Going Dutch: The Lankan way

Devanshi Mody dishes out more Dutch Hospital fare

O!: Restaurant managers ever claim they never refuse a guest’s request. Young Deeptha Perera actually delivers. I request an iced latte. I’m brought one. I request it stronger. The coffee disappears. With it Deeptha. Neither re-manifests. After 15 mins I stomp up and perorate on the abysmal service. Only after I’ve terminated my (rather long) sermon am I ever so politely informed that O! is a brewery and coffee isn’t served: it’s Vesak, shops are shut, therefore, Deeptha has dashed to the Hilton to procure instant coffee! Deeptha’s motto: you never tell the guest “no.” Such unparalleled service extracts my “O!”

WIP: More apposite than unreasonable

As do freshly-fried, hot-hot spiced cashews with karapincha and onion. O! again to the mischievous menu with cheeky wordplay. No pretensions. Only playful concoctions and fun inventions: Grease Yaka (local fried favourites O!-style), “Kade” chicken/pork/beef bisstake, Appuhamy (Lankan peppered beefsteak), tortilla-wrapped avocado with kothamalli kola... Owned by the Lion Lager people, O! isn’t just a drinking den. The mad motley-of-a-menu has you traipsing through Chinese Last Emperor infused with their own Lion Stout, Japanese Samurai Temptress prawns, Italian Mafioso pasta, English God-Save-the-King fish & chips, Indian O! Calcutta (playing on famous chain Oh Calcutta!).

Deeptha’s experience at fancy international hotels, including La Murai (Seychelles), elicits another O! What brings him home to a brewery? The challenges of a one-man-show. And O! Chef Dilo! After 20 years overseas he said no more and returned to Colombo. He first had Colombo erupting in lava cake. Now he envisages going gastro pub England-style- be anything English stylish. But designer Laki Senanayake’s metallic figures contorted in a devilish dance over O!’s bar are. As are Deeptha’s effervescent private parties and candle-lit buffets.

In economic direness, O! is sensibly priced (mains between Rs 450-900) and amply portioned. With an ever-evolving menu -which no doubt will instantly be replicated around town- and exciting plans, O! promises to be a rO!aring success in ColombO!

MOC: A different kettle of fish

Colombo Fort Café: The best lamprais I’ve ever had. Because the only lamprais I’ve ever had. And the best Harpo’s pizza I’ve ever had. Because the only Harpo’s pizza I’ve ever had. Whilst Director-Operations Alec avows competitors perhaps exist for the lamprais, he asserts they offer the best of Harpo’s pizzas. But don’t tell him you want pizza. He’d much rather you explored his Mediterranean menu befitting the Dutch precincts. I say lamprais takes the prize.

Sangria flows and interiors are awash in aquamarine as cannon-ball-like ornamentation plumbs down upon the show-kitchen which Head Chef Lasantha mans. We hear Harpo embarked to Singapore to fetch Chef Lasantha. We’d also like to believe Harpo ventured to America to hand-pick Alec for his impressive Dutch surname van Cuylenburg. Alec would like to believe his manager Winslow’s surname Quyn isn’t authentically Dutch…

Now Alec goes Dutch the American way with his special promotions: demolish a 2kg burger in 20 mins and get it free. He listens that falafel doesn’t quite correspond to my experiences of falafels in the Mediterranean and Arabia around which I’ve travelled considerably. But unusual Greek dish Briam is all Greek to me!

Although Greek salad it is for office-goers who lunch here daily. They can afford to. Staff say, “We cannot claim our tagline Your Everyday Place if people can afford to come only once a year.” Chef Gomes’s made-on-site, strict-on-sugar, sensitively-textured pastries sanction daily delectation. Chocolate ganache isn’t obscenely rich, chocolate nougat you can eat without guilt, tender tiramisu contains coffee! Cheesecake is differently presented in cubes studded with blueberry/raspberry. No clichéd blueberry-puree-glazed, biscuit-crumb triangles here. Await ginger-lime cheesecake, cinnamon buns etc. Pastries are Colombo Fort Café’s forte.

WIP: A treasure trove of antique chests (including the cash counter) lie amidst young staff (Sheed distinguishes himself), enormous Grecian vases and wooden trestles originally created for the German October Fest which seem to have walked into the colonial enclave with its amazing spherical wrought iron lamps. Photos of Dutch details captivate; drinks inebriate. Adventurous cocktails are massively popular. But lusher innovations include Avocado honey (fresh avocado, chilled milk, honey).

Coffees (Italian Molinari with French Monin sauces) are many, varied and cheaper than at most coffeehouses. Young Chef Hemantha reveals accessible pricing is the agenda. The Dutch Hospital often seems glamorously prohibitive… Chef admits, “We aren’t cheap, but we’re reasonable.” Homemade pretzels are only Rs 30. Taxes, however, make much-sought fresh passion salad almost Rs 1000. That WIP isn’t unreasonable is more apposite.

Pasta is rather nice (prescribe al dente), whilst jambola rice is an interesting inclusion with colonial flavour. Colonial or not, finish with Il Gelato pistachio gelati!

Ministry of Crab: Enjoys celebrity. Because it’s “Mahela and Sanga’s restaurant!” Or is it Sanga and Mahela’s? Oh well, Mahela always wins the toss.

Like a lighthouse MOC’s logo is in blaring orange. Orange: the Dutch and cooked-crab colour. From vases crab claw flowers creep out like a swooning string of crabs. Orange napkins resemble squatting crabs.

Some who’ve strolled in mistaking the unadorned historic interiors for some guesthouse à la Galle have scrolled the prices and fled. Co-owner Dharshan untimorously brands MOC amongst Lanka’s most expensive restaurants. They have acquired a reputation for being one of those venues for tourists/expats.
Tour tanks where Negombo lagoon crabs seem contused in elaborate yoga poses. I point to one meditating colossus, “How much would that cost?” Rs 12,000. I’m left agape. But am swiftly informed that MOC exclusively serves the delicacy otherwise expeditiously dispatched to Singapore, there costing US$ 150 for something priced US$ 60 here. Some counter they’d pay US$ 150 in Singapore, but not US$ 60 for home produce at home.

In polite circles price isn’t discussed. But it’s precisely the chic who do... One hears tales of diners billed Rs 150,000 and couples shelling Rs 35,000 for some shell fish. Nevertheless, if you’ve a palate for fine things and a wallet to match, don’t MOC the meat you feed on, to quote/misquote Shakespeare.
But we’ve all heard about the crab and precipitous prices. Anything left unsaid? Aha, even immaculate vegetarians, may dine at MOC. People scoff, “There’s only kankun for vegetarians.” So what, if it’s superbly tossed kankun? It’s all about winning the toss, you see… Otherwise, mushrooms are marvellously sautéed whilst garlic rice is like biting on little subtly flavoured pearls. Simple dishes; but spectacularly well-executed with equilibrated ingredients. And two desserts. Mutti curd, the best this side of Katharagama, is thicker than the Dutch Fort pillars, and served with treacle, jaggery and pumpkin preserve. Chocolate biscuit pudding: terrifyingly good. With Belgian dark chocolate. Really. The finesse authenticates. Why biscuit pudding in a restaurant purportedly a celebration of the Lankan? The Portuguese dessert is now quintessentially Lankan, staff declare! And they perhaps have outsourced the finest biscuit pudding in all Lanka.

Vociferations abound that MOC is pricy-touristy-snooty. Yet, the food, at least all I sampled, cannot be faulted. Those who crib (or crab) about the costs will surely concede that MOC is another kettle of fish.

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