Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Le Chalet, Selfridges

We were supposed to be meeting at the Savoy for drinks at 6.30pm. I got caught up in the shops. Then he got delayed at work. Then there was no 3G. I passed the time by ambling around Selfridges food and beauty halls buying things I shouldn't have with my arms getting ever wearier with each bag added to the fray then I remembered the new "Le Chalet" bar on the roof. He agreed to hotfoot it from the City and I prepared to settle in with a cocktail list.

There is a lift near the main entrance dedicated to getting to the fifth floor and when you emerge its to a Narnia like tunnel of trees and fairy lights. 

A honeycomb Old Fashioned was exactly what I needed post-shopping. The bar staff make them properly; swirling in a bit of whisky then a bit of ice then a bit more whisky until the glass is full. If I'm honest I couldn't identify any distinct honey flavour but didn't care as it hit the spot magnificently. At the moment its still fairly warm so with the heaters and flames so I was in dire need of a cold drink but the alcoholic hot chocolates look obscenely good and I can't wait to drink one outside on the roof another time.  How good does a Cuban sound- Rum, Cinnamon & Chocolate? Or Hazelnut almond liqueur, dark chocolate and hot chocolate. 

The dining area is decked out in fairy lights, lanterns and mini alpine trees all adding to the low lit glow.

Granted, the name is far from imaginative but I suppose you know what you're getting. Yes, there's also a strong risk that Arabella and Jasper will be knocking back hot chocolate and braying about apres ski in Courcheval/St Anton/Klosters and the time that Squibby once skiied down a black run topless after one too many schnapps. Yes, its also a bit early for Alpine scenes but come Christmas it will be fabulous, I promise - stop fighting it and go with it, you just need to get into the mood. 

Run by the people from Q Grill in Camden, the kitchen offers a varied menu both in terms of style of food and prices- mains range from £13-40. It is a bit of an exercise in crowdpleasing with some dishes veering from the theme (not sure how 'Alpine chalet' a  but I'd expect that Selfridges get a good deal of input into making sure it fits every demographic. 

Barked Shortrib with caramelised parsnip mash was a no brainer sitting squarely in the mid price bracket at £19. I'm not entirely sure what made the shortrib "barked" but whatever it is I hereby decree that all shortrib from henceforth and forever more should be "barked" because it tasted bloody delicious. As delicate and prone to falling apart as Kerry Katona on a reality tv show, its held together only by a charred outer crust and something unidentifably sticky but sweet. Just to make you feel like you're not a complete carniverous neanderthal there's also a sprig of something green and utterly superfluous, excellent. 

Buttermilk chicken schnitzel was an absolute triumph. Hammered thin, coated in a light, crisp coating it still managed to be really succulent. The accompanying blue cheese fondue was one of nicest things I've eaten in ages; smooth and creamy with a subtle blue cheese tang - not in the least bit overpowering. 

A side order of broccoli and chilli may not have been the most exciting dish Ive eaten this year but it was great with the schnitzel and made me feel a modicum towards healthy.

Dessert was skipped in favour of a bag of macarons and chocolates that I'd accidentally acquired from Pierre Herme, Pierre Marcolini and Artisan du Chocolat downstairs in the foodhall (so many good things in one place!) but the fabulous sounding "Apple Struesel with Lashings of Custard" did make my mouth water. "Egg Nog Snow Egg" still has me baffled...

There was some confusion over the wine, I thought I'd ordered a Chilean Cab Sauv and wasn't paying attention properly and before I knew it the Waterford version from Stellenbosch had been poured. At £60 a bottle its overpriced but a cook hearty cab sauv rich in ripe blackcurrants. 

If you're a cigar fiend they also have a decent humidor and lots of outdoor seating and blankets to enjoy it.  Like all the rooftop pop up restaurants, it won't be around forever is bound to get busier towards Christmas so get down there as soon as possible.

Would I go back? Yes definitely, I've been dreaming of the food all week since I ate there!

Highlights: the location (helped by the fireworks, granted) and that Schnitzel and blue cheese fondue

Summary:  The overall effect is even cheesier than my blue cheese fondue but its a lot of fun. Go and do it. 


I eat out far too much for my own good and as a result its pretty rare that I get fixated on a dish but that schnitzel and blue fondue kept sticking in my mind so I found myself back there only a week later mid shopping trip begging for a table for one. It was just as good the second time and even better when accompanied by boozy hot chocolate. Its gone up half a point as a result....


