By Dimithri Wijesinghe
Last week we tried out Cinnamon Lakeside’s brand new attempt at a Lankan-themed bar – “ColomBar”. We were quite blown away by their creativity and attempt to showcase localised flavours with a modern twist.
This week, we decided to look into the fine dining options available in Colombo when it comes to Sri Lankan cuisine; “fine dining” being food that is served in what is usually an expensive restaurant in a formal way.
When looking for your favourite local dishes, you have a variety of options; some hoppers, kiribath, good old rice and curry – there really isn’t a shortage of restaurants. However, with regard to an elevated form of dining for traditional dishes, there seems to be a polarising opinion – authentic versus fusion, which is better?
We asked some members of the public about their thoughts on fine dining and Sri Lankan cuisine and it was a mixed bag of opinions with many sharing that Sri Lankan cuisine needs to be elevated to a certain extent if it is going to be passed off as “fine dining”.
When talking about high-end Sri Lankan food, the famous Jacqueline’s “Rs. 500 hopper” comes to mind. To clear the air, the hopper in question was likely the black hopper at Kaema Sutra which is a squid ink-doused hopper served with buffalo curd, which is a perfect example of elevating the traditional dish so that it can be marketed in such a way that it is appealing to an unfamiliar audience.
Eesa Hettarachchi, a medical student who is currently studying in Belarus, shared that when she comes back home for the holidays she likes to try the new places that have popped up and she always makes an effort to try the more high-end options when she can, just to see what sort of creative ways they have come up with to elevate what she would otherwise be familiar with.
When asked about fine-dining spots for local cuisine, majority of the people we asked were quick to name Upali’s by Nawaloka. We would have to agree to disagree on the fact that Upali’s consitutes “fine dining”, considering Upali’s current ambience having remained unchanged for years now and the prices are certainly in the “expensive” range, especially because what they offer is “authentic Lankan” food.
Recently, there was some excitement over The Steuart by Citrus serving diya bath, which is a traditional breakfast dish that not many locals had heard of; the practice of using the remaining rice from the day before and soaking it in coconut milk.
An up and comer in the arena of Sri Lankan cuisine is the more recent Culture Colombo which underwent a revamping just last week. Culture Colombo prides itself in providing a fine dining experience for affordable prices. The place proved to be popular amongst the people we spoke to with many echoing the legendary status of their nai miris kotthu.
Melani Hettiarachchi swore by her experience at Thuna Paha at Water’s Edge, Battaramulla, stressing on the fantastic service but also on the authenticity of the dishes, all of which were not too exorbitantly priced. Thuna Paha is actually a restaurant that a number of people recommended as the experience is good enough that no matter what the restaurant may be charging, the customer is happy to pay.
Nuga Gama at Cinnamon Grand which used to be an old favorite of many in the city remains at top of mind recall, but considering the prices and the many options that have popped up, despite serving solid local dishes, there are those who believe they could do better. However, if you are to introduce someone foreign to our food and are willing to splurge a little, then this place would be ideal.
The Lighthouse Galley is also a highlight when it comes to local cuisine, as the place fits the bill perfectly with its gorgeous interiors that are very much on brand with the traditional theme. Set opposite the lighthouse, this courtyard-restaurant which is run by the Navy is quite lovely and frequented by locals, but the latter fact is stemming from the reason that while the dishes are local for the most part, they do tend to be leaning towards fusion.
Rounding things up, there are some honourable mentions.
Gami Gedara now at Jambugasmulla Mawatha; another restaurant that we hesitate to classify as “fine dining” considering the fact that some prices are so very regular and the food, while lovely, is also not mind blowing.
Sahal by Sen Saal; this one is most definitely what we are talking about when we say local cuisine but fine dining, although it gives off a pretentious air in its Independence Arcade location where Kaema Sutra once stood.
“The Fat Crab”; this restaurant is a truly wonderful establishment which has been absolutely consistent in their service and flavourful food.