So I’ve recently returned from Sri Lanka. I know, lucky me, another chance to visit somewhere exotic with an exciting, different culture to absorb. It’s an amazing country with a wide mix of influences which you can read more about in my later posts, so watch this space. Because today I’m going to tell you about this fantastic restaurant I dined at in the capital, Colombo.
Kaema Sutra is the third and most recent offering from chef Dharshan Mundisa. Dharshan was born in Tokyo to a Sri Lankan father and a Japanese mother and prides himself on being a self-taught chef – with his interest in cooking first aroused by watching his mother and Japanese aunts in the kitchen.
His first restaurant in Colombo (where he moved to as a child) reflects his Japanese background with Nihonbashi using the best of Sri Lankan ingredients to produce amazing Japanese food. The jewel in his crown, Ministry of Crab, opened in 2011 in the refurbished 400-year-old Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct and is in the San Pellegrino Top-50 restaurants in Asia as well as being rated the best in Sri Lanka.
And tonight we were going to their baby sister, Kaema Sutra, which is located at the Arcade, Independence Square, which is now an upmarket shopping complex. The stylish, colonial building was created as the Jawatta Lunatic Asylum in 1889 and after various uses through the years and following a huge renovation project in 2012, the shiny new complex opened in July 2014. The Sri Lankans are very clever about creating new uses for historic buildings…from asylum to haven in this case.
Dharshan created a menu specially for us – lucky me, again – and boy did we have a feast. He’s taken traditional Sri Lankan cuisine, updated it and added a bit of something extra. It’s flavourful, exciting and different with each dish showing careful consideration.
Our selection of three starters got us off the perfect Sri Lankan start. First up, Godha chips, described as chips made from the local Godamba roti. It’s impossible to imagine what these little bites of delight are going to taste like…and quite hard to describe, too, but boy were they delicious. Light and tasty with bite.
And then it was time for some hot chilli wings which were served with a buffalo curd raita dip. Buffalo curd is huge in Sri Lanka (more of which later) and went perfectly with the spiciness of the wings. I was aware of plenty more dishes to come so held back a bit on the wings…another time I ‘m confident I could polish off a whole plate to myself. They’re that good.
Our third starter was a hopper…but no ordinary hopper, what Dharshan calls a Euro hopper. On discovering hoppers on my first night in Sri Lanka, I ate them at most meals (yes, breakfast, lunch and dinner). They’re kind of like thin, bowl-shaped pancakes that are made in front of you in a special pan and served hot for you to add your choice of filling. They are so delicious and the concept is so versatile. As proved here, with no Sri Lankan spices, simply dollops of local buffalo curd, baked sea salt and Italian olive oil. Yummy!
Oh and the other thing about the hoppers at Kaema Sutra – they are big! Bigger than any I saw anywhere else.
The curry was made with the local freshwater prawns which are huge, juicy and bounding in flavour.
Dishes were served with what they call the A La Minute Lunu Miris. It’s basically a chilli and onion paste that is made in front of you using a special board and roller – and the key is it needs to be made in a minute. I guess practice makes perfect because it didn’t look difficult and he had no problem with the time, such skill and speed with a heavy and somewhat unwieldy tool. The resulting paste was hot and beautifully fresh tasting, this method produced definitely something way superior to anything similar I’ve done in my electric blender.
Making the paste on demand…how I’d love one of these in my kitchen…
Vegetables are a huge part of Sri Lankan cuisine and today we were served two classic accompaniments. This baby potato curry was simply luscious – I did go on to sample many other delicious potato curries on my journey. A dish you have to order when you’re in Sri Lanka.
As is their dhal. It tastes slightly different around the country but always has that light spiciness and perfect creaminess that makes it go well with just about everything.
And the dishes kept arriving. Dharshan loves cooking with crab (well, he did call one of his restaurants Ministry of Crab after all) and the Crab Kottu is the latest addition to the restaurant’s menu. It’s a lightly spiced mix of succulent crab meat, vegetables and chopped roti which is quickly fried on a griddle and served topped with the prettiest of crab shells. This was my first experience of kottu (though obviously not my last) – another Sri Lankan speciality you have to try.
Alongside the crab came a two-egg hopper. This is Kaema Sutra’s signature hopper and it’s giant – nine inches to be exact – with two eggs smack in the centre.
After a short interval it was time for dessert. Hopper dessert. See what I mean, they are versatile things. The chocolate chip hopper had a warm, creamy, chocolatey centre. A dream for chocolate lovers. I spotted a little girl on the next table tucking into hers as a main course while her parents enjoyed spicy delights. She looked very happy – well she would, wouldn’t she?
And to finish off…What the hopper! That’s what it’s called and it’s a different colour because there’s treacle in the batter. Filled with strawberries and cream and finished off with a drizzle of more treacle. Wow.
Such a great introduction to the classic Sri Lankan dishes and a marvellous demonstration on what you can add to them with imagination. With its great food, beautiful setting (there’s a spacious terrace you can also dine on) and ever-present warm Sri Lankan welcome Kaema Sutra is an all-round great dining experience. And it’s amazing value for visitors, too. If you’re in Colombo go there. You have to.
Today’s price point
Eating out in Sri Lanka is great value.
As a guideline, 1,000 Sri Lankan rupees are equivalent to approximately £5.
To give you an idea on prices, a large plate of chilli chicken wings costs Rs960; the prawn curry is Rs960 per prawn (and you won’t need more than one each), the two-egg hopper is Rs240 and the amazing dessert What the Hopper is Rs480.
Kaema Sutra is at No 30, Arcade Independence Square, Colombo 7.