The first time we visited this restaurant we ordered an excessive amount of duck and got a hefty bill. We were seated by the entrance where people were passing, watching us eat. We had a bit of a barney with the manager. She left the company a short while later.

Three years on and we go back.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule 277:

“Always give a restaurant a second chance. It could become a favourite.”

We arrive on this second visit at 9 PM and head out after a tasty meal by 10 PM. Quick Service. There is only one other table occupied which is next to us. This is separated by a curtain but we can hear those on the other side of it, talking quite loudly. If you have only a few tables occupied in your restaurant, why sit two groups adjacent to each other? The lighting above is excessive and over-designed.

Highlights

We order seven dishes. The steamed pork bun makes an excellent starter, and the eggplant is tasty and juicy. The main dishes include a seafood rice dish and a fine shrimp noodle, both are great and in ample quantities.

The noise from our neighbours and the loud aircon are not enough to detract us from an excellent meal at 13,738 rupees, or 40$ – for four people which is great value! If we had ordered wine the meal would be 50 % more. My suggestion to Softlogic (the franchise holder for Crystal Jade in Sri Lanka) is they adopt a BYOB (Bring your own bottle) proactive approach on wine for this restaurant and any others they manage.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 252: 

“Restaurants run by accountants normally have excessive mark ups on wine, to create change drink beer or tell the manager about BYOB.”

We will revisit again and perhaps go to a movie; when the next tom cruise movie is now showing here at One Galle Face Mall.

My experience of Thai food has been very limited in Sri Lanka, no doubt loads of you are now going to send me lists of your favorite Thai food joints. (Please do!) I used to enjoy the ‘Royal Thai at Cinnamon Lakeside’, but they changed the menu, so we stopped going years ago.

Tonight, we park outside the ‘Dao Krua Thai’ restaurant, as we would say in England, “it’s got more frontage than a Marks and Spencer”.

The restaurant has an eclectic feel as you walk in. There is an old cart, a fiberglass boat, spoked wheeled cart, Thai statue, an old bike and lots of other memorabilia. A scattering of tables, then a big garden area and some tables down one side under cover. We are on time and assume the rest of the gang will not be there but they all are.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 249: “Hardly ever assume your friend will be on time, unless they are special.”

Sunil of jacket fame is not wearing a jacket tonight as shorts and casual are more in keeping in the outdoors. Yet again the maestro is doing one of his special dinners, he rolls out different individual plates of food we all share. Tonight, we have 13 dishes, flowing BYOB wine and great company. Or BYOG, as the Aussies say, Grog is the additional word meaning booze.

Dao, the chef and owner of the restaurant is known to us all. A Thai lady who came to Sri Lanka 19 years ago and started by preparing Thai meals at people’s homes, then she opened an authentic Thai restaurant. A few years ago, she started Dao Krua Thai, where we are gathered tonight. We meander through 13 dishes, starting with four starters.

Garlic cuttlefish and spring rolls are okay whilst the chicken satay and the omelette raise the bar. Salads follow and we all love the papaya salad. This is followed by two prawn dishes including a wild tamarind prawn dish. I’m a mushroom nut and the Bok choy with mushroom was scrumptious. Then comes two lots of chicken, one with basil. We try two fish dishes but the Black pepper panga fish was the star.

Throughout the meal we have been treated with prawn pad Thai and Thai egg fried rice. When the bill comes, we are confused as it is just such great value. This is a BYO (wine) restaurant and the meal price for the two of us is 11000 rupees, for so much food.

So, it’s been a great night with close friends and a passionate chef who likes to chat with every one of her guests. We pile into a big BMW and the music starts with themes from great movies some with country and western background. The debate has started regarding our next venue and we are focusing on Japanese. Sunil “The Jacket” recommends the date and the place. It’s not going to be an American themed restaurant, do they have any in the USA, perhaps Steak Houses only.

Set down a short lane off Gregory’s Road, the first impression of Rocco’s Italian restaurant is a beautiful house, especially at night. The style and the decor give a fresh modern look but set in an older building. We are here, six of us, followers and friends of Sunil Shamdasani (with his trademark array of jackets) enjoying one of his wonderful cuisine selection nights. He does his prep well and in the four times we have been on his nights out, he has eaten in the restaurant prior and has pre-planned the dish selection.

So, on to the cuisine, we start with a creamy prawn bruschetta, light and very tasty. There is one plate with 8 pieces. The restaurant is noted for its pizza range and we share a medium size, Sunil selects the margherita option. We follow this with a sharing plate of avocado and apple salad. On to arrabiata pasta in pink sauce, chicken spicy pizza, chicken parmigiana accompanied with potato wedges, mushroom risotto, and crab and prawn tagliatelle pasta.

