Elegance and passion always on the menu

The Paradise Road Gallery Café is ten years old
By Smriti Daniel

Shanth Fernando sits smoking his cigarette and drinking his tall glass of plain warm water with evident satisfaction. Around him, his restaurant slowly comes to life as the staff cleans up – dusting behind the massive paintings and dressing the wrought iron tables with purple waterlilies. Shanth has more than one reason to be pleased with himself - The Paradise Road Gallery Café will be a decade old on November 10, and its success has more than a little to do with its proprietor’s exquisite taste.

The restaurant has been reviewed favourably in several local and international publications, including Condé Nast. Celebrities such as Sting, Donna Karan and Kenzo have dined there, as have several notable political figures. Shanth will tell you with pride that The Gallery Café has satisfied the most discerning critics, and that he counts his own family among them. “We eat here every day,” he says, adding that he demands perfection from his staff every single time.

The Fernandos invest in all kinds of art. As self-described “foodies” he and his wife Anki have eaten at the best restaurants in the world. Shanth says that he loves to “translate” the many flavours he encounters, and that in doing so he has created a wide range of signature dishes that are unique to the Gallery Café. But, it is Anki who is responsible for masterpieces like Chocolate Nemesis and the stupendously good Double Chocolate Cheesecake. Coffee and dessert at the Gallery Café is usually a winning combination, says Shanth, adding that his vision for the Café was to make it an unpretentious place that people can relax completely in.

When Geoffrey Bawa entrusted his old office to Shanth, it was with the understanding that the latter would open an art gallery with a café attached. Accordingly, Shanth continues to exhibit and sell the work of local artists. The artists are carefully chosen, so that their work complements the building itself - landscapes and portraits for instance, he says, simply would not complement his interiors. On average the gallery exhibits a new set of paintings every three weeks, and the focus is primarily on supporting local artists. Since its opening, the Gallery has risen to prominence as one of the few to actually stage exhibition previews with all the accompanying hype of exhibition catalogues, media launches and cocktail parties.

With its warm, moss encrusted walls, giant urns and simple decor, the Gallery Café succeeds in projecting a timeless, classic elegance. But it is the building itself that is the undisputed star. Shanth takes great care to keep it centre-stage, making sure that nothing detracts from its simple appeal. It seems no detail is too trivial –the table napkins, for instance, are mustard during the day, and gray at night, each colour having been chosen explicitly for its ability to fade into its surroundings. Shanth’s personal taste dictates the design of everything from the table runners to the background music.

Passion, not business, rules here, says Shanth, who after 38 years in the hospitality industry has come to believe that that is simply the best way to be successful. Having been assured by guests that his creation is “inimitable” in all respects, Shanth seems only more determined to ensure that it remains so in years to come.

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