Colombo: a city reborn

, TRAVEL

The Sri Lankan capital city is fast evolving into a discreet hub for luxury, with unique shopping, food and beach experiences

In the fast-changing, ever-dynamic city of Colombo, one ritual has stood the test of time, as a living testimony of the city’s glorious past. This ritual, conducted on the oceanfront at the historic Galle Face Hotel, Colombo’s colonial grande dame, dates back to 1864. Just before sundown, a couple of kilt-clad bagpipers walk through the colonnaded courtyard of the iconic building, make their way to the flagpole at the water’s edge before finally lowering and meticulously folding the Sri Lankan flag. While the Galle Face Hotel, an indispensable address in Colombo’s colonial history has undergone myriad changes, this sunset flag-lowering ceremony has been taking place for as far back as any hotel staff can remember.

This is, in many ways, a case in point of Colombo’s unique identity as a luxury destination — an unfailing colonial heritage, with just a soupçon of modernity. Touted as Asia’s most underrated and understated capital city, Colombo is now experiencing a stellar post-war renaissance, much to the benefit of its visitors. A quick visit to the Dutch Fort or Independence Arcade, will prove this. Both of these ancient colonial buildings have been entirely refurbished and restored before converting them into shopping, lifestyle and dining hubs of the city, boasting some of the best addresses in town.

Food Glorious Food

One person has been responsible for putting Colombo’s food scene on the international page. Part-Sri Lankan-part Japanese, celebrity chef Dharshan Munidasa’s hugely successful restaurants Ministry of Crab and Nihonbashi have become landmarks in the city. In fact, Munidasa has the honour of having not one but both of his restaurants featured on the prestigious ‘Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Nihonbashi, among Asia’s best Japanese restaurants, capitalises on locally sourced tuna (Sri Lankan tuna is said to be among the best in the world), and hence Munidasa is often seen at Negombo fish market, handpicking his tuna, at the crack of dawn.

“With Ministry of Crab, I’d like to bring the Sri Lankan crab home, by making it a signature of Sri Lankan dining,” the chef says of his restaurant, located in the Dutch Hospital. The menu, of course, is largely characterised by its crabs, with a few other seafood dishes thrown in