My kind of place!

My kind of place!

Spotted this while in Hong Kong!

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Phoren Boogeyman!

Having lunch at a busy suburban café in Mumbai. I turned in my seat to signal for the waiter to bring the bill.

As I did so, a father at the table behind me admonished his 3-year-old daughter who until now had been ignoring all requests to sit still.

“See that Uncle” he told her, while pointing in my direction. “He is getting angry. He will take you away to America! Do you want to go to America?”

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

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!

The Universe smiles kindly upon me once more

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.

Sunday. Church? No…….Multicoloured cocktails and a technicolour yawn!

Last Sunday was pa-in-law’s birthday so we all decided to go for a family lunch.
Sunday lunch in Bangalore in a Restaurant/Hotel usually means a buffet style brunch. These range from an inexpensive Indian buffet right through to a full multi-cuisine spread, with unlimited Champagne, at a price you need to sell your kidney to raise the money to attend.
We decided to trek out to Whitefield, a suburb in Eastern Bangalore about 35 kms from where we live. Whitefield is known as a hub for the IT Industry and consequently large residential complexes have sprung up to house the software professionals who have come from not just around India but other parts of the world. As a result of this there are many restaurants and hotels to cater for this influx of residents.

Like That Only
One such place is “Like That Only”. An interesting little restaurant set around an enclosed garden filled with unusual decorations; Like That Only offers a reasonably priced brunch of Pan-Asian food. The food is very good but what sets this place apart from all the others is that the barmen seem to have free range of the bar and spend the whole afternoon inventing weird and wonderful cocktails which they then foist upon the customers. They will mix up any drink you can think of and many you have never heard of. I am not sure how they manage to stay in business as the amount of alcohol they get through must surely surpass the price of the brunch.

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The last time we came here, I, like a teenager discovering alcohol for the first time, tried everything they put in front of me and got so hammered that despite a self-induced two finger assisted regurgitation of the contents of my stomach in the toilets, was in danger of repeating the process, albeit involuntarily, all over the driver on the journey back home.

Shooters for the Whole Restaurant

Complimentary Shooters for the Whole Restaurant

Not wanting to repeat the experience, or the wasted Monday that would inevitably follow, I nursed a glass of red wine all afternoon, and every time a new concoction was placed in front of me I generously slid it along the table in front of my brother-in-law.
Delighting in my big-hearted benevolence,  he knocked them all back one by one, including, but not limited to,

Grape and Goat Cheese Martini
Grape and Goat Cheese Martini

Kiwitini
Kiwitini
Chocolate Martini
Chocolate Martini
Marveling at his seemingly cast iron lined stomach I then watched as he proceeded to the lawn for the complementary foot massage!

Complimentary Foot Massage
All in all a pleasant way to spend the afternoon, as long as you maintain control….. or have a cast iron stomach!

French Cuisine, Cuban Libations, Indian delectations

There are a lot of places in Pondicherry to satisfy my main aim in life (filling my stomach).
However my favourite and arguably the best purveyor of culinary delights is Villa Shanti.
Villa Shanti is a beautifully restored French Colonial building which has been converted into a lovely boutique hotel.
One of the main draw cards is the open air restaurant in the central courtyard which serves very good Continental and Indian food.
On our recent visit we arrived for dinner and I rapidly proceeded to order something which I have only recently discovered in life but about which I am determined to make up for lost time.
Villa Shanti makes possibly the best Mojitos outside of Cuba and being particularly dehydrated and realizing the importance of keeping fluid levels high in the tropics I made sure one was on the table in front of me not long after I arrived.

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In the meantime the Boss had ordered a smoked chicken and avocado salad which was extremely tasty.

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However preferring to concentrate on rehydrating myself I quickly ordered another mojito. The only negative with Villa Shanti is that their mojitos seem to take a long time to prepare ( something to do with the mint leaves being handpicked by French maidens under a full moon and then crushed with the blunt end of a  Baguette) so it is wise to order the next before you reach the bottom of the first.
The next course arrived, the boss taking delivery of her seafood spaghetti

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while I decided to partake of the Barracuda with Polenta to fill in the gaps between mojitos.

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Whilst this was delicious it was all in preparation for the piece-de-resistance ( my school French wasn’t wasted after-all!)
Next to arrive was what I consider to be one of the finest desserts ever created by humans.

Orange Almond Cake
Orange Almond Cake with Bitter Chocolate Mousse.

Admittedly there is a small amount of bias in my comment as being Gluten intolerant this is one of the few desserts I can eat, but everyone else at the table was in agreement and also ordered one.
If heaven could be contained to a plate, this would be it. And enjoying it so much I proceeded to eat it everyday ( sometimes twice a day) for the next 3 days!