a strange experience.
I have mentioned in a separate tip that I love the Topaz Bar in the Sapphire Hotel in Wellewatta and that I had had an excellent bar meal there as well as sharing some equally tasty bar nibbles. When Thilak, the lovely bar manager, informed me that the hotel restaurant on the third floor was open to non-residents I thought I would give it a try some evening.
I got the lift to the third floor, entered and waited to be seated which was never going to be a problem as the place was pretty empty. In fairness, it was a Sunday which is not a huge night for socialising locally and it was getting a bit late by local standards. I opted for a table by the window which afforded a decent view of the apparently always busy streetscape that is the Galle Road, it just never seems to stop there. The restaurant itself seemed well-appointed with particularly fancy loking chandaliers. The images may give you an idea.
The waiter spoke good English and was very charming as he presented the menu, again in my native tongue. It was quite extensive with both local and international dishes featured and did not appear overly expensive considering the type of place it was. I ordered a mutton dish and sat with my beer admire the view whilst I waited. Experience told me that I would have to wait a while and so it proved but it was not overly long and indicated to me that at least my meal was being prepared freshly. I had not made the mistake of over-ordering as I have done before. In Sri Lanka, a main dish will often be served with several accompanying dishes which may be larger than the main offering itself. I had also opted for dosas instead of rice as I absolutely love them and hadn't had one thus far on the trip.
If it was dosas I was after then I was not to be disappointed. You can see the size of the things and they were absolutely gorgeous. The side dishes were done to perfection, not overly spicy but I suspect they cater to an international clientele here.
Now we come to the strange bit I mentioned in the title. I realise I am getting on in years but I still have some of my own teeth left and usually have no problem with even tougher pieces of meat but the meat in this dish absolutely defeated me as it was quite incapable of mastication. I genuinely don't know how they could have cooked it to make it this tough, it was like shoe leather which was a shame because the general flavours of the dish were really pleasant. It really is a mystery to me as I know the kitchen here is obviously good, the chefs look immaculate and it is a more top of the range establishment and so I can only put it down to a one-off aberration. Perhaps this is the local taste but I have not encountered it elsewhere so I don't find that particularly convincing.
I know I should have sent it back but I really didn't want the hassle and the rest of the dishes had filled me anyway so what was the point? Perhaps going vegetarian for the evening may be a wise option here.
Favorite Dish: The dosas and accompanying dishes were very good, just beware the meat!
- Wine Tasting
- Beer Tasting
- Food and Dining
Flame 'n' Flavours, Dehiwala: Friendly, average food, odd serving style.
I had decided to head South from my hotel one day to explore an area of South Colombo called Dehiwala. To be honest, it is not that exciting although it does feature the Colombo Zoo (see separate tip). Unusually for me I found myself a little hungry in the afternoon. I know it will sound odd to the casual reader here but I generally eat one large meal in the day in the evening / night time. I know dieticians will scream in horror but it is a system that seems to suit me.
On the Galle Road (the main drag heading South from Colombo) I came upon Flame 'n' Flavours which looked spotlessly clean and had a English menu blackboard outside which was helpful. I don't need an English menu and regularly resort to "point and nod" as I have explained on various other tips here.
I sallied in, pointed at what looked like a decent curry and indicated rice and one of the rather thick roti that were sitting pre-prepared on top of the chiller cabinet. I had a look around and it was certainly a lovely eating space, including what seemed to be some sort of "chillout" bar to the rear w2hich obviously doubled as the managers office. This idea was confirmed when the obviously Sri Lankan manager, who had been in some sort of business discussion with a gentleman and lady approached me for a chat. In the course of discourse (I like that phrase, it might make a good song title some day if it has not already been used) it turned out that he had the slightly improbable forename of Shane and his grandfather (or was it great grandfather?) had been an Irishman who had come to the then Ceylon to help run the railways. Strange coincidence as my maternal grandfather was a railwayman himself which led to an interesting conversation. He did tell me his surname which was equally British, I think it may have been White but I cannot recall now.