Le Chalet
Selfridges, Oxford Street

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


Fighting our way past a rag-tag group of Guanabara carnival dancers (some of whom might want to rethink a sequinned g-string in a breezy overcast Covent Garden - and I'm not just talking about the women) was not how I had imagined my arrival at Rules. 

This was not my first visit to Rules, the last time being almost a decade ago and as a host for a work dinner back in the days when entertainment budgets had several zeros.  I had one of those 'cultural sensitivity' incidents that those who work in a corporate environment with an avid HR team will be painfully conscious of.  Smoked salmon arrived. A table of colleagues of around 10 different nationalities all looked in bemusement at the beige fabric parcel on their plates. After seeing me pick it up prod it with a fork and squeeze liquid out onto the salmon tentative questions were asked - the main one being "but why?". Nil points for British Cuisine so far then. Things carried on in the same vein with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. It didn't occur to me to warn them that the innocuous creamy sauce on their plates concealed fire in the form of horseradish the result being a United Nations worth of lawyers joined in their common hatred of British food through tears streaming down their faces. I recall an Indian gentleman spluttering "I like spices, I eat a lot of chilli, but this? This is evil!!!" Oops, no job offers in diplomacy for me in the near future. 

The positives that I do remember from that evening were both the attentive service and the beautifully decorated private room we were squirrelled away in so it would prove interesting to see if the experience was the same for common or garden diners. I also learnt that very few people of any nationality can find treacle tart offensive and thank goodness for that. 

Rules has a significant history to it not least for having been one of various central London destinations where the then Prince of Wales ('Bertie' to his friends) carried on his secret - or not so secret - assignations with mistress Lillie Langtry. Even now regulars can enter via a private door reputed to have been used by Langtry. Stories of this ilk combined with the chockload of antiques and pictures and a Covent Garden location makes it a mecca for tourists. Indeed, on this visit Japanese and Americans made up a majority of the diners.

So, fast forward ten years or so and is Rules still the same place? This time we were sat downstairs in the main room nestled under an unusual painting of Maggie Thatcher - see what I mean?

The impressive reputation of "London's Oldest Restaurant" brings with it a certain level of expectation and cachet. This assumption of cachet seems to be directly reflected in the attitude and demeanour of various of the serving staff who treat guests with a certain froideur usually reserved for the snootiest of Parisian brasseries which is unfortunate as the food is very decent. Our waiter was distinctly unhelpful, seemingly adopting an attitude designed to make you feel as though you should be grateful to be there.

The menu is understandably very traditional and very British. You're never going to come here looking for culinary wizardry or foams, savoury snows and anything sous vide. A starter of smoked duck salad with stilton was good but largely down to the quality of the ingredients rather than any level of culinary expertise.

A dressed crab with a delicately flavoured aioli was plentiful and, again, of excellent quality. 

Smoked salmon (£15) was served with that pesky lemon muslin again with the option of chopped egg or not. personally I find the addition of egg a little too breakfast but nice touch nonetheless. 

I was abroad for the glorious twelfth so this was my first occasion of the year to eat grouse. A whole grouse no less (£32). In hindsight I should probably have taken up the option of the bird being pre carved and served ready to eat but I got all cocky (see what I did there?) and decided I could do it on my own. So a carcass arrived at the table, feather strewn legs and all and I got to work with a rather large knife. Not a very sharp knife incidentally so it did all rather descend into a Neanderthal display of tearing meat from fowl.  The Americans sat at the table next to me looked slightly horrified. The flavour was good though- just the right side of gamey and still moist- and although I might have regretted how I'd opted to have it served I was glad I went for it. I somehow always manage to forget that "game chips" aren't chips at all in the British sense but crisps. I know its tradition but it still feels weird having a plate of meat, veg, gravy and the best part of a packet of crisps. 

Steak and kidney suet pudding (£18) was hearty with a suet pastry so full of grease it was almost translucent. Breaking it open revealed a rich, meaty filling surpassing all of our expectations. Vegetables and sides are well cooked if unexciting.

Desserts are of the rich and comforting variety; sticky toffee puddings, lemon meringue pies and almond tarts. All nursery favourites that never grow old. 

Would I go back? I'm sure that I will, although not on a regular basis, its rather too pricey for that. If you want to experience the place without the almighty price tag then pop into the upstairs bar for a cocktail. 

