17th March 2002

The Sunday Times on the Web















Dining out can be a feast, as Wijith DeChickera discovers at Sea Food Cove

A lavish banquet fit for Poseidon

Sea, a star, and the sky at night: these spices of life can flavour a meal in more strange and wonderful ways than salt and mayo can. There's one condition, however; you must be a romantic, for these exotic ingredients to make your food taste like ambrosia.

Our island race is renowned the world over for its remarkable sense of hospitality. This is nowhere more apparent than in the bonhomie and camaraderie that seasons Sri Lankan cuisine. Being girdled by the Indian Ocean, and garlanded by over 1000 miles of seafront, it comes as no surprise that the nation excels in the preparation and presentation of seafood.

Among the many restaurants specialising in this fare, a few rate exceptional mention for their cuisine as much as for the ambience. Not unnaturally, these establishments are by and large located on the beach.

Not too far afield, in famed Mount Lavinia, on the delightful private beach of the eponymous Hotel, dining al fresco proves memorable. You can place your order from the fresh catch of the day, and watch as it is dressed for table, to your specification. If you are feeling adventurous and the weather permits, you may request that your table be moved out from under the canopy of coconut timber-and-thatch, and on to the golden strand. There the panorama of orange-lit catamarans far out on an ebony sea will entrance you as you dine under tropical stars.

A 'willing suspension of disbelief' is required, if eating away from the simple pleasures of hearth and home. There's no surer way to spoil a sumptuous repast than a sceptical attitude. One recommends, therefore, that you check in your cynicism at the cloakroom of the regal, old Mount Lavinia Hotel's resplendent lobby. Chuck the jaded palate, at least for the night.

Then, second from left and straight on till morning. Except, this isn't Wonderland: the Sea Food Cove takes your last request for comestible and beverage at 10.30, or thereabouts (if the maitre d' likes you.)

Take your time getting on to the beach. The subdued lighting in corridors leading to the Cove, and the nooks and crannies of this anachronistic setting, will help establish the mood. (Watch out for pirates.)

Walking the plank is a soothing experience at the Cove. The restaurant's sprung wooden floorboards have just the right touch. Nobody will mind too much if you shuck off your sandals (the dress code, that dinosaur lumbering about in the ballrooms of the colonial-style mansion hotel, is honoured more in the breach here. Dress code for the beach, puh-lease!)

The banquet beggars description. But let the experience begin at the beginning. Connoisseurs will insist white wine complements seafood like no other nectar can. Agreed, but the eccentric may opt for one of many reds from the varied cellars of the establishment. The Tuscan red, in particular, goes down a treat with grilled mullet. If it is the plebeian beer you plump for, you may as well do yourself the disservice of trying out the salad bar with its wickedly fattening sauces and creams. Don't say you weren't warned!

The safest bet and most representative item on the menu is the ubiquitous Seafood Platter. Here fish, squid and crustacean compete for space on a dish that is truly gargantuan in proportion. You may indicate the quantity you desire, and it is recommended you do not err on the side of excess. Surprising how filling 3-400 grams of seafood can be, garnished with garlic sauce, sautéd vegetables, and your choice of mashed potato or French fries.

The gourmet might take a studied fancy for Lobster Thermidor, while aspiring gourmands could experiment with shark, snapper, garupa and the exotic like. Soft-shelled crabs are available intermittently, while prawn and lagoon crab feature prominently on the daily bill of fare. These latter delectables make the journey from far-off Puttalam, closer Chilaw and nearby Negombo (as the maitre d' is at pains to explain, obviously proud of the recent liveliness of his crustaceans.) 

At any rate, the novelty of 'shopping' for exactly what tickles the taste-buds is worth the extravagant tab. The opportunity to instruct the chef on your preferred mode of preparation is an extra that is not to be had everywhere. And while it is true that you can look on while your common or garden kottu is being made, even at swanky food parlours, there's not a venue that affords more value for money than 'the Cove at Mount'.

A decade ago, there were a handful of speciality restaurants in Colombo scattered like a pinch of salt among the city's teeming Chinese eateries. Today, the capital of the Isle of Serendipity is a smorgasbord of international cuisine: German, French, Italian, Swiss, other Continental, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Vegetarian and then also a clutch of Indian; verily a culinary melting pot. Throw in a smattering of fast-food franchises like Pizza Hut, Dominos, McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken for variety. But for a truly moveable feast, the Cove's rather unforgettable. 

The centre of power

By Hiranthi Fernando
What time is the next power cut?" is the question we hear every day. Most Sri Lankans, spending long hours in the dark have resigned themselves to re-arranging their daily activities to fit in with the power cuts. With the five-hour black outs in two staggered segments, one often finds it difficult to keep track of the times the power goes off and comes on. 

Yet someone has to keep track of the power cuts. The unpleasant task of plunging an area into darkness and the happier one of resuming supply without delay, falls to the staff of the Systems Control Centre of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), who work round the clock planning and monitoring the supply of power to the public. 

The nerve-centre of the Systems Control Centre is the Control Room. The islandwide transmission network as well as the reservoir levels are displayed on one entire wall of this large air-conditioned room which is kept scrupulously clean. Before entering the control room, all footwear has to be removed. The control engineer and his staff seated at the bank of monitors in the centre of the room have a clear view of the grid display. The display wall takes a wide curve for better visibility.