The meal duly appeared and it was served in a manner I have not seen before in all my travels. They put a micro thin sheet of cellophane on the plate before placing the food on it. I really have no idea what this is about, maybe it saves on the washing up!
As for the food, well the curry was very tasty and packed a bit of a punch which suits me although it was served at room temperature which does not. It appears to be common here and I am always in favour of eating to local norms but I really do not like less than lukewarm curry. I had imagined that the roti was there as an indication of what was on offer but no, it was stone cold and obviously taken off the pre-prepared plate. It was tasty enough but I like my Asian breads hot.
Regular readers of my pages here on VT will know that I hate giving negative reviews and I should re-iterate that the welcome and friendliness here was superb. The food may well have been to local taste in which case I apologise unreservedly for not adopting it but it really didn't appeal to me which is a shame as Shane is obviously trying so hard to get a god place going here in an area that is not generally visited by travellers.
The lack of any obvious internet presence indicates to me that this may be a fairly new place. I did speak to Shane about my reservations and he promised to take them on board so don't dismiss this place out of hand. I can only tip it here on VT as I found it which wasn't that great. Not, I think from lack of effort. I do wish them well.
It appears that no alcohol is served here. I did not use the toilets and so cannot comment but the restaurant is all on ground level without steps which should make it wheelchair accessible.
Favorite Dish: Regrettably, I cannot, in conscience, recommend any dish from this place.
- Food and Dining
Elite Indian Restaurant: Good, cheap Indian food.
I was wandering around central Colombo one day and it got to about lunchtime so I started casting about for somewhere to grab a bite and I happened upon the Elite Indian which proved to be a very good choice. I noticed that it was busy with local people which is always a good sign although some other Western travellers did come in later on. Although there were tables on the ground floor, I was directed upstairs to what I suppose was deemed the "posh" bit and although not fancy by Western standards it was spotless and comfortable enough with the air-con keeping the fierce heat at bay nicely. On my way upstairs I walked past the open kitchen which looked immaculate as you can see. I always like an open kitchen anywhere in the world, it shows they have nothing to hide.
A very pleasant waiter brought me an English menu which I perused and saw that it was very extensive with all the usual suspects including salads, sandwiches and subs if you fancy a break from the usual Sri Lankan fare.
I didn't actually need to look at the menu as I had more or less made my mind up. If it was lunchtime it was going to be rice and curry which is a great staple here and becoming something of a favourite of mine. It is so much more than it sounds. Depending on where you are you will get a greater or lesser number of accompanying dishes as well as the rice and curry centrepiece. I did ask for a side order of onion sambal which turned out to be basically an onion and tomato salad. If you look at the main image you will see that apart from that all the rest of the dishes which comprised rice, curry, dhal and a gorgeous cold vegetable dish made from okra was included in the price that was literally a pittance.
I must confess I used the cutlery as my right-handed curry eating is still very much a work in progress. I am completely left-handed and food is ALWAYS eaten with the right hand so I need a bit more practice.
Everything was delicious and I managed to polish it off more or less even though the portions were large, as you see. It appears that this restaurant has three branches, two in Colombo and one in Wattala. I can certainly recommend this one which is in Sea Street, excellent food and inexpensive.
Upstairs where I ate would not be wheelchair accessible although downstairs would be. The restaurant is open 0600 - 2230 daily, no alcohol served and the food is halal if that is an issue.
- Budget Travel
- Food and Dining
Galadari Hotel: A very high tea.
I had been in touch with my wonderful friend and very active VT member Treshi who has been such a great help on my current trip to SRi Lanka, and she had very kindly invited me to "afternoon tea" at the Galadari Hotel in the Fort area of Colombo which is the heart of the city. Afternoon tea? Posh hotel (I had passed it before)? Me? Oops, I might be a little out of my comfort zone here!
Anyway, I dragged a razor across the small portion of my face that is not festooned with facial hair, scrubbed myself up, put on the newer of my two pairs of training shoes, my most presentable travelling trousers and the one shirt I have with me that actually has a collar. Not great and I still looked fairly much like the main character from Jethro Tull's excellent album Aqualung which I am listening to as I compose this tip. Still, it would have to do as it was the best I had.