Highlights: The crab, the pomp of the surroundings and all the desserts.

Summary: It feels like its become a little touristy but can still be relied on to provide well executed British food albeit at an eyebrow raising price and will undoubtedly remain as part of London's dining Establishment for years to come.


35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London. WC2E 7LB
0207 8365314

Rules on Urbanspoon

Friday, 7 November 2014

Berners Tavern

We had a little time to kill before our dinner reservation so popped into the Sanderson purple bar for a cocktail. Some years ago the height of cool, the Sanderson was feeling tired around the edges. That impression only intensified on crossing the road and strolling down to the London Edition Hotel, a collaboration between Marriott and Ian Schrager- its clear that he long ago gave up on his former baby at the Sanderson. Schrager's influence is keenly felt as this is like no Marriott I've ever been to before.  Berners Tavern opened in the middle of 2013 with Jason Atherton as restaurateur. Yes, yet  another of the almost amoebic spread of Atherton restaurants across London, Berners Tavern is located on the ground floor of the London Edition Hotel. 

In this case "Tavern" is possibly the greatest misnomer for a restaurant that I have come across. Its tantamount to living in a ten bed mansion at the end of an oak lined drive and calling it "Acorn Cottage".  Picturing a "tavern" in my minds eye conjures up images of a low ceilinged Dickensian drinking house with blowsy bar maids attending to red nosed men. This couldn't be further from the reality on Berners Street.  My pictures don't do the dining room justice, you need the widest angle lens possible to take it all in. Its massive. Its gorgeous.  Toweringly high ceilings with beautifully lit plasterwork and architraves sit atop wooden panelled walls covered in an eclectic patchwork of framed prints and paintings. It is the perfect blend of contemporary chic in a classic setting (that sounds sickeningly estate agent but you know what I mean). Caged chandeliers left me thinking of the scene in Moulin Rouge where Satine descends singing 'Diamonds are a girl's best friend'. Its the kind of place that just makes you want to misbehave in the most decadent way possible. 

Its also enough to make most of us feel under dressed. This is somewhere that people are instinctively dressing for dinner even without there being a formal dress code. Despite it being a Sunday evening I'd worn a dress and was glad I did, jeans just wouldn't cut it here. There was also a certain 'type' of clientele. Lots of West London mediahhhhh and creative types in their late forties and early fifties with much younger girlfriends. Yep, its that kind of place. 

As the lights dim in the evening to a golden glow, the cocktail bar is the perfect place for not so illicit dalliances over potent and novel blends, definitely get there early and drink it all in provided price is no object. So over to our table and let the fun begin.....

Pea, ham and eggs is anything but the plain, simple fare it sounds like. A pea risotto is served in a separate saucepan and zings with freshness. A hen's egg is lightly breaded and fried. Ham hock is tender and salty. Classic ingredients that can never marry badly together.

A dressed crab with coriander, apple and lemon juice is perfectly seasoned and not a shard of shell in sight. At £20 it may well be the most expensive starter I've ever ordered but is really good (and felt pretty virtuous compared to my usual creamy sauce and foie gras based starters - the skinny blondes must be having an effect on me!)

The skinny effect wore off pretty quickly with the onset of the main course, a giant slab bearing a sizeable chunk of rare cow; chateaubriand and roast artichoke (£80 for two). A decent char on the outside gave way to tender and flavoursome flesh on the inside.

Truffle macaroni cheese was something of a disappointment. Not enough sauce and, despite the slices of summer truffle on the top, not a very deep truffle flavour to the overall dish sadly.  Could do better Berners Tavern!

Some of the wines are priced a little on the hyper inflated side. £170 for a 2000 Chateau Gloria compared to just under £50 retail. The third wine from Chateau Margaux 2009 was £120 compared to £63 in Mission. Granted the overheads are higher here and they are tied by hotel pricing but its still the same bottle of wine…. We let the sommelier go freestyle on a maximum budget of £60 and he came up with a biodynamic red from the Languedoc. I think I've got some way to go on my wine tasting odyssey before I'm going to truly appreciate the merits of organic/biodynamic. Too often I find them a little musty and the haze you frequently find is unappealing (let alone all this "you mustn't drink it on a root or leaf day" nonsense). This may make me a philistine granted but there you have it. I found this particular Roussillon a little thin and lacking the substance to stand up to beef and macaroni. It certainly wasn't a bad wine but I wouldn't rush to order it again.

