As you walk up the narrow flight of wooden stairs, possibly stumbling over a four-footed family member, the first thing you see is a little chalk board with “today’s special” written on it. This leans against a set of turn-tables, behind which, along the wall, are stacked vinyl records and books by the rack-full. The [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Slightly Chilled fast becoming hottest hangout in Kandy


As you walk up the narrow flight of wooden stairs, possibly stumbling over a four-footed family member, the first thing you see is a little chalk board with “today’s special” written on it. This leans against a set of turn-tables, behind which, along the wall, are stacked vinyl records and books by the rack-full. The lights are low, and there’s jazz playing over the chatter, laughter and clinking of cutlery – the sounds of a full house.

Hot hot: Battered prawns, a Slightly Chilled special.Pix by Ashwin Dominique Jayalath

It’s Monday night in Kandy, and only 7 p.m., but all tables at Slightly Chilled are taken. “How many?” Michael Richardson will ask you, somewhat grufflly. In khaki shorts and a worn out t-shirt, the balding man isn’t impressive on first encounter. But those who’ve known the restaurant before he took it over, know this is a man with a vision.

Michael Richardson first came to Sri Lanka by accident. In transit in Bangkok in the late 90s, with a visa for India and no flight, he figured he could fly to Sri Lanka and take a ferry up to the subcontinent. Arriving in Sri Lanka, he learnt there was no such thing as a ferry to India. Determined to make the best of the situation, Mike bought a map and decided to climb Adam’s Peak.

The story unveils like a “comedy film,” he says, with brown tap water at guest houses and make-shift ponchos made of plastic sheeting. But Michael fell in love with the island.
In 2003 he visited again, motorcycling through with his best friend, looking for investment opportunities. When they left the island, Michael Richardson was proprietor of “Slightly Chilled” guesthouse on Adam’s Peak.

“It always has been my dream,” he yells over the music and the chattering-laughing guests, “to have a chain of restaurants called ‘Slightly Chilled’.”

Michael kept coming back to Sri Lanka, and one evening in 2008, walking around the Bogambara Lake, handing out leaflets advertising “Slightly Chilled” on Adam’s Peak, he noticed a big red sign on a hill across the lake, saying “PUB”. The Bamboo Garden Pub, as it was then known, had a reputation for good Chinese food, but it was also dingy, and not much frequented. So when Michael walked in for the first time, there were only two or three patrons.

Slightly Chilled: A place to chill out

“We walked in and I see this here,” he says, his arm sweeping out towards the balcony, “and whoa.”The balcony at Slightly Chilled looks over the Bogambara Lake, beyond Bahirawakanda, out towards Kadugannawa. Against the majestic backdrop of the distant mountains, nearly the whole city of Kandy lies blanketed under glittering stars and the crescent moon. If you stay late enough on a cool night, the mist comes down through Udawattekele, right behind the restaurant, to the bottom where it sits, and almost nothing can be seen beyond the balcony railing but hazy globes of light.

“I became so obsessed with the place,” Michael says. For a number of years, he was plagued with the idea of taking the restaurant over, but couldn’t afford to. He emailed back and forth with the owner, and in 2010, borrowed considerable amounts of money to make an offer. “If you have a better offer, take it,” he told the owner, “but in my heart, I know this place belongs to me.”

Moved by Michael’s unusual passion, the landlord made a compromise. Whatever Michael could offer, he would take, giving him time to get the business going and pay him back slowly. The restaurant changed hands and Michael shut the place down for renovation. On 11/11/11, Bamboo Garden Pub and Restaurant was reopened as Slightly Chilled Lounge Bar and Restaurant.

“The first year was very difficult,” Michael remembers. He tried cricket, he tried Saturday night disco, and things kept backfiring. But five months behind on rent, slowly, Slightly Chilled finally began to catch up. “The thing about tourism is this,” he says, grinning, “during peak season, every night could be a Saturday night. And in the off season, every night could be a Monday night.”

Michael Richardson

True enough, take any day of the week after 8 p.m., and there is likely to be at least one party at the restaurant, waiting for a table to be freed. Every one of the sixteen tables on the patio and balcony is fully occupied, and the waiters are on their toes. Later in the night, when the rush dies down, Michael gets on the turntables with his house and trance records, and the remaining guests sometimes make a party of it. Across the room from the DJ gear is the bar, and towards the back low tables and couches. Until a few weeks this was the regular haunt of Michael’s “closest friend”, the four-footed “DJ”. The Boxer was killed by a cancer, but now his son, JD, frolics around the restaurant, getting ample loving from canine-friendly visitors.

Michael’s pets avoid the dining area, and are strictly not allowed in the kitchen. In this small open area, Chefs Kumara and Arjuna cook up familiar dishes with no frills, filling bellies and but not emptying wallets – most of the mains at Slightly Chilled are priced in the range of just Rs.1,000.

Chef Kumara learnt from the first proprietor who was Chinese, and his work, the battered prawns, fresh and done just right, the signature sizzling beef which demands everybody’s attention on arrival, the kankun, the noodles, the pork in garlic sauce, maintains the reputation they built over the years. Chef Arjuna on the other hand, joined only a few months ago, to add Western dishes to the new menu Michael plans to launch end of April. Although you’ve probably tasted better, Chef Arjuna’s Carbonara, made from scratch, is subtle, while the absolutely delicious chicken fajita, one guest quipped, is a “winner-winner chicken dinner”. Vegan is also on the menu in the form of clay-pot dishes and falafel possessing the power to convert any non-believer in the goodness of non-animal-based foods.

And after that scrumptious meal, nobody is forcing you to clear the table, even if there are guests waiting. “I’ve spent most of my life in places like this,” Michael laughs. “As a customer, I know what I want, I hate being pushed.” The theory and practice behind this bustling restaurant that is probably unintentionally setting the new standard for dining in the hill city – Slightly Chilled.

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