Vintage venues, make-over menus

By Devanshi Mody

“Vintage” evokes heritage and the title might suggest happenings at 100-year-old institutions. However, in Colombo, three months are already considered “very old”, so anything longer-standing might well pass for vintage.

Steak and Grill House: When a celebrity has a face-lift it makes news. Naturally, then, when a grand Colombo culinary celebrity like this fine dining restaurant refurbishes its menu, after years too, it merits announcement. Wood-panelling and subdued lighting have ever enchanted the romantic and the venue’s classic interiors remain unchanged, but pretty new tableware and exquisite silver complement the new menu.

A main course at Steak and Grill House

Classic favourites like cheese fondue remain and taste as good, although still wanting in that stringy cheese you want to twirl your skewered bread in–the point, after all, of a fondue.

But of greater import are the chef’s new creations or should I say creativity. This is precisely what now lures to S&G unexpected bands of youngsters with curious and daring palates. For the menu expansively and adventurously melds flavours from far-flung lands, fusing European, Mediterranean, Asian, Oriental, American etc. There is teriyaki yellow fin tuna steak with bell pepper marmalade while rhubarb apple compote is not part of the dessert menu!

However, it is the integration of the taste of Sri Lanka that most captivates the epicurean imagination. Expect the unexpected in numbers like baked Sri Lankan jumbo crab in curried Hollandaise and Australian rack of baby lamb in tarragon masala served alongside pumpkin ratatouille. If you thought ‘French curry’ is a contradiction in terms, it exists on this menu in flamed jumbo prawns in French curry sauce with fennel risotto.

As for the risottos, one wouldn’t imagine going to a steak and grill house for risottos, but S&G’s risottos are among the only edible ones in Colombo. Mushroom and broccoli risotto in an escort of Greek-style baby aubergine provencale (a French term) especially impresses, while impeccably grilled vegetables accompanying spaghetti strike you with the full thrill of the grill without the meaty kill. S&G also (again unexpectedly) serves some of the creamiest soups in town: Chablis scented mushroom velouté is velvet on the palate, although desserts currently sound better on paper than they taste on the palate. When desserts re-launch, steak your bets it will make for a worthy excuse to rush back to this veteran venue.

Goodies: Calling Goodies, so young and fresh, a “vintage” venue is perhaps stretching semantics. Nevertheless, Goodies is vintage in that, like vintage wine, it gets better with age. Just as wine throws up surprising flavours as it matures, so Goodies surprises with its constantly evolving menus. Most recently, the café launched a new range of sandwiches, wraps and pizzas. Pizzas have soggy bases laden with a sugared puree, which appeals to some.

The sandwiches, available in the bread of your choice and including fillings like tempered potatoes, are simply superb. Give him 30 minutes and the chef bakes fresh breads in front of you as you sip an iced latte, or several, these being Colombo’s best. But you need to be aware that you can have bread baked for you because the venue has no menu declaring it and the staff, although charming, is perhaps not the savviest and they do not necessarily know the range of breads available or even that baking requests are obliged until 7 p.m. To avail of the experience, remember you can have baked, seven bread varieties (and Goodies exclusively offers certain specialities). Select from garlic bread, herb bread, French bread, farmer’s loaf, Cornpep (a healthy, cereal-studded dusky bread), Spanish Bartusa which offers the soft fair graces of a maiden- topped with cheese, peppers and olives, of course!

Should you prefer breads that are soft and sweet, albeit with a motley complexion, then the fruit bread is specked with raisins, cashews and cherries. The bake-while-you-wait concept at Goodies is fresh and unique in Colombo and it is quite extraordinary to see the bread swell in the oven as you watch and fresh and hot out of the oven, these breads swaddle you in gorgeous aromas. Little wonder then that this lively café is swollen with guests young and indeed old, or should we politely call them “vintage”?...

They come from Jaffna

Jaffna came to Colombo as a culinary carriage bringing with it everything from ingredients and decorative elements like palm leaves and unusual coconuts to maidens and mangoes.

The Grand Oriental Hotel hosted them all over four days, celebrating the cooking tradition of Jaffna and style too with waiters in Jaffna garb. Dimension matters it seemed as chefs tossed out those hot, hot vadais rather enormously sized while dosai were complacently plump.

It is, nevertheless, interesting how similar Jaffna food is to Sinhalese food, which is what passes as “Sri Lankan” food, except it is prepared with slightly different techniques. Everyone knows that Jaffna food is influenced by spiced Indian Chettinad cuisine. However, more fascinating was discovering smatterings of Dutch influences in certain dishes.

The festival also highlighted how perhaps crab or drumsticks could be prepared in four different ways (at least). Desserts were many and generally semolina-based but the magnificent fruit display including fruit from Jaffna like pineapple, bananas and gorgeous mangoes was captivating.

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