I was waaaaaay too full for dessert. Sorry. An Uber whisked me off into the night to dream of food. 

Would I go back?: If you are really trying to impress or its a special occasion, yes definitely, do it! I might suggest it to someone on expenses.

Highlights: The venue, its just gorgeous. 

Summary: A pricey night out but a reliably delicious one that does make you feel special. 


Berners Tavern

10 Berners Street, London, W1T 3NP
0207 9087979

Berners Tavern on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 26 October 2014


Like most of the rest of the London 'Big Smoke', I love barbecue. More than that though I love barbecue without all the machismo and hype that often accompanies it. Its generally associated with grease, excess and gluttony but why could it not be subtle and measured? Chef Neil Rankin is known for doing good barbecue in a relaxed atmosphere (ex Pitt Cue, John Salt..) but has strong roots in classic cookery having worked at multiple Michelin starred locations. This combination makes for delicious, smoky food with exacting balance of flavour and texture- something you don't often find in my experience. This all means that its not your common or garden ribs 'n wings, its more about using smoking in unexpected ways. 

That in itself is surely worth a pilgrimage? I'll be honest; for a South of the River girl it is a little bit of a schlep. All the way to Highbury & Islington and then a good ten minute walk. Just as you're starting to tire and expire from hunger you round a corner and outside a very plain looking pub we were greeted by this:

Well quite. Bring it on. 

Inside the design is simple and light and airy during the day but cosy at night, lots of wood, mismatching furniture and church candles. Outside there is a walled garden full of greenery and tiny fairy lights- possibly the perfect pub garden feeling a million miles away from the rest of Islington. One of the joys of Smokehouse is that whilst its definitely a restaurant menu on offer, it is still run very much as a pub with plenty of space for casual drinking. 

This being barbecue, we are firmly in craft beer land. The range on offer is truly mind boggling with a board of almost unlimited wittily named options; Weird Beard, Flying Dog, Beavertown and Anchor Steam all sound nothing like the beer that they contain. The wine list is dominated by a pretty comprehensive trip around Italy, Spain and France, reasonably priced with plenty of sub £30 options and contains a couple of my Gascon favourites from Plaimont Producteurs. If you've never had a Pacherenc before try the St Albert here, at £3.50 a glass it would be criminal not to. 

The staff are all young and very enthusiastic and all to keen to explain the background to any of the dishes. At their recommendation we kicked off with a potted smoked duck leg on toast giving us a first hint at the deep, dark smokiness instilled by the green egg barbecues favoured by Rankin. Staying succulent under a seal of peppered, clarified butter this was a taste of things to come.

Determined to try out some of the non barbecue bits we ordered a courgette flower stuffed with Fourme d'Ambert & honey. Utterly delicious but not in the slightest bit pretty so you're not getting a photo. It was also a lovely change to have a delicate blue cheese in the flower instead of the usual goats cheese. 

It took a long time to order main courses due entirely to our inability to choose. We finally settled on Shortrib Bourguignon (£17.50) which is an almost unrecognisable spin on the classic and essentially consists of  a large chunk of smoked beef shortrib on the bone with a thick wine sauce, crispy onions and a super smooth Mr Whippy style mash. Really absolutely nothing to fault. Seemingly held together only by the sticky sauce coating the outside, it fell apart with the slightest prod of a fork into perfect strands of deeply smoky meat.

The somewhat innocuous sounding "Grilled salmon, radish peanut & green chilli" (£16.50) turned out to be mindblowingly spicy. Cooked delicately and still surprisingly moist, it was unfortunately a little overpowered by the spice. That said, I get the feeling that meat is what these guys do best. It isn't all meat, meat, meat though; there are plenty of options for vegetarians so don't shy away from letting them come along for the outing. 

Speaking of spice we had also ordered a side of Korean pulled pork; well why wouldn't you? Light and a little crispy with a gently building heat searing past the sweetness, its beyond good, its fantastic. What we couldn't eat came home and was possibly even better the following day.

The almost rans included a highland burger topped with that same Korean pulled pork (£15) and the very dramatic sounding "The Sphere" which, contrary to sounding like a Saturday night gameshow, is actually a construction of smoked ham hock, pigs cheek, squid romesco and fregola (£18).  A smoked duck, kimchi and potato cake (£19) sounded pretty delicious too and smelt it as a plate of it drifted past leaving us craning our necks behind it. 