Like many restaurants these days, this one also operates on a BYOB policy, for both wines and spirits. All our friends prefer to take our own wine. We spend between Rs. 2,500 to Rs. 4,000 rupees a bottle and it’s not uncommon for some of us to take two bottles a couple. Most in the group are red wine drinkers, but like others I like to start with a well-chilled white wine. In another restaurant we frequent less often, they charge Rs.18,000 rupees plus for a bottle of wine that you can buy in retail shops for Rs.3,500 plus.

I used to live on Gregory’s Road in an amazing, well-designed open-style house which was an excellent location for entertaining friends and having business dinners. Close by was a French restaurant, with a whacky chef come manager/ owner. It is now the very successful Harpo’s Bayleaf, with a great food selection and reasonably priced wines. Our old home became Epicure, run by Wendel, and was an up-end quality restaurant. It was reasonably priced with a BYOB policy. Great success but for some reason didn’t last long.

So, we are planning our return to Rocco’s at 29A, Gregory’s road, with another bunch of friends. Our next gourmet night out with Sunil is Thai food, stay tuned in for the next report!

Just across the bridge in what some people think is “never-never land”; i.e. the Port City Colombo, there are people who have dreams, aspirations and a vision. One such person is Ineke. I have known her for twenty years, for many on the island she is known as the “horse lady”. She has lots of passion for horses and brings joy to so many people including more than 400 kids whilst running her Horse-Riding Stables, Ceylon Riding Club out near Piliyandala. Ineke has taken the big step to bringing all her energy and business acumen to set up and run the Ceylon Riding Club at Port City on a plot of three and a half acres of land close to the sea and the beach with an amazing breeze. Today there is a large shed and no horses; but soon she will have a full-blown equestrian centre with an array of horses. The site will have experienced professionals to give the club members and guests a true international horse experience. There will be a coffee shop and at some point in the future, a restaurant, bar and a members’ club.

The concept was unveiled to a delight crowd in early July and the ceremony was attended by many friends, current and future riders, customers and some dignitaries, these included but not limited to Dr Sinharaja T.D., who’s a renowned writer, historian and award-winning film Director, Mrs. Charu Thewathantri, who’s a Gratien Prize winning author and parent of horse-riders, Dr Ananda is Director of IUCN and Mr. Damith Pallewatte, the Deputy General Manager, HNB.

There were some special guests including Nigel Austin, (Previously Racehorse owner) Amanda Abeyweera, (Horse Breeder) Nihara Jayathilake, (Previous RTC President) Suranji Jayakodi, (Race horse owner) Rashmin Tirimanne de Silva, (Showjumper) Archi Jagdeesh, (Show jumper and Instructor) Keith Brown, (Show jumper, instructor and horse trainer) plus a big contingent from loyal members and friends of CRC.

The Monarch Group meets up for an evening at Sugar Bistro, Crescat Shopping Mall. The deck, or as they say in New Zealand the “dick” has a lovely bar and we have a breezy night to catch up and share our stories since we last met. Golden rule ……we don’t want to spend the night whinging about the state of the country and who is responsible for the major crisis. The wine flows and we have a whole raft of bites. The smartly dressed staff hover but are not intrusive, just there when you want something. A young man plays guitar and sings an array of songs from the latest hits, movies to the seventies. As with all Monarch group get togethers, some of the team have a bit of a sing along.

So, the night of chatter and music rolls on with some great canapés and bites. The chicken pâté is outstanding and reminds me of when I used to cook back in the UK. My favourite starter was chicken pate, flavored with whisky or brandy and I’m sure ‘Sugar’ dropped some alcohol in this tasty snack. It’s late but the good news is the Monarch crowd are only a three-minute walk to their apartment entrance. With no likely chance of a tuk tuk or taxi in these petrol starved days, Jezzabel and I stretch our legs and anticipate a fourteen-minute walk to our new home opposite the Port City.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 248:

“Great nights out are on your doorstep, in walking distance, leave the car and stress at home”

https://www.facebook.com/sugarbistroandwinebar

This newly opened up-end Chinese restaurant situated on Duplication Road in the Astoria complex is worth checking out. Felicia Sorensen of renowned cuisine fame takes us to the restaurant where she has already been and has a rapport with one of the Sri Lankan owners. Another owner is Chinese which is a great asset for a Chinese restaurant. I’m not such a fan of the Astoria complex; the retail and other services provided, but this gem of a restaurant is worth a try.

The flamboyant and well-traveled ex-chef and writer on food, Felicia, selects our courses. We start with the black fungus and deep-fried prawn balls, stir-fried beef, and chicken fried rice, however, I order the braised eggplant. I’ve never tasted such amazing Chinese food; “it’s at a different level” as one of my close friends would say.

Felicia’s book – The Exotic Taste of Paradise

It happens to be Jezzabel’s and my one day of the month without alcohol, the target had been four days a month but we have not reached utopia yet. You can bring your own wine to this restaurant but there is a corkage.

