Cioconat: They had a racy launch. Quite literally, what with Fiats posing outside. An Italian-origin franchise liaised with Dubai-owned Barari dates revs up Colombo’s relishing.
Italian-trained barista/manager Affan declares, “We don’t do different things. We do things differently.” Indeed! Firstly, the owners empower the manager and exhibit no great zeal to thrust themselves upon one with proclamations about their amazing concepts and still more amazing selves (one encounters not a few such…).
|Heladiv: Posh tea with ambience
Cioconat manifests further distinction with customised crockery and cutlery. Escape those ghastly tall glasses and ghastlier Cadbury’s hot chocolate. Plunge into an unction of pure Italian liquefied chocolate that sits like a puddle in Cioconat’s designer translucent cups. You don’t sip hot chocolate here, you eat it. A certain 5-star hotel F&B manager, after one cup of Cioconat’s molten madness, was spotted carrying away wholesale bundles of the straight-from-Italy individual chocolate sachets. With 36 variants on the hot chocolate theme, choices overwhelm. Always, always pick profound extra dark. Unless exploring pistachio, almond, amaretti, marron glacé…
Drinks, interestingly, could be desserts: espressino is espresso-shot cream. And desserts are semi-fluid like signature but out-of-a-packet mascarpone. Cool Cremassitos impress–love the coffee flavour. Affan also slickly brews coffees, Cioconat’s very own Lantico hailing from 1490. Affan who has mastered coffee-making to the t quips that in Italy after doctors, baristas are the highest earners (Burlusconi surely features somewhere…).
Weary of the prevalent Finnegal bread most Colombo cafés source? Cioconat, differently, has home-made bread implemented in super sandwiches. Foccacia is fab and herbed tomato ciabatta is no denatured mockery. Healthy wholegrain bread excels. Sadly, staff doesn’t necessarily realise that authentic Italian pasta must be “al dente”, whilst pizzas and puffs can swing dramatically in the absence of the head chef who trained at Dubai’s famous or infamous and certainly monstrous Atlantis.
Desserts: 18 options! Nothing different about brownies. Except Cioconat’s has a lush lubricant coating and immense shards of cashews. Coffee cake actually contains espresso. Coffee could be intensified. Alas, Affan confirms, “Locals don’t like coffee.” Locals do like oh-so-boring cheese cake. However, Cioconat’s cheesecake, differently, is with mascarpone. And low-sugar carrot cake is gorgeously iced in yoghurt. Marvellous virtually sugar-free date muffins, exquisitely textured, are Colombo’s only edible muffins.
The confectionary boutique stocks Barari dates (including chocolate-coated ones), imported nougat, fudge etc. Where else in Colombo? So Cioconat does do things differently. And also does different things.
And where in Colombo have you a date bar? No, not that “date”. Ditch the other date and make a date with more fruitful Barari dates!
|Cioconat: You don’t sip hot chocolate here, you eat it!
BreadTalk: “Let them have cake!” Marie-Antoinette notoriously said. And she lost her head, for people had no bread. But Colombo’s latest bakery keeps the masses well-fed. It is, indeed, about mass appeal, distinguishing it from other recent chi-chi launches.
Here, bread doesn’t talk, it screams, given such a cacophonous product range that stretches as long as the queues for it. And it isn’t your fake Prada-toting Colombo 7 misses pouting on heels at the help-yourself displayed breads. Interiors are smart, but not terrifyingly so. The vicinity’s working crowd throngs. One descries many Chinese expats, the franchise being Singaporean. Bread talks. Let it speak for itself.
But not before eloquent Operations Manager Adrian has his say. He indicates their hallmark speciality, the chicken floss buns curled under a candy floss-like mesh of chicken shavings. Then there are cream cheese and cranberry or chocolate buns. I ask if the cream cheese comes from Singapore, as does the bread mix. Adrian says, “It’s local Anchor. Actually, in Singapore they use cheese from Sri Lanka.” A revelation, this.
The creamy potato bun Adrian recommends I bite the unfilled edge to experience the mouth-melting feel. The bread is, indeed, soft in the extreme. Nevertheless, I much prefer the filling, the bread being sugared. I have an aversion to sugar and egg, and they are less than agreeable incorporated into bread. Franchise recipes, however, cannot be tweaked and the locals seem to adore the product. Breads are refined; clinically Singaporean.
Green tea & red bean loaf and sunflower rolls would be lovely, were they unsugared. I do like the wholemeal sugar-free walnut & raisin and dark rye. But it’s precisely these that they daily discard trays of because locals don’t appreciate them.
Adrian asserts they cannot sell residue. The show-cased live bakery is ever prolific. Left-overs are binned. How do they manage to curtail prices? They rely on turn-over rather than 300% profit/piece (as most places do…). “We throw Rs. 25,000 of unsold bread daily, which is probably the turn-over of other establishments,” the jolly Adrian jokes.
Green tea Swiss roll is rather nice. Pastries look attractive, but textures can be synthetic. Haply, they aren’t overly sweet. Engaging staff provides the sweetness.
A place is as much about the people as the product and here is one cafe/bakery with well-trained staff. Very Singaporean in their efficiency. Adrian confesses, “Sometimes we’re slow behind the counter, when there is a crowd.” Well, when isn’t there a crowd? Not his fault when Colombo is clamouring, “We want bread!”
Heladiv Tea Club (Dutch Hospital): Colombo’s most glamorous salon de thé. Think interiors by young designer Dmitri Jayasuriya of Cantaloupe fame. Chandeliers seemingly bejewelled enlighten subtly embossed walls. Imbibe dark wood, suave sofas, chic bar stools, striking glass vases, ceilings streaked in glitzy lights and swish paraphernalia. Dmitri even styled crockery with Heladiv’s heraldic bearings.
If Cioconat and BreadTalk are foreign franchises disembarked upon Colombo then Heladiv is a Lankan brand with international connoisseur’s tea rooms, including 22 in China alone, at one of which President Mahinda Rajapaksa was captured enjoying a cup of ultra posh Heladiv tea. Heladiv is arguably Lanka’s most sophis-tea-cated tea and tea so magnificently packaged, including in piano boxes. But be tea not your cuppa, then discover Rainforest-approved Rubra (thankfully not Illy-Lavazza-Hansa!) swirled into Colombo’s best iced cappuccinos with frills of foam sitting on silken-textured coffee. Manager Shane trained under baristas imported from Australia. He understands coffee.
He also understands bread and makes wonderful sandwiches: no buxom butter, cheese and mayo oozing indecently out of sandwiches. A classy product is constrained. One hears Italian sailors abandoned ship every morning to breakfast on Heladiv’s cappuccino and ciabatta for which wives of top Lankan chefs leave home surreptitiously.
Heladiv’s menu is select. They’d rather not dissipate quality with excessive variety. Nice salads contain olives that aren’t as lax as pillows. Portions are profuse. Yet young owner Harsha Fernando, who avows Heladiv was created for the passion of it, not for profit (Heladiv tea is doing splendidly at CSE) admits customers complain their tea is too pricey. Protesters have been advised to grow their own tea in their gardens if that’s cheaper…
Heladiv’s dessert bar: tiramisu cake at Rs. 400 unnecessarily effuses cream and sponge and compromises on costly coffee and liqueur. I’m little delighted by the plastic-like Swiss Fantasy and less still by cheesecake that purports to be with Philadelphia. Chocolate bars provide a get-out-jail-key. Desserts, however, are out-sourced exonerating Heladiv. Would that so prestigious a product as Heladiv offered equally prestigious home-made, perhaps even tea-infused pastries. Wouldn’t that be naugh-tea, naugh-tea?