I recently booked to see a skin specialist and paid the rate in advance to an online doctor booking site. [eChannelling] They asked me for a passport copy. Why! I sent a copy anyway.

Arrival at the clinic and I’m told to take a seat the doctor has not arrived. (Standard practice in Sri Lanka) Ten minutes later the staff say I can’t see the doctor unless I pay another Rs. 1500 rupees as I’m a foreigner.

They have a copy of my passport (British) and my name (British) So when did they decide I needed to pay more, could it be when they saw I am white? Obviously, the online booking agent is going to have standard pricing. i.e. the same price for everyone. So, I suspect the doctor is discriminating against them once the foreign patients arrive at the clinic.

Blatant discrimination. So, I decided to take a video of the incident and suddenly the owner of the clinic decides to get involved. He shouts at me, “It’s illegal for you to be videoing here. I see no sign saying “No photography”.

I asked the owner if he was aware there is discrimination going on. His response is he does not control the doctors who practice in his establishment or how they charge.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule 286: “If you own it and charge people to use it, you need to take responsibility, not abdicate.”

So, if you get this sort of treatment here in Sri Lanka, blacklist the location/organization, tell your friends and report incidents to the Pricing Watchdog and Office of Fair Trading. Not sure if the last two organizations exist in Sri Lanka. I appreciate your feedback and experiences. Let’s not criticize the discrimination practice by government organizations; they don’t like it, it’s just not “cricket” old chap.

The 80 Club

It’s been about twenty years since I’ve been to the notorious 80 Club. Now I’m returning with good friends, with one whose gran was a long-standing president of the club.

Located in the prime location of Independence Avenue and founded in 1939, this was one of the most prestigious clubs in Colombo at its peak. Initially and ironically, it was first founded in Kandy during British Colonial rule. The story goes that a group of people met in the Queens hotel in room 80, so they called their newfound club the 80.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 258:

“Sometimes a new brand name could come out of a simple situation.”

Some of my own experiences with branding have stuck with me. While working with Lord Forte, his son wanted to change the name of the group ‘Trusthouse Forte’, which was perceived in some countries to be a banking company and not a chain of hotels. He commissioned a top branding company to do a detailed survey of the business, its staff and its customers. On completion of the survey, the branding company presented their findings to the board. Their proposal was to call the business ‘Forte’. The charge for all this work, 34 years ago was 360k pounds. Some years later the son of Lord Forte sold the business but one condition made by the purchaser was that Mr Forte could not use the Forte brand, even though it was his name. Within about a year he opened his first new luxury hotel and called it 4ORTE.

So, the grand 80 Club building is on two floors of about a total of 14,200 sq feet. (One can’t use meters when talking about this place or era) It had tennis courts and a massive lawn in front and was the club to be in and to be seen at. It had many glorious decades. At some point the club started to get into debt with also falling active members. The appeal was wavering and debts mounted after the lease expired in 1978. The club carried on as the land was on a short lease from the government but they were not dealing with the drifting situation.

In 2020, the Urban Development Authority took over and had a vision of recreating the old club. Some years ago the navy started restoring many colonial properties in Colombo, the 80 Club was also added to the list. The old lady got more than a lick of paint. The exterior of the club is still sitting at the back of a massive lawn and certainly looks to be in good shape from the outside. There is the classic oversupply of lighting on the exterior of the building which is quite badly positioned, it’s impossible to take a good photo at night.

Six of us meet at 7.30 and get a great welcome from the staff and a friendly manager. He and I talk about South Africa both having lived there. One in our group has brought his large music box with a loudspeaker system. There is not a single other customer in the place so we pump up the volume on the lawn…bizarre to be the only ones there and have all the staff looking after us. So the old club gets back to its glory days as we sing and dance. The excellent “bites” arrive and we sit around the table on the lawn.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 259:

“Always pick a few words used by the locals when you travel, always nice to refer to them with others.”

I’d never heard of “bites” till I came to Sri Lanka and neither had I heard of “shape” (Which means “it’s okay”.) or even the word “thrice”. The famous song was not “your once, twice and thrice times a lady”.

In New Zealand, if you read my first book which included a story on the wine experience, a man said to us ‘if you all sit on my dick (deck) we will have some wine”. Another phrase I heard in India, “I know where your house lives”.

My opening line on this story of the 80 Club is that my last visit was about twenty years ago. I had arrived from the UK having represented my UK PLC company in the purchase of Orient Lanka, a local duty-free company with a small domestic liquor distribution arm. This company sponsored the new bar in the 80 Club. Mohan, our local manager asked me to come with him to the club. As we arrive he says to me, “Boss, you will need to make a speech at this bar opening.”

“Good way of testing a new boss” – I’m thinking.

When you are the son of a preacher man these opportunities are quite enjoyable, this was one of my many speeches in Sri Lanka.

The new interior of the club has sadly killed the old club look and the colours and the furniture is what Jezzabel calls “new rich”. The bar is still in the same place which has poor access and limited seating. The newness takes away the colonial look and feel e.g. there is a tv in the dining room, if essential hide it behind a sliding panel.