We try to get a cab having given up on Kangaroo cabs. We also try to book an Uber or Pickme but again no car available. A bright young supervisor wearing a brown suit tries hard to get us a cab, but nothing doing. He is also telling of his struggle to get back to Australia to finish his master’s degree. However, he is a man on a mission, and doesn’t give up, he is out on the street with the security staff stopping every tuk-tuk till he secures one for us.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 247:

“Always appreciate people who go the extra mile, give them encouragement.”

Not the cheapest Chinese I’ve been to, not the most expensive either, but would say the best Chinees meal I’ve had outside of China. The art is knowing what to select and trying the house specialties.

Every day we are in Colombo, we try and do a walk down the Galle Face Green and the waterfront development area. (see story: Walking tours around Colombo’s highlights and history with The Whinging Pome) Then we return after an hour’s walk and meet our Monarch coffee crowd in the Cinnamon Grand. This has been going on for years.

Seventeen years ago, however, I was living in Rajagiriya and had an invitation to come to “24 hours of indulgence” and stay in the newly refurbished rooms at the Cinnamon Grand. About two hundred couples stood in the large atrium, where we were asked to pick a key out of a basket. I initially thought this was some sort of wife swapping event.

Rohan Karr, the general manager and the CEO of Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts, began a shortish but well-structured speech. He explained that they had set a date on which they would open the new look of the hotel and all his team believed it was achievable. This was the date but Rohan went on to say that the rooms were not all fully finished, yet all are sufficiently refitted for us to have an enjoyable weekend. He also said, “Each room may have teething issues and we hope you will manage without complaining/whinging.” This was the launch of the new Cinnamon brand and we attended a cocktail, a gala dinner; followed by a champagne breakfast, brunch and high tea on the next day.

What a memorable event; excellently executed.

So, seventeen years later we stop at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel for four nights. The wing we are in has just had a refit, is well equipped and we have a great view of two swimming pools. This is a treat for Jezzabel and I as the “ten-year itch” has kicked in and we are moving home. We will still only be a fourteen-minute walk away from the hotel.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 277

“Embracing change, creating challenges and new adventures is about making the most of life rather than waiting to see what comes your way.”

Jezzabel and I have a soft spot for the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, no not the beds; we have always felt at home there. We were in Japan during the Easter bombings and we were so saddened by all the news, especially about those in the hotel, some of whom we had known for many years.

Twenty years ago, I recall taking the whole lobby of the hotel for a massive wine event, I recall the Xmas events, crazy big bashes in the ballroom, weddings, training sessions, Rotary Club meetings and some weeks ago I did a Guinness night at Cheers! So many good times.

Part of me will always be at the Cinnamon Grand

I had never been a big fan of cricket. As a kid in Zambia, we played French cricket where your legs act as stumps and you use a softball with fielders/bowlers standing in a circle around you. Fast forward to March 1996, I happened to be in Sri Lanka on a business development trip, and yes you guessed right, the country came to a standstill on the 17th of March. The big game was on, the Cricket World Cup, it was in Lahore but I watched it with friends on TV at the Colombo Swimming Club. The Attack was led by “Mad Max” Aravinda De Silva playing in the middle order and Sanath Jayasuriya starting strong, the entire team “did the needful”. I have never seen a whole country celebrate in such a way.

Since then, having taken up residency in Sri Lanka 20 years ago, I’ve been to many cricket grounds and watched many games on-site and at city venues, such as the Cricket Club Cafe and Inn on the Green. I recall England struggling in a limited overs match in which Mahela Jayawardena bowled and the ball was caught behind by Sangakkara, the batsman was out . A great quiz question.

Having established an appetite for the game, I watch as much as possible, especially international games, world championships and limited over games. New Zealand vs England in 2019, with a dramatic ending, was one of the best matches I have watched, albeit on TV.

Cricket has a new lease of life. I am waiting for someone to revolutionize the game of golf, as has been done to cricket. Make it a shorter, more exciting game of say 2 hours with a larger number of people being able to play and watch. Golf players are dropping in numbers due to how much time you need to do a full round of Golf, how expensive it is and the lack of space. I think the Victoria Golf Club in Kandy has just scrapped my handicap.

The most-watched cricket in the world is the IPL [Indian Premier League] that started in 2008, with 20 overs and Indian players teaming up with top cricketers of other nationalities. For me this is the fastest, most exciting cricket played today. The competition is played once a year with about 60 games and 8 teams, all well sponsored.

As an Englishman in my adopted home of Sri Lanka, it’s hard to talk of the performance of England cricket today. Reduced performances result in reduced spectators and TV demand dropping; this is leading to low morale among the team. Some key players currently in India are performing well in a different environment. Some say there is a massive racism concern in English cricket, immigrants represent 33% of recreational cricket and local and county clubs whilst only 4% of the English cricket team are non-English origin. 