I turned up in good time as it is impolite to keep a lady waiting and the lunacy of the Galle Road traffic is always unpredictable, and then I was faced with my first problem. Treshi had told me to meet her at the hotel but it is absolutely huge. I wandered about the place and was expecting at any minute to be thrown out by security or the very smart concierge on the main door but it didn't happen although I could not see Treshi anywhere. I went back outside to call her and have a smoke to calm my nerves as I was feeling a bit like a fish out of water. Treshi answered the call and said, "I can see you", which prompted me to look around everywhere but still not a sight of her to be seen. It was only when she emerged from her vehicle which was about ten feet behind me and handed the keys to the valet parking chap (I told you it was posh) that I saw her. After a warm greeting we went inside and took a seat in the delightful foyer area as the afternoon tea service did not begin until 1530.
At the appropriate time we entered the dining area to be greeted by an immaculate maitre d' who was obviously in charge of the numerous equally immaculate staff and I really was regretting my decision not to pack some "smart" clothes. The problem is that I have done that too often before in Asia and have lugged chinos, decent shorts and even good shoes round never to wear them on an extended trip. Dress codes seem to be so much more relaxed in Asia and I am sure I would have been admitted wearing flipflops (things), shorts and a T-shirt which is my normal mode of dress here. The maitre d' never batted an eyelid at my appearance and was totally courteous and charming. Thanks mate!
Treshi had booked a table which was probably a good move as it was a poya (poye) day (see separate tip). Basically, a poya is a public holiday which occurs on the day of every full moon and so the place was fairly full even though it was a midweek afternoon. We took our seats and I had a look round the dining room which was large and beautifully appointed as you can see.
I am not quite sure what I was expecting of "afternoon tea", perhaps the London Savoy variety of the thing with quartered cucumber sandwiches, perhaps a clotted cream and raspberry jam scone or two and a nice pot of Orange Pekoe. I certainly was not expecting what I saw which was a buffet on a scale to gladden the heart of even the most dedicated trencherman. It was a truly gargantuan spread and seemed to encompass just about every cuisine known to man. Sushi dishes sat close to Italian pizza slices, traditional sandwiches vied for space with Sri Lankan specialities and mini hot dogs were just opposite the range of delectable pastries. I have never seen the like of it and everything was constantly replenished by a brigade of at least a dozen cooks.
Treshi walked me round and explained everything to me that was not immediately obvious although everything was signed in English. I started with a bit of sushi, moved on to some sandwiches, a few other titbits and then some pastries to finish. Everything was absolutely gorgeous and obviously prepared in a top-class kitchen. The presentation was superb. Naturally, I had to finish the whole affair off with a nice cup of Sri Lankan tea. Well, it would be rude not to.
We must have been there for a good three hours, chatting and eating and watching the parade of very well-heeled Sri Lankans coming and going but there was never any pressure on us to leave. There was even a wedding party having photographs taken and rather stupidly I missed the opportunity for what would have made a fine VT flag photo but there have been other chances since. The only other Caucasians I saw came in much later and were presumably hotel guests as service had finished by then. I do like that when I travel, being the only "white man" in the place. Somehow it makes me feel like I am properly on the road.
The brigade started clearing away at about 1800 in preparation for the evening service in the lobby and adjacent restaurants. Treshi informed me that the hotel is Muslim owned and therefore no pork is served. Given that information I was a little surprised to see a bar in the area we were occupying although it was closed as the sale of alcohol is prohibited on a poya day. Actually, I read that the sale of meat is technically prohibited so I am not sure how that works, possibly it is just the sale of meat from the butchers or whatever and previously purchased meat can be sold cooked. I really have no idea and will update this tip if I find out.
Afternoon tea is served in the Lobby Bar which is on the ground floor and I noticed a ramp to the slightly raised eating area we were seated in so it would be wheelchair accessible. This is one of the few concessions I have seen to the mobility impaired in Sri Lanka and I shall construct a separate tip about this problem. The spotlessly clean toilets are also on the ground floor and so again would be accessible for the mobility impaired traveller.
