I have a very nosy man to thank for another great meal in Colombo
It all started in Bangalore airport in the worst queue I have ever seen. Two and a half hours to clear immigration as the officials stabbed at their keyboards with a single finger of each hand and asked the usual asinine questions of each passenger. “Why are you leaving? Who are you meeting” and the best of all to The Boss; “Why couldn’t you find an Indian man to marry?”
I am pretty anti-social and don’t often like to talk to strangers as I find myself infinitely more interesting. But when you are standing next to someone for 2 hours you are bound to eventually strike up a conversation. After the usual inanities about how long the queue was, the Indian Inquisition started: Where are you from? Where do you live? Where do you work? How long have you been married? and so on and so on. I was as vague as I could be, trying to cultivate an air of mystery. In the end he gave up the interrogation and proceeded to answer all the questions I had no interest in asking him. After listing all the flights he was taking, all the cities in the US he was visiting and how many companies he had started, he finally gave me some information that was actually useful.
“When you are in Colombo make sure you go to Geoffrey Bawa’s old office. It has been converted into a café and is really nice.”
Geoffrey Bawa is Sri Lanka’s most famous architect and is considered the founder of the style known as ‘Tropical modernism’. There are wonderful examples of his work throughout Sri Lanka and I knew enough about him for the mention of his name to pique my interest. That combined with the word café was enough to set a plan in motion.
Shortly after arrival in Colombo we started googling and discovered that the place is called The Gallery Café and run by Paradise Road. A quick check on Trip Advisor threw up some mixed reviews but enough positive ones for us to decide to visit for lunch. The owner of the hotel we were staying in also confirmed that it is worth the visit.
Lunchtime duly arrived and we pulled up outside in our tuk-tuk.
Let me tell you, Gallery Café is a delight. From the minute you walk in it is a visual feast, architecturally and artistically, hinting at the wonderful culinary experience to come. You enter past a couple of gnarled old Plumeria trees, and down a small passageway which leads into a courtyard lined with art. Beautiful columns frame a fish pond filled with black fish and, in an artistic touch, a solitary white fish.
This then leads to another open plan seating area and courtyard, again filled with art and sculptures, the tropical heat kept at bay by the clever building design and the numerous fans wafting cool air.
The ever smiling and attentive staff promptly seated us and helped make a few recommendations.
The Boss ordered the house specialty Black Pork Curry and I had the Lemongrass and Ginger Chicken with spinach and potato mash.
Both were fantastic.
One main course never enough to satisfy Tommy, I then ordered the Pan Fried Modha Fish with lemon and caper butter on crushed potatoes. This too was as good as the others.
What would a meal be without dessert so we finished up with the Via Paradise; layers of meringue with coffee liqueur soaked cake, tiramisu cream, chocolate ganache topped with black cherries.
For me having a good meal is not just about the taste ( although taste and quantity is pretty high on my list) but also about the ambience. Gallery Café ticks all the boxes and is a place where you could spend the whole day whiling away the hours with great food and drinks.
On the way out we were admiring once again the shapes of the old Plumeria trees at the entrance and got talking to a man we later learned to be the owner of the Café, Shanth Fernando. He explained how the branches of the trees were weighted with stones so that they grew low and gave the trees their unique shapes.
He also entertained us with some of the back stories to a couple of the not so positive Trip Advisor reviews.
My advice: Visit for yourself. Some of the best food I have eaten in a long time, great service, and in a wonderful atmosphere.
In fact we returned the next day just for dessert.
The Passionfruit Pavlova was superb.