Dessert almost didn't happen. We were stuffed to the gills with meat in an almost undignified way but then that second stomach thing happened. You know, that little bit of space that seems to stay free no matter what you eat? Yeah, it came into play and a DD Tart (apparently an homage to and pimping up of the lowly Double Decker) was ordered at our waiter's recommendation.  It could/should have been very sickly indeed but a thick, dark, bitter chocolate ganache kept things away from too sweet on the top of a crunchy base of cocoa pops in white chocolate (£6.50). 

A trend seems to be developing recently for pictures involving the loos in my posts so this one will be no exception. Antlers host those ever crucial spare loo rolls. Great quirk. 

Whenever I eat out I always try and order something that I'm not likely to be able to make at home which is perhaps why I found it so hard to choose what to eat here. Although the emphasis is on comfort food, the big plates and simple presentation conceal real skill and innovation of cooking.

Would I go back? If it was more local to me I'd be there for Sunday lunch more often than a vicar goes to church but due solely to distance its more of a once in a while trip. 

Highlights: Shortrib & mash.

Summary: Excellent carnivorous comfort food


63-69 Canonbury Road, Islington, London. N1 2DG
0207 3541144
Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 September 2014

Shopping in Sri Lanka

Despite my London apartment being stuffed to the rafters (minimalist is never going to be my style) I always seem to find myself sitting on top of a suitcase at the end of every trip forcing the zip and praying to the gods of travel that mine will not be the burst bag on the carousel spewing forth knickers for all of Terminal 5 to behold. Sri Lanka was no different and saw me staggering through the green customs channel in a most undignified pack horse fashion. But it was so worth it; there are so many beautiful and very useful things on offer if you shop around.

Shopping in Sri Lanka is a real pleasure since, although haggling is expected in markets and some tourist shops, it is done in a light hearted way unlike many other countries. Whilst there are lots of very touristy shops, a series of more elegant lifestyle/ homeware shops have also sprung up. It's very easy to flag down tuk-tuks to whizz around town between stores (or in my case back to the hotel twice as my arms were full - oops!) 


One of the great things about Sri Lanka is that all food products have to have a manufacturer's retail price printed on them so you know you are paying the standard price. If you are lucky enough to be travelling up to the highlands you can visit the plantations and buy tea directly from the manufacturers at a decent rate. The downside is that you have to visit each manufacturer to see a spread of products and ranges. 

The Ceylon Tea Board on Galle Road in Colombo is a great place to buy tea from lots of different producers, especially the smaller ones,  but beware it isn't open on Saturdays (as I discovered to my chagrin). The big brands have their own stores in Colombo, Dilmah and Mlesna being the main ones. The main place NOT to buy tea is the airport. A tin of Dilmah loose tea was 500 rupees in the city (about £2.30) but the exact same product was $6 at the airport. In general everything at the airport is about double. 


Barefoot is a chain of shops that employ Sri Lankan women who would otherwise be unlikely to have an income. This is no pity party though as the stuff they make is gorgeous and of very high quality. In addition to the Colombo stores there is also a store in Galle Fort that is worth a visit. Definitely buy something you like when you see it though. I left a couple of things behind in Galle assuming I'd find them again at the Colombo branch and ended up kicking myself. 

The Sri Lankans are also big on batik print clothes and textiles - not my thing but there is plenty of choice if it is yours. They also make practical gifts and toys from brightly coloured fabrics- I love souvenirs that have a purpose rather than sitting on a shelf.

I bought beautiful tablecloths and napkins that are already in regular use. The multicoloured make up bags and wash bags were all fallen upon by friends. This shop is a must stop. 


Paradise Road truly is a veritable dream of house stuff. Its one of those shops that you walk into and just want to buy the lifestyle in its entirety. Ceramics, tableware, table linen, 

Sri Lanka is pretty self sufficient when it comes to food with a wealth of seafood from the coastal areas, amazing quality fruit and vegetables from the Highlands and spices and cashew nuts from pretty much everywhere else. Whilst you can't bring the jumbo prawns home with you, you can make cooking back at home a whole lot more fun with all the spices.

