The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Poolside panache

Devanshi Mody makes her pick of the places for some al-fresco dining

Savoury Splash –Verandah (Hilton Colombo Residence):

This hideaway of inmates has flung open to non-residents its third-floor piercing blue pool. Taking summer celebrations to headier heights!

Last week I wrote Hilton Colombo’s Chef Selliah was finally applauded after 22 years, then at 22, Chef Jerome, bequeathed the al fresco Verandah’s responsibility, seems a lucky boy. Such are the privileges of working at celebrity Chef Jean-George’s Market at the ritzy W in Qatar. So what lands him in sobering Colombo? Family circumstances.

Which also compelled back Pastry Chef Withana from an enviable overseas position. But we think he retains an enviable position, being amongst Colombo’s finest exponents of breads and pastries.

Subdued elegance: The poolside at Park Street Hotel

Chef Withana’s breads Chef Jerome converts into arguably the best sandwiches in town (complemented by chilling summertime smoothies like avocado, lime-mint etc). Miss not chef’s speciality nowhere-else-in-Colombo arugula pesto in richly flavoured, sparsely caloried brown bread.

Try low-fat, dusky rye bread encasing deftly marinated grilled vegetables. Lissom mustard mayo replaces lardy butter and summery salad has a honeyed lilt. If you’ve no desire to flaunt streamlined sides by the poolside plunge into paninis molten with mozzarella and herbed tomato. Or splash around create-your-own sandwich options.

But kiddies prefer create-your-own pizzas. And seem inevitably, to pick pizza laden with cream, cheese and mushrooms conceived especially for junior joy. “We wanted to be original,” Chef J declares, but hurriedly cautions, “Guests don’t know authentic Italian cuisine. They want fusions.”

Traditional pesto pizza, notwithstanding, trumps. Hefty bases appeal less. American-type hunks, Chef elucidates, most guests consider “the real thing,” unaware of Italian thin-crust. Besides, locals demand “value-for-money” sturdy bases. But Chef knows the fashion is “biscuit-flat” bases and can rise (or in this case not rise) to the occasion upon request. “We customise everything.”

This is perhaps questionable one evening. The poolside is aswarm and swift Samantha must improvise tables. Yet, Chef diligently surges enquiringly after successive pasta preparations. Spaghetti al olivio: generally nice, although this time salt is sharp and welts of pasta hang limply from my fork when I’ve emphatically specified al dente.

Next presents penne arabiata -listless pasta that soaks in sluggish pepper-olive-tomato. Arabiata must exhale chilli and al dente means taut. “If we make al dente guests complain it’s raw,” Chef extenuates. Chef returns with fettuccini, finally firm; but the cream sauce is stout, starched, superfluously salted. I recommend pastas in outstanding homemade pesto.
Terminate with Chef Withana’s homemade ice creams.

Exquisite yoghurt and peaches. Return for daily pastry specials. Chef adores his chocolate fudge. Me too. Submerge in this sumptuous pleasure pool. Slightly sweet, and chef admits he must play to the gallery, but given notice he can revise sugar-parched delicacies that dunk you into delectation. Swim through: Le café that resuscitates French finesse, friable apple-blueberry crumble, dive-into-the-depths-of-ecstasy chocolate raspberry delight. After which bye-bye swimwear this summer, unless Size 60…

Dizzying Dip –Great Expectations (Colombo Courtyard):

An intricacy of grill runs nimbly up from floor to ceiling eyeing the poise of a placid plunge pool stylishly beset with timber-and-tile pillars and furred in white pebbles as Moroccan lamps, artwork and arched-back deck chairs gaze enrapt. Poolside dining is the prerogative of in-house guests.

Moorish touch: Colombo Courtyard’s languorous poolside ambience

Check in! Otherwise, a stroke away is just-launched open-air lounge, lounging languidly beside a strip of pool- of fish. Not quite as captivating as the poolside, but Great Expectations showcases an enoteca of fine wines. Those who know only Cloud Café come down to earth for a headier high.

And also a neat new tapas menu down whose length backstroke salmon rolls, crab balls, prawn pakoras. More chic though is the French-summer cheese and fruit platter. We also love the freshly-fried cashews, abundantly portioned. Samosas, sinuously spiced and you don’t need a pool-towel to dry the oil, are arguably Colombo’s finest, although vegetarian tapas comprise a shivering carrot curled limply over cheese plashed on desiccated bread and service is longer than the pool. But after some swigs of Spanish Barsau Blanco 2009 and Italian Moletto Merlot DOC Piave-2007, you won’t mind. However, do mind the pool, not far away, lest your evening end in a washout.

Poolside Party — Casa Colombo:

The pink pool we’ve exhausted until you’ve turned blue with boredom. But did you know that the privé pink pool permits out-house guests carte blanche for the hippest summertime bashes and splashes? Of course, the pink pool, retains her privacy even during the depths of decadence and compromises on intimacy but over the exclusivity of private parties. But on such soirés, glimmering glamorously, she lends herself with a luxury of adornments, dressed (oh, most inappropriate by the poolside!) as per your taste in suave set menu, trendy tapas, cute canapés or jazzy action stations for kottu, tempura etc.

Hot canapés often bathe in pools of oil. Swisher are cool canapés like mousses of cheese, spicy tuna, smoked salmon, asparagus cheese roll, cheese, onion, olive sticks… And glitzier still is the brand new mobile bar managed by Hungarian Alexandra David who has shaken in some of London’s busiest bars and will keep you busy night-long.

If you’re still around next morning and weary of looking at life and the pink pool through rose-tinted glasses, then the pink pool turns accommodatingly orange, yellow, green. No, not because you’ve overdone Alexandra’s concoctions but because she’s probably reviving you with just-launched fresh fruit smoothies, incidentally Colombo’s only made with mutti curd.

Waterway Weddings — Park St Hotel:

Enchanted ceremonies unfurl veiled under a lacework of araliya, in the embrace of colonnaded arcades, enclosing a beauteous sapphire pool with waters as blue as Diana’s engagement ring. Single? Drown solitude in poolside tropical fruit punch or inebriating affagato incorporating Colombo’s priciest coffee, Illy, shot with Baileys/Kahlua/Tia-Maria. You might find yourself married to it forever. Expensive, but less than a wife!

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