Feel like getting into the festive fever?

By Devanshi Mody

Traditionally, Colombo empties over the New Year. But for those bounded or expat holidaymakers, Colombo is gearing up with New Year treats, particularly if you want to spoil the kids with an extra pre-New Year feast. For family festivities there was but one place to be on Easter Sunday and that was at Hilton Colombo’s Spices which convened Colombo’s elite including artists, designers, models, sportsmen and even other restaurateurs who came bearing families.

If you missed that brunch yet seek a pre-New Year family outing then the Sunday Spices brunch is a celebration of Sri Lanka’s maritime magnificence (sensational sushi and oysters were also available). Supplementing this abundance is Colombo’s most substantial dessert buffet that just introduced their baked yoghurt, a modernised take on traditional curd and treacle. Chef Kuma entertained whilst Chef Karu worried endearingly about whether the buffet offered enough…

Lankan special: Jak curry at the Hilton

But if you want some Tamil fare then it would be at the Spices’ Saturday Indian Night which assembles comprehensively idlis, dosas, vadais, uttapams. Whilst this is purportedly South Indian cuisine, masala dosas stuffed with fish, chicken or mutton and prawn uttapams surely signal a Jaffna influence?

If you cannot go to the village, the village will come to you at Curry Leaf. This perennially popular restaurant is perhaps Colombo’s favourite restaurant and the prototype of several shabby imitations. My most fun dinners in Colombo have been here with Janaka, the steward who seems telepathic, the charming manager Mr. Michael and the inimitable Chef Karu who conducts the culinary orchestra with panache.

Little wonder the venue throbs energetically with live stations including the kottu and hopper stations and an enticing fresh fish market, besides a lavish buffet. But the most exciting aspect of this buffet if on a festive expedition is the amme making every conceivable traditional sweetmeat in front of you together with an artisan making devil masks. This is surely a seasonal must.

Besides, the seamless juxtaposition of an indigenous setting amidst exotic flora and fauna against the backdrop of Colombo’s towered skyline quite appositely captures the essence of the Sri Lankan New Year as it has come to be celebrated: hoary tradition with a bit of hip!

If you are more interested in what is on your plate than what surrounds it then head to Latitude on a Saturday night. Sri Lankan food is en vogue and would you believe it that nobody does it better than the Taj on their recently introduced Sri Lankan Night?

It seems thus far few other than tourists have caught onto Colombo’s most sumptuous salad buffet, which on the Sri Lankan Night comprises predominantly Sri Lankan produce innovatively prepared including chickpeas, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, raja alla, bitter gourd etc.

The best salads follow possibly the best soups in town including wonderful Sinhalese specialities like upcountry soup. And then stretches before you an endless seduction for mains, at least 15 curries, biriyanis etc. Incidentally, this is where I was initiated to the joys of ambarella curry, that Latitude executes splendidly as it does vegetables/fruit rarely seen on most Sinhalese food menus around town like banana and lotus flower, jak, del fruit etc.

A bigger surprise yet is that this is where you find Colombo’s most fantastic hoppers- yes! And if you also intend to avail of Colombo’s best pizzas, Indian, Chinese and Continental counters (in the buffet) you will have to return three times- I had to. Along with service as crisp as pappadums this is arguably Colombo’s best buffet. Yet F&B manager Mr. Lahari says, “We must improve.” Quite unlike the self-congratulatory complacence often found around Colombo. Food for thought in the New Year?

Colombo’s best kept secret is perhaps the Park Street Hotel, little known beyond the tourist circuit. The colonial boutique hotel is like a mirage of calm within Colombo and can be hired out for private parties. For something more intimate, their Begum Suite comes with an exquisite private garden, idyllic to host a New Year meal.

With the grand village-bound exodus of domestic help many Colomboites complain of the trials of organising New Year feasts at home. Breaking with tradition, you might consider celebrating New Year at this charming hotel, a home away from home.

Their veranda restaurant perches by an enchantment of courtyards and a shimmering turquoise pool. The staff is hand-picked for their personability rather than qualifications on paper and manager Mr. Nishantha provides a flavour of gracious Sri Lankan hospitality.

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