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.

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.