So soon the Australian cricket team are coming to Sri Lanka and we all hope they bring lots of supporters with them. They may need to bring some fuel for the coaches also. I’ll be there watching the games, wearing my Sri Lankan shirt, the wife will be next to me with her Aussie shirt on, but likely asleep.

We hear from Texas, 21 people killed,19 of them kids in yet another mass shooting in the USA. I start another day with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes and I don’t know a single victim and I’ve never been to Texas. I did a video back in 2019 about on the crazy situation of gun shootings in the USA, see below.

You always think there will be change in gun controls after a shooting, especially in a school. Impacted people and lobby groups can’t penetrate the political support for the current gun laws or the power of the gun producers. So, nothing happens. I heard one gun supporting politician arguing that if 18 year old’s fought for American independence [1775 to 1783] with rifles they should be able to have guns at 18 today. No logic at all.

It appears there is legislation likely to be passed in some states further relaxing gun ownership in the USA. What a crazy bunch of people running this country. Shootings they say are 52% up year on year in 2021, 30% of Americans own guns.

‘Preventable but predictable’ is one statement made by a father who lost his child in a school shooting some years earlier and interviewed on TV today.

This week an 18-year-old in full body armour shoots his grandma and then goes on a rampage at a school Killing 21 people. The 18-year-old shooter bought the gun officially and legally, yet in this state you have to be 20 years of age to drink in a public place. Over 129 children have been killed in shootings in USA schools in twenty years. There have been 12 shootings in schools in this year, 549 shooting incidents in schools in six years. The aftermath of these killings has a massive impact on families and the community. The scars last a lifetime.

Whilst I actually title this short write up as it only happens in the USA, according to some research I’ve done since the shooting in Texas, I found that there was school shooting in Stirling Scotland. In 1996 the shooter killed 16 children and a teacher; it was the deadliest shooting in British history. The outcome was a massive reform of gun law in Great Britain. No private guns to be held by individuals with the exception of ownership of shotguns that could kept, be with a separate set of terms and conditions. Within weeks of the recent shooting in New Zealand at which 51 Muslim were gunned down; the Government changed the gun laws within weeks and month progressively.

I’m not whinging; I’m just emotional about the shooting of kids and the apathy for change in a country that has 110+ gun deaths a day.

Having lived here in Colombo for over two decades, I’m always looking for new places to go. One evening some months ago I was invited to the Monarch apartment poolside, for dinner. To my surprise, I’m attending a Serbian Orthodox New Year dinner on the 13th of January. A number of people arrive, armed with trays of food. I meet the lovely Milica for the first time, although we both live in the Monarch apartments, she is doing the food for the event. What shocked me was that she had been running a restaurant in Colombo for 14 years and I had never heard of it.

A week or so after the Monarch pool party, we head for the restaurant on Bagatale Road. It has an outdoor seating area, a fast takeaway area, and a two-level indoor restaurant.

Whinging Pome’s Random Rule No 244

“When eating in Rome, let the Romans choose the food”

So, we let Milica select for us and we enjoy massive plates of roast vegetables, cured, grilled and roasted meats, and European sausages. Serbian food has a strong Turkish influence. There is an array of amazing sweets. Milica also has a big following for her decorative cakes. Not only does she ship them across Sri Lanka but also to other countries. In fact, at one time, she had three locations in Sri Lanka and built a large home delivery business. Some of you may recall the rather larger mega survey the Whinging Pome did on coffee in Colombo, titled “The Colombo Coffee Awards” back in 2020. Had I known about Mitsi and their Coffee back then, she would likely be a contender for the top coffee in the city. We have been back quite a few times to her restaurant and enjoyed the great food, Mohamed the lively fun waiter and Dejan, the Serbian chef who manages such a comprehensive menu, and of course the madam of the house.

Funny how most mornings during my morning walk now I see Milica smartly dressed as she is off to walk to the restaurant. Mitsi, I’m reliably informed, is the name given to a Cabaret singer in some Central European countries. I decided to find out more about this amazing lady so we had a one-hour interview. She is from Belgrade and has been an air steward. Even as a child she tells me she was very focused on home-grown business acumen. In her early teens, she rented her family’s modest country house in the former Yugoslavia which was under the communist regime. She forgot to tell her dad the house was being used as a temporary church; which was a bit difficult in those days. She has run many different businesses in her 20 years in this country, which she loves and has had so many positive experiences here with her sister who has been here for 30 years.

So, if you haven’t been to Mitsi’s restaurant on Bagatalle road, put it on your list, ring and order one of her famous cakes or drop by for a coffee. If you run into a noisy group of diners on the upper floor it’s likely to be the Monarch group, who have adopted it as a 2nd dining base.