There's always something fun about walking round foreign supermarkets. Seeing what is the same, what's unrecognisably different or cheaper than home. There are two main chains in Sri Lanka; Cargill's Food City and Keell's Super.  I bought my spices in a small branch of Food City in Hikkaduwa on the east coast. The ground cinnamon was about 40p a pack and from the manufacturing date printed on the pack, had been ground that very morning in a mill less than 5 kilometres away. You can't get fresher than that! A bag of around 20 nutmegs was £1 and cinnamon sticks can be had for around 20p for a bag of 5. It will be at least five times as much if you buy them in fancy packaging in tourist shops or from the spice gardens and the quality will be no better. I also bought a load of sachets of powdered coconut at about 10p a sachet as its much easier than opening a whole can of coconut milk for cooking curries.

Some of the better quality shops like Barefoot also offer spice mixes to recreate curries back at home and they are great value.

Cashews are surprisingly pricey but generally very good quality. Watch out for the devilled ones though; they're hot!

There are lots of spice gardens littering the route from Kandy to Colombo. Someone will guide you round extolling the virtues and purported benefits of various herb and spice combinations before sitting you down for a massage to ease you in the most relaxing way into looking at a price list. The alleged restorative and curative qualities of various tonics and balms are explained. Each to their own, some of the group I was with thought they were fantastic but to me it was a very lengthy sales pitch peddling snake oil. 

If you are interested in good quality Ayurvedic products using the same local ingredients then look out for a range called Spa Ceylon which, although not super cheap, is beautifully packaged and definitely less costly than its nearest equivalent back home. They have several spas where you can get treatments as well as products in Colombo although their products are also stocked in Barefoot and Paradise Road if you're running short on time.  They deliver globally via their website but the prices are about double those charged in Sri Lanka (cardamom rose nail and cuticle balm is $16 online but was around $7 locally).


Finding somewhere to buy gems that you can trust is a total minefield. I'm told that some of the big touristy gem places pay up to 40% commission to drivers and tour guides for bringing punters through the door. Therefore although it might feel safer buying from a big shop you will be paying through the nose for it.

I went into my hotel jewellery shop (a branch of Zam) to get a ballpark figure for a pair of small sapphire studs and was loosely quoted "not more than $1000". With a mere raise of the eyebrows and a quiet snort the price had come down to under $350 within seconds. The price I finally paid from an independent gem dealer was considerably less than that again. Moral of the story is avoid hotels shops and try to get recommendations from someone you trust; not your driver/ tour guide. 

I went to Sena Gems on the corner of Marine Drive and Ridgeway Place. It doesnt have a glossy shop front and you have to go through two security gates to get in but they were recommended by people I know with family in Sri Lanka who I trust and I was happy with both the price and the quality of the final product ( I picked stones and designed the settings). 

Wooden carvings

Quality of wood carving is extremely variable and they are less practical as presents but if you find a good one it makes a pretty and good value souvenir.

I challenge anyone to go to Sri Lanka and not come back with a suitcase at least a third bigger than when you arrived. Hopefully the above will help direct you to some lovely things.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Eating out in Colombo, Sri Lanka (or "How to Eat Your Own Bodyweight in Seafood")

Colombo feels as though its a city on the cusp of change. For years it has had a reputation as somewhere that you don't stop for long before heading to one of the coasts and, similarly to the much maligned Bangkok, is as a grubby portal to the beaches. I loved Colombo despite the dirt and hustle and bustle. Various areas are in the process of regeneration but its fair to see there are plenty of places in the city that have already up and come and where you can have an excellent meal and a good night out.

Lagoon at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel is a glass box of a restaurant  with a terrace overlooking a small man made lagoon.  The premise is essentially that you visit the fishmonger's counter, pick your weapon and it can then be cooked one of a multitude of ways. Seer is a fish that you see lots on menus in Sri Lanka - its a member of the mackerel family but is much bigger and essentially more similar to tuna in terms of size of steak and meaty texture. 

We ordered an array of food cooked in different styles to share. Cuttlefish in white curry sauce (a delicate creamy sauce - the Sri Lankan version of a korma you might say) was particularly good, fried crab claw cakes had a ginger tang were one of my favourites too. 

Giant river prawns were covered in a spicy crumb and grilled before being drizzled in butter. 
King prawns were in a spiced tomato and onion garlic sauce and fair blew my head off.

It is very much a hotel restaurant and ensures there is something for everyone. You can have your seafood with sweet and sour sauce or breaded with ketchup if you prefer- we just tried to go for the more local options. 