When it came time to leave, Treshi absolutely insisted on paying. I had fully intended to pay but she had the advantage over me of speaking Sinhala and thus persuaded the maitre d' to give her the bill. Because of this you will notice that I have not put the cost on this tip. I refuse, as a matter of principle, to look it up on the internet. If the reader wishes to do so I am sure it is on the attached website somewhere but I will not check and put a price on the most generous gift of what was effectively a priceless afternoon. I didn't even feel so scruffy as I left and bade Treshi a fond adieu before walking off into the Colombo night. Actually, I felt pretty special.
Very highly recommended.
Favorite Dish: The entire afternoon tea buffet is superb and I would not single out one dish from it.
- Luxury Travel
- Food and Dining
Yaal Cafe: Excellent Jaffna Cuisine.
I had passed this place several times and it looked spotlessly clean and was usually full at lunchtime and in the evening which is always a good sign. I was passing one morning and decided to have a spot of breakfast, although that is a meal I rarely take.
I was given an English menu by a delightful young man who spoke excellent English himself. I explained that I just wanted a light meal for breakfast (it was almost lunchtime) and asked for his suggestion. Without hesitation he replied although I dd not understand a word of his response so I just said, "Sounds good, bring me that then". It reminded me of the first time I visited Poland many years ago when English menus were generally unavailable and in places not much English was spoken. I didn't have a word of Polish and so I used to just point at what looked like a starter and then point at something which appeared to be in the main course section and see what arrived. It is my version of restaurant Russian roulette and led to some interesting experiences. There is not much I don't eat so it is not a problem and I love Asian food so I knew it would be OK, if maybe a bit spicy, but I can take spicy food OK.
What appeared was the dish you see in one of the images, two lovely parathas with a small bowl of what I took to be dhal initially but it was made out of vegetable rather than pulses. It was not overly spicy and the parathas were gorgeous, not greasy at all as can sometimes be the case. It was all rather charmingly served on a leaf on top of the tray. The young man seemed very keen to chat so I had a pleasant conversation as I was eating, it was most convivial.
One thing that did strike me as odd about the extensive menu was the timing thing. Certain dishes are available from 1100 - 1530, some from 1100 onwards and some "for dinner only". I have seen this practice adopted elsewhere since though so it must be fairly common.
I paid the bill (considerably less than £1!) and resolved to return for a more substantial meal at another time.
I did indeed return about a week later and had the excellent curry you see in the image. Again, charming service, excellent food and relatively inexpensive. The sign outside proclaims "authentic Jaffna food" and this is not surprising as the area it is in, Colombo 6, is known as Little Jaffna due to the large population of people from the extreme North of the island living there. I cannot vouch for the authenticity as I have not been to Jaffna yet but it is certainly very tasty and I do recommend this Yaal.
There is no alcohol served and the place is all on one level which should make it wheelchair accessible.
Favorite Dish: The curry was very good but I really did enjoy the breakfast parathas.
- Food and Dining
- Budget Travel
Topaz Bar, Sapphire Hotel.: Excellent bar food.
I have already mentioned the excellent Topaz bar in a separate tip as a great place for a drink but it also does some very acceptable bar food. I usually eat the local food when I travel but every now and then I fancy something"Western" and so I had a look at the menu one day and decided on the Topaz omelette and chips (fries). The signature omelette contains sausage, onion, capsicum and tomato.
The menu boasts sandwiches, garlic bread, crumbed chicken, pan fried fish etc. and some other bar staples. If you want something a little spicier there is a selection of "devilled" dishes and there is a vegetarian menu section. There is a slightly odd cooking system here. There is a fully stocked kitchen which you can see into though the small serving hatch and it is spotless although not permanently manned. When you order the waiter rings a little bell and a chef comes scurrying along, presumably from the main kitchen to cook your meal.
I understand that there is not much you can do to mess up omelette and chips but it was well executed. The omelette was tasty, the fries crisp and not greasy and the obviously home made coleslaw was beautiful. Naturally it was accompanied by tomato ketchup, this time served in a rather snazzy sauce boat. Sri Lankans seem to really love tomato ketchup! Naturally, the whole meal was washed down with an ice cold beer.
