I think eating this will send you to sit on one!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I am often amazed by how the Universe looks after me.
Yesterday my car broke down. Not normally a reason for celebration you might say, however it broke down just as I handed the keys over to the Valet parking attendant outside one of my favourite restaurants in Bandra. The car wouldn’t start and anyone who has been in Bandra at lunch time will know that the narrow lanes are so jammed with traffic that it was impossible to push start the vehicle. So always one to try and make the best of a situation, I abandoned the car, asked the Valet to keep a watchful eye over it and went inside for lunch. No sense in being hungry at a time like this.
After carefully placing my order I started making a few calls. My citrus salad and BBQ chicken wings appeared a short while later so I put down the phone and concentrated on the more important matter of satisfying my taste-buds. The wings were beautiful, very tender with a sweet but spicy marinade. Hunger temporarily sated I resumed the calls and by the time the main course of succulent Roast Chicken with grilled vegetables arrived, I had located a very helpful man at the local Mahindra dealer. With the manner of your friendly neighbourhood doctor he asked a number of probing questions (about the car of course) and finally diagnosed that there wasn’t enough charge left in the (now 4 years old) battery to start the car and it would need replacing. By now I was really enjoying the chicken, beautifully cooked as it was, meat just falling off the bone, and he put me in touch with a local battery dealer.
I contemplated ordering another plate of roast chicken but decided instead to direct my attention towards the dessert section. I ordered a lovely molten flour-less chocolate cake with orange sorbet, the acidity of the orange balancing out the sweetness of the chocolate perfectly. The only disappointment was that the Boss insisted on sharing it.
Dessert satisfactorily devoured and a couple of cups of a very pleasant white tea from Darjeeling later, an elderly man turned up on a scooter, (outside the restaurant I hasten to clarify), with a new battery which he duly fitted. I paid the bill, thanked the staff for their excellent service, retrieved my keys from the parking valet, and headed on my way, stomach full and Tommy enjoying a pleasant post-prandial slumber.
How about a Laduree Macaron Christmas Tree?!!
All I want for Christmas…….is the tree!
There are macarons and there are macarons. I like to think I am becoming a bit of a connoisseur although this is a little big-headed of me as my sole experience of good macarons is when I partook of the delicious items at Laduree in Singapore(which I posted about here) after which I realized that all other macarons paled in comparison. A Macaron snob is probably a more apt description.
A recent trip to Hong Kong gave me the opportunity to indulge my new passion once again as there is a branch of another famous French Patissiere called Pierre Herme.
The shop is in the IFC Mall on HK Island, located very conveniently on the route I took every day from the office back to my hotel. Never being one to resist temptation I popped in on the first day to sample Monsieur Herme’s wares. Purely of course in the interests of culinary science as I wanted to compare with the Laduree macarons I had eaten in Singapore.
It’s a small shop. Smaller than Laduree in Singapore, perhaps reflecting the higher cost of real estate in HK, however there is still plenty of room for the glass display case filled with brightly colored macarons, like Blackbeard’s chest filled with treasure.
The first order of business is to choose a gift box, all different sizes and designs, the boxes themselves being quite collectible. One then gets down to the serious task of deciding what to fill the box with.
There are 17 different flavors plus there are often special flavors which are not on the regular menu. When I was there they had 4- 5 yoghurt filled macarons to choose from.
This makes it very difficult for a glutton like me, because I have to try all 17 flavors to decide which ones I like but by the time I have tried all 17 I have forgotten my preferences and have to start all over again. Terrible but sometimes one has to make these sacrifices!
In the end I settled for a small selection and took them back to my room for a little feast.
The macarons are truly a delight to the taste buds. Crispy on the outside with just the right amount of gooiness on the inside and each flavor distinctly different.
Some of the flavor descriptions are fantastic. How about “Pure Origin Peruvian Dark Chocolate, Morropan Province, Village of Asprobo”, or “Pistachio, Ceylon Cinnamon & Morello Cherry”? “White Truffle & Roasted Piedmont Hazelnut Slivers”? Or the Boss’s favorite” Mandarin Orange Olive Oil & Cucumber Water”. One even sounds like an aftershave: “Vanilla, Old Gold Agricultural Rum & Cedar Wood”. I wasn’t sure whether to eat it or rub it all over my face!
I loved the South American dark chocolate varieties (dark chocolate being another one of my numerous vices) but my overall favorite has to be the “Infiniment Café Au Café Vert Et Au Café Bourbon Pointu De La Reunion” or Green Coffee and Refined Bourbon Coffee from Reunion for the linguistically inept like me.
The big question is whose are better? Laduree’s or Pierre Herme’s? I honestly can’t say. Both are delicious and the flavors so varied it is hard to compare. Both places, the macarons are so moreish it is really difficult to restrain oneself from gorging on them. Also to be fair I had a little too much gap between visiting Laduree and visiting Pierre Herme so it is difficult to have an accurate flavor comparison. There is only one solution. I am back in Singapore at the end of the month so it looks like I will have to pay a repeat visit to Laduree to refresh my taste memories.
Remember I am doing this all for you my readers!