At the other end of the price spectrum is Beach Wadiya.  A 10 minute tuk tuk drive out of town it lies on Marine Drive opposite KFC but is well worth the journey. Sitting right on the beach front with the waves lapping the shore you feel instantaneously a world away from the humid hustle and bustle of Colombo town. 

It has an unparalleled reputation and the walls are plastered in photos of the great and the good with manager Olwyn.  Despite being well into his seventies, he sits there day and night surveying his territory and its guests. Princess Anne is reported to have deemed it her favourite place in Sri Lanka and amongst her favourite restaurants ever.

This was by far and away my favourite place in Colombo and a must visit as far as I am concerned. A large plate of king prawns grilled with garlic is around £3. The cuttlefish come in at around the same price and are cooked to order from the fishcounter

I ate there twice and never left with a bill over about £12 for everything including beers. Watch out getting back to the mainroad for a tuk tuk home after all that beer though!

Curry Leaf at the HIlton turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I'm always a bit dubious of hotel restaurants especially ones that offer buffets. For a fixed price of 2750 rupees (£13) you get to select all the fish and seafood you like to be cooked to your preference and delivered to your table. Outside are various little streetfood stalls offering made to order portions of kottu, stringhoppers and roti. It was a briliant way to get a crash course into Sri Lankan cuisine before ordering the things I liked best at other restaurants during the trip.

One of the most popular places around is the fantastically named  "Ministry of Crab". Co-owned by two international Sri Lankan cricket players, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara (which makes them Gods in these parts where the first question any taxi driver asks you is "do you like cricket?") the price tags are designed to match. The smallest crab size starts at 3000 rupees (around £15) which is megabucks by Sri Lankan standards. Mainly for that reason I decided to give it a miss. It is located in the Dutch Courtyard though which is a renovated colonial area with shops and bars etc in it and the heartland of an up and coming modern Sri Lankan scene and worth a visit even if you don't eat at Ministry. 

I wish I had been able to spend more time in the city to explore its burgeoning street food scene but the rest of the country awaited me. Hopefully this whistlestop tour gives you a taste of Sri Lanka though.


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Hikkaduwa, East Coast Sri Lanka

Hikkaduwa sits in the centre of the region worst hit by the Tsunami on boxing day back in 2004 (its hard to believe that it was already a decade ago). You might recall reports of a train that was swept off its tracks along with all its passengers, well that was here. In some ways it is a very restful place, sleepy at this time of year as most tourists are over on the West side of Sri Lanka. That's one of the great things about visiting Sri Lanka; there is always a part of the island that is in season. That restfulness also feels as though it has a sadness to it too though. Graves of various religions line the side of the road along the coast commemorating those taken by the same waves.  Fading photographs glued to telegraph poles and the sides of buildings. The shell of the fateful train sits unmoved from its last port of call.  Life gradually moves on though and whilst noone in the area will ever forget, new business have sprung up and the area is making a new name for itself pinning its hopes on a new dawn of tourists drawn to the teardrop isle of Sri Lanka. 

After the heat and bustle of Colombo I couldn't wait to leap out of the car and feel the sand between my toes and a sea breeze in my hair. Although a swim was exactly what I wanted the waves were choppy with a ratty red flag warning against the warm water's temptations. 

Meandering along the beach I came across hardly another soul other than the occasional fisherman. That is until I reached a sign swinging in the breeze.

Shhhh! I'm going to tell you something but only if you can keep it to yourself, in fact its Top Secret. Top Secret only because that's the name of the restaurant. Under the sign a sea of hammocks and brightly coloured sun loungers entice you in. Wander inside and travellers of all nationalities are sat sipping cold beers, making full use of the wifi and nibbling on local delicacies. Our stumbling across Top Secret was a happy coincidence due to the deep rumbling sound, partly from my stomach and partly due to the darkening clouds rolling in across the horizon from the sea.  

Sure enough, no sooner than I had ordered a drink at the bar than the heavens opened sending a flurry of gap year students who had been sleeping off hangovers on the sand scurrying for cover into the shadowy depths of the bar. 

We grabbed a table in the restaurant and ordered plates of seafood and rice. My favourites were these squid rings in a piquant and peppery sauce. 

The drumming beat of rain on the roof began to slow in rhythm and finally subsided leaving us free to carry on our wander along the shoreline and walk off lunch, spotting a few bits of nature thrown by the waves onto the beach as we went. 

No swimming for us today though, the lifeguard's flags made sure of that. 

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