At 360SLR which is about £1:80 it was excellent value considering the upmarket location. At various points I was invited to share in bar nibbles with other customers and they were all very good especially the roasted cashew nuts.
Regrettably the bar is up two flights of stairs with no lift and is therefore wheelchair inaccessible.
Favorite Dish: I only ate there once but the omelette, fries and coleslaw was very tasty.
- Beer Tasting
- Food and Dining
- Wine Tasting
Keen's restaurant.: Great food, unusual setting.
Firstly, apologies for there not being an exterior image of this place. I walked past it many times and when I visited it at night I thought I would wait until daytime to take the image and then forgot to do it. I mentioned passing this place frequently as it was near my hotel and it always seemed to be busy with locals which is a always a good sign. I never saw any foreigners in there, although in truth I saw very few in the area at all.
I went in one night and looked around for a menu on a table. There had been a large banner outside with images of various dishes but it was all in the local script and there were no menus to be seen. Ah well, back to the old pointing routine that has served me so well over the years. As is common in Asia, all the food is kept in a glass covered cabinet and the portion is taken out and reheated as required. It is a system that will be familiar to people who frequent less posh curry houses all over the UK. I pointed to a curry I thought looked tasty, some salad which I know is not always a good idea in foreign countries and held up the relevant number of fingers to indicate how many roti I wanted from the huge pile sitting there and it was all duly brought to my table.
The staff were friendly enough and smiled at my antics but I do not think there was much English spoken here. Thankfully the curry had bee heated as they seem to have a practice here of serving it lukewarm. I am not sure if that was standard here or for the benefit of the foreigner but it suited me.
It was not as fiery hot as is usual in Sri Lanka, just enough to pack a bit of a punch and everything was delicious. I mentioned that UK residents would have recognised the set-up of the place and they would also have been familiar with the taste. I am not sure which particular cuisine is represented here but it tasted very like the style of curry I would eat in one of the numerous Bangladeshi run restaurants where I live.
The title of this tip suggests an unusual setting. Nothing unusual about the restaurant per se but, in all my travels in Asia, I have never eaten in a restaurant that was playing host to a Muslim religious instruction class or at least that is what I took it to be. Have a look at the image and judge for yourself. It did provide a point of interest as I dined, though. Being an obviously Muslim establishment there is no alcohol and because it is all level should be accessible for the mobility impaired.
All in all an excellent meal and very inexpensive.
Favorite Dish: The meat curry with roti and salad was very tasty
- Budget Travel
- Food and Dining
Tandoori Hut: Nice biryani in a "closed" restaurant.
This really was a bit of an odd experience.
I was exploring along Galle Road in the Bambalapitiya area one evening and I fancied a bit to eat so when I saw the sign that forms the main image for this tip I thought I would give it a try. Authentic Pakistani cuisine, barbecue, biryani and roll all sounded good to me. The rather temporary looking notice on the door indicating chicken biryani or chicken fried rice at 200Rs. (approximately £1) was equally appealing. I took those to be the days specials.
I went upstairs and entered the clean but totally empty restaurant you can see in the third image. The only person there was the chef, a pleasant enough chap with a reasonable grasp of English. I asked for a menu and he said there wasn't one. The hand-written notice on the door was, in fact, the menu. Well, I had already decided I fancied a chicken biryani anyway so that was no problem.
Off he went and shortly produced the very tasty biryani you see which was served with a boiled egg, raw onion and a slice of fresh pineapple which I found a little odd but it was very good and went wll with the meal.
We had a bit of a conversation during which it transpired that the restaurant was not in fact open despite the door being open. I am still not sure what that was all about. He also informed me rather ruefully that he was returning to Pakistan soon to be replaced by an Indian chef. What this will mean for the cuisine and the standards I really couldn't say but it might be worth dropping in here just to see what happens next!
Favorite Dish: From the available choice of two, the chicken biryani as described was very good.
- Budget Travel
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