Sri Lankan cuisine has always been one of the delights of this island nation. Colombo’s restaurant scene is thriving, with a range of fine dining, budget eats and quirky colonial eateries offering everything from seafood extravaganzas, tea festivals and fusion innovation to suit every taste. As these ten restaurants reveal, a visit to Colombo offers an unmissable chance to explore the best of Sri Lankan food culture.
The Gallery Café
Opened in 1998 in the former offices of world-renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa, The Gallery Café offers a unique combination of art and gastronomy within its atmospheric dining room. As part of the Paradise Road complex, visitors can peruse an art gallery which hosts a rotating selection of local artists and designers before sitting down to dine. In the dining room they will be served the best in authentic Sri Lankan fare, topped off with fusion elements, and using only the freshest local ingredients. The lemon grass and ginger chicken, black pork curry and prawn curry with sautéed kankun all come highly recommended, as do the Café’s many cocktails.
Named the 38th best restaurant in Asia by San Pellegrino, Nihonbashi is run by Japanese-Sri Lankan chef restaurateur Dharshan Munidasa, who brings a slice of Japanese elegance to the Sri Lankan capital. The décor purposefully evokes the Zen like calm of a Japanese garden, with gently bubbling fountains and a minimalist, understated atmosphere. The cuisine is similarly simple, utilizing the most delicate combinations to bring the best out of sashimi and sushi, all of which is presented with beautiful attention to detail. Every item on the menu is prepared to perfection, with a charcoal grill and hotpot dishes to accompany the signature sushi and sashimi.
Nihonbashi, Galle Face Terrace, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 112 323847
Ensconced in a magnificent glass chamber, Zaza is a combined bar, café and restaurant which offers something for everyone through its ever-changing menu. In the daytime Zaza offers the best of Ceylon tea, combining the age old flavors of Sri Lanka’s tea culture with some modern fusion twists, and creating Tea mocktails. Zaza then transforms into a hip tapas restaurant, with an extensive range of local and international dishes. At nighttime Zaza comes to life as one of Colombo’s best bars, and the glass cube is lit up as revelers descend on the highly acclaimed ‘Uber Bar Lounge’.
Offering a master class in south Indian cuisine, Chutneys is one of the best places to experience the rich variety of this culinary culture. It includes dishes from all of the four primary states of southern India – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu – and also features vegetarian dishes for every state. The incredible diversity of food culture in each of these states is explored through an extensive menu, particular highlights of which include the many types of Dosai on offer, and dishes such as Prawn Masala and Cashew Nut and Onion Raga.
Chutneys, 77, Galle Road, Colombo 03, Sri Lanka, +94 11 249 7372
Known as one of Colombo’s most exclusive restaurants, Curry Leaf raises Sri Lankan cuisine to new gastronomic heights and is the best place to experience the culinary potential of the tradition fare of this island nation. Dishes such as String Hoppers, Hoppers, Pittu and Kottu Rotti are transformed into refined pieces of classical gastronomy, whilst the relaxed open-air ambience lets visitors observe the cooking techniques for themselves.
Sri Lanka’s seafood is one of the most prized elements of its culinary scene, with Sri Lankan restaurateurs taking advantage of the riches of the Indian Ocean to offer the freshest ingredients every day. This is exemplified in Seafood Cove, which is located in a rustic setting right on the beach front, and which lets the daily catch determine its ever-changing menu. The chefs are able to tailor the wide range of fish and shellfish to patron’s specifications, whilst a live Calypso band brings a touch of the tropical to proceedings.
Seafood Cove, 100 Hotel Rd, Mt Lavinia, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 011 271 52217
Another beachfront restaurant that takes advantage of Colombo’s abundant seafood supply, Beach Wadiya has a reputation across the country for its massive seafood platters and the cheap and cheerful style of cooking. It is now a Colombo institution, which has attracted many famous patrons to its dining tables, including several members of the British Royal Family. Beach Wadiya’s take on authentic Sri Lankan classics is simple but flavorful, and its no frills style makes it the perfect place to experience quality seafood in a relaxed and vibrant setting.
Beach Wadiya, Marine Dr, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 11 2 588568
Ministry of Crab
Created by Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Dharshan Munidase (of Nihonbashi) as a celebration of Sri Lanka’s seafood, Ministry of Crab specializes in offering every possible variation on the humble crab, transforming it into the height of gourmet excellence in the process. The culinary credentials of the three owner/chefs are first rate and this is translated in their innovative and refined take on the rustic crab, which they sell in vast quantities every day. Diners can enjoy simple but hugely flavorful dishes such as Garlic Crab, Ginger Steamed Crab, Pepper Crab or Butter Crab, whilst also choosing the size of their crab dinner, from a petite 1/2 Kilo Crab to Crabzilla, which comes in at an astounding 2kg and upwards! Located in the Old Dutch Hospital, the historic colonial façade is the perfect location for this festival of crab.
Ministry of Crab, Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 11 234 2722
The Cricket Club Café
If it is a colonial atmosphere you are after, then the Cricket Club Café is the ideal place to start. Built in a small colonial villa by an Australian couple, James & Gabrielle Whight, The Cricket Club Café celebrates everything that is great about Sri Lanka’s favourite sport whilst also offering first rate dining. The walls are lined with autographed bats and pictures of famous cricket stars from Sri Lanka and Australia, whilst the regular congregation of cricket fans mean that this is also the best places to watch matches.
Cricket Club Café, 34 Queens Rd, Kollupitiya, Colombo, Sri Lanka +94 11 250 1384
Sri Lanka’s only Swiss restaurant, Chesa Swiss is a favourite amongst expatriates and prides itself on its relaxed and friendly atmosphere, as well as its recreation of signature Swiss dishes. The fondue and bourguignonne come recommended and the extensive grill selection means that meat lovers will find something to please their palette. Although the Alpine classics of Swiss cuisine may not immediately come to mind in Sri Lanka’s sultry climate, Chesa Swiss makes the unusual combination work, whilst offering a wholly unique experience of cultural exchange.
Chesa Swiss, 3 Deal Place A, Colombo 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 11 2 573433
By Thomas Storey