I hear there is also a chance that the UDA is considering putting in a pool and some bedrooms and converting the place into a hotel. Before they do that let’s hope they look at the current interior decor and dining experience. They could also look at some changes and additions e.g. Better location for the bar, putting an old car outside as a photo opportunity, reducing exterior lighting, conducting small weddings there, putting some old photos of the location, etc.

They may also consider how many hotels the government currently owns, one of which has not yet opened after ten years, two that need refits and the fact that governments should not own or operate such establishments. Their job is to govern the country well.

The night rolls on and I’m sure it will be in the memories of the six of us as a bizarre event in an amazing setting. Sadly, what we all want to forget is the main food courses, the meat was stringy at best and nobody enjoyed the main meal. Perhaps it’s one of those places you have drinks and ‘bites’ and then move out to a restaurant somewhere else. On that basis only would I go back.

Wolvendaal Kerk (church) Pettah

Over the last few decades, I’ve attempted access to this church about six times. On google maps, it says closing at 4 pm. This time I’ve cracked it. With my driver Lucky we visit the church and find all three gates are chained up. It’s 3.30 pm. I’m getting frustrated. After closer investigation, Lucky establishes that one entrance has a chain around its two gates. He pulls on the chain to find there is no padlock.

We are in!

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 266:

Never underestimate people around you, find out what they are good at.”

We are in the churchyard but there is nobody about, although there are lots of tombstones and bodies well decomposed no doubt.

I’m shouting “hello! hello!”

Ultimately a chap comes out of what I assume is the caretaker’s little house. Looks like he has just gotten out of the shower but has shorts on… Thank God.

This church in Pettah was built in 1757, the first Protestant church on the island. I’m told its name comes from wolfs in the dale. There were no wolfs, just wild dogs. The Dutch Reform Church was founded by the VOC, i.e the Dutch East India Company. The hill site was previously the site of a Portuguese Church but was destroyed by the Dutch.

“Thought we were all Christians”

We get into the church and the sight is quite amazing, with a dominating carved wooden pulpit, but there is no altar. Wall plaques are everywhere and 37 tombstones form part of the floor, some are ornately carved and are 4 feet by 6 feet. This is a big church shaped like a plus sign and a footprint and is 100 feet high at its highest. A thousand of people can gather in this church. The walls they say are 5 feet thick.

Plastered around the walls are numerous plaques. One section is dedicated to all the reverends who served in the church over the centuries. The elite of this city who belonged to the church back in the day are buried here as well, some being Dutch Governors of Ceylon.

It’s likely one of the oldest churches still having regular services on the island and with an active congregation. They have services in three languages.

As we finish our amazing tour we step out to check out the graves and tombstones outside, many along the church walls but no sign of a crypt.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 277: 

Visit someplace you haven’t been to or do something different every day. At worst read an article on a new subject.

I’m planning to go back and participate in the 10.30 am Sunday service. Not sure I will get Jezzabel there, she says she is a free thinker, perhaps a non-believer.

This church is one of the many religious buildings in Pettah, and we managed to visit another 5 this week. More scriptures from the Pome to follow!

For years now our favourite Japanese restaurant in Colombo has been Zen just at the end of Rosmead Place. That view is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. What makes it the best for us can be summed up in one sentence.

“Great food, service and environment at acceptable pricing while always being consistent and having BYOB.”

Zylan opened in Dec 2011. Originally it was a boutique hotel with 10 rooms. The Zen Japanese restaurant has been operating since end of 2014, creating an oasis in the heart of the city where the hotel guests and diners can feel pampered and chilled. It’s a different experience from staying/ dining at big hotels.

So, we are here again, with our guide as always, “Sunil the jacket”.

Seven of us sit on roof terrace amongst the trees with a whispering light breeze creating a magic temperature. We always prefer the bar terrace though you can go up to another level but that’s for romantic couples. There are less than ten tables on our favourite terrace and if like us you are a big group worth booking well ahead. A large group on the top terrace is too tight.

When we go, we normally ask the manager to select the dishes and he always adds something new and keeps it flowing. Today however, is Sunil’s choice,

Starter

  • Prawn tempura
  • Gyoza chicken 
  • Tuna and salmon sashimi

Makis

  • Volcano salmon
  • Zen Signature Maki Assortment

Salads

  • Wakame seaweed – A new dish for me and very succulent

Mains

  • Garlic fried rice
  • Chicken teriyaki – Not sure this is the house speciality but it’s always on our list when we visit
  • Chili crab meat and prawn don
  • Stir Fried Mix vegetables

We delight our taste buds as the plates roll through the night. At 12,000 per couple, it’s great value and the service is exceptional.

The building also gives you that zen feel with a walkway that takes you to infinity and back (mirror at the end) the open white style hotel is relaxing to the eye, comforting to the mind and easy to navigate. Though we normally walk up a long staircase with three doggy last steps my advice to most people, especially when leaving the roof top delight under the influence of booze … is TAKE THE LIFT.

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.