Showing us the display, Lilanthi Mendis, Deputy General Manager, Systems Control explained that the K-M Hydro Complex is made up of the Moussakelle and Castlereagh reservoirs. The water in the Moussakelle reservoir flows to the Canyon power station, where electricity is generated. After generation the water flows to the Canyon pond. The water then goes on to the New Laxapana power house, where electricity is generated before it flows to Laxapana pond. It next flows to Polpitiya power house and after generation at Polpitiya, finally to the Kelani river. 

In the same way, water from Castlereagh Reservoir is used to generate electricity at Wimalasurendra power house and Old Laxapana power house before it flows into the Laxapana pond, Polpitiya power house and finally to the Kelani river.

In the Mahaweli complex, Kotmale is the highest reservoir and the water collected generates electricity at the Kotmale power house located in the mountain. Thereafter, electricity is successively generated at Ukuwela, Bowatenne, Victoria, Randenigala and Rantambe. Water from the Mahaweli complex is also released for irrigation at various points.

Indicating the figures flashing on the display, Ms. Mendis said the water levels in the reservoirs are telemetered and the levels below spill level are constantly updated on the display screen. "According to the levels in the reservoirs, we can determine how many gigawatts of electricity can be generated," Ms. Mendis said. "All reservoir levels are carefully checked on site at 6 a.m. every morning and the results phoned in to us. We have to decide how much we can draw from each reservoir until the next monsoon sets in. The dead storage level has to be maintained in each reservoir. The live storage is what we have to work with. Live storage now is at 167 GwH. The daily water balance for each reservoir is monitored closely." 

The transmission network is displayed by a red circuit for 132 KV and a purple one for 220 KV. Power stations and grid sub stations are indicated by boxes. The machines that are not working are indicated by a flashing bulb. At the grid substations, the electricity is stepped down by large transformers to the 33KV voltage needed for the distribution system. A generation summary is shown on the monitors with the mega watts generated at each machine. The control room is equipped with two monitors and a data base. Generator readings are taken every half hour and voltage at every station every hour. A daily load curve shows how electricity consumption increases and decreases. 

A party line telephone system in the control room is connected to all the power stations and sub-stations. The stations have access to the control room by a push button telephone but no dialling facilities. "Using this telephone, we give instructions to each station for loading and deloading power," said the control e ngineer. "We mark the times manually and the voice communication is also recorded. Each zone is controlled by several primary sub-stations. The zones are divided so that at a particular time, one fourth of the country has a power cut." 

At the change over time, 3 p.m., there was a burst of activity in the control room with instructions being given to several grid stations on the party line. Calls from stations also had to be answered. If a particular area has an unexpected power failure, the length of the power cut has to be reduced. The control engineer explained that about 50 feeders have to be cut and restarted for each power cut. "At the same time we have to balance the frequency, which has to be kept constant at 50 Herts with a leeway of 5 %," he added. This has to be done by reducing or increasing power generation. We have small thermal machines, which usually have a fixed load and cannot be changed so it has to be done by the hydros. "We have to give a little time for the generators to adjust to the frequency. That is why the power cuts and restoration sometimes is delayed by a few minutes," he further explained.

Ms. Mendis said the control room functions 24 hours a day with three shifts, each with one control engineer and two electrical superintendents. Working a control room shift is no easy task, she said. It requires alertness and constant concentration. Three chief engineers function under the DGM, System Control Centre. 

H.D.S. Thimothies, C.E. System Control, said the main duties of his department concern load dispatching and network managing. "We manage the daily schedule of generation and dispatch of power in the most economical manner to meet the system demand," he explained. "When shedding load during the power cuts, two major components that have to be monitored are frequency and voltage. We also manage the control and switching of transition network to satisfy the system load operation and maintenance requirements in a safe and efficient manner." The workload of the systems control engineers increases when power cuts are imposed.

C.E. Operations Planning is responsible for predicting shortages, planning and arranging power interruptions. The C.E., G.J. Aluthge, said that as the purpose of imposing a power cut is to save water, there is no point shutting down the thermal machines. However, they have a practical difficulty in shutting down all the hydro machines. Most of the thermal machines are below 25 megawatts. Of the only two larger machines, one is not functioning at present and the other one has not been handed fully to the CEB. "Since the frequency and voltage cannot be controlled by the small thermals, we have to run some hydros," Mr. Aluthge said. 

The country's normal daily consumption is about 20 GwH. With the power cuts, it has been reduced to 15 GwH. Of this about 11 - 12 is supplied by thermal machines and 3 - 4 by the hydro machines. "During off peak hours between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., the minimum load is about 500 megawatts. We cannot cut power during this time, because the essential hydros have to be run to control the frequency. The situation at present requires daily monitoring," Mr. Aluthge said. The C.E. Operations Audit handles the aftermath of operations, for instance, the saving effected, what happens during operations, tallying the drop in storage with the electricity generated and preparing the monthly review report.

More Plus
Return to Plus Contents
Plus Archives


Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to
The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.