Paradise found at the Gallery Cafe, Colombo!

Gallery Cafe EntranceI 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.

Gallery Cafe Colombo, Fish Pond

Gallery Cafe, Colombo - Artwork

Gallery Cafe Courtyard

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.

Gallery Cafe, Colombo
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.

Black Pork Curry

Black Pork Curry

Lemongrass and Ginger Chicken

Lemongrass and Ginger Chicken

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.

Pan-fried Modha Fish

Pan-fried Modha Fish

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.

Via Paradise

Via Paradise

Heavenly!
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.

Gallery Cafe, Colombo - Courtyard

Gallery Cafe, Colombo - Courtyard
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.

Gallery Cafe, Colombo - Plumeria Trees
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.

Passionfruit Pavlova

Passionfruit Pavlova

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Freshly Consecrated at The Ministry of Crab

Keep Calm and Crab on

One of my best culinary adventures in Sri Lanka was sparked by a good friend’s prior visit to Colombo.
A nautical man, often said to be the inspiration for The Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow, he was using Colombo as his base for plundering the high seas.
After a hard day pillaging the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean he would retire to his favorite restaurant to stuff himself to the gills with crustaceans.
Knowing he is a sailor I was initially reluctant to look at photos of his crabs. However once he explained that he was in a restaurant that specialized in them and plied me with bite by bite what’s-app messages and photos, I was inspired to pay the place a visit.

Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo

Ministry of Crab
Located in the renovated 400 year old Dutch Hospital precinct in Colombo, Ministry of Crab is owned by famous Sri Lankan cricketers Mahele Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Japanese born Sri Lankan Chef Dharshan Munidasa. Its aim is to celebrate the best of Sri Lankan seafood particularly it’s famous crabs and that it certainly does.

Ministy of Crab Ministers
All you regular readers know that Tommy doesn’t need any excuse for a feed, but mention Crabs to The Boss and her eyes light up and saliva starts dripping in copious quantities from the corners of her mouth. So it will come as no surprise that soon after we landed in Colombo we were making arrangements for a meal at The Ministry. Unfortunately they are not open for lunch during the week and my pirate friend had warned me that table reservations are necessary as he had been made to sit at the bar one night after turning up unannounced (not comfortable when you have a wooden leg).
Reservations duly made we were outside their door minutes before opening, me trying my best to hold the Boss back while avoiding slipping over in the pools of saliva forming at her feet.

Ministry of Crab Kitchen
The place is impressive and really celebrates the glory of the crab. The crab theme is carried through the menus, the cutlery and décor.

Chef Dharshan

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We sat down and, bowing to the Boss’ superior crab wisdom I let her take charge and she ordered a large Pepper Crab. I live in mortal fear of finishing a meal hungry so I also ordered the Chicken Curry Rice as well.

Chicken Curry Rice
Crabs are not usually my thing as I have always found the effort/reward ratio not in their favor. When you have a tape worm as long as mine you need to find ways of shoveling the maximum amount of food in your mouth in the minimum time and spending hours picking out little morsels of flesh from a spindly leg did not appeal. However I have to confess that after a visit to The Ministry I have been converted. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see! Hallelujah! I have been baptized by Ministers Mahele, Kumar and Dharshan! These crabs were humungous and full of tasty flesh.
Despite being in the hallowed hall of the Ministry, one of the 7 deadly sins, greed, took hold and we ordered another large crab, this time Chili Garlic. This too was as delicious as the first!

Chilli Garlic Crab
Glancing around to see if we were the only ones feasting voraciously we saw a Chinese man at the next table, obviously a crab connoisseur. He had ordered a “Crabzilla” at over 2 kgs, the largest size available and was happily devouring it by himself.
2 crabs and various chicken accompaniments later we sat back, The Boss with a satisfied grin on her face and Tommy curled up happily in his lair. The best crab meal both of us have ever eaten.

Curry Crab
24 hours later we were back again for another crab sermon, and funnily enough so was Chinese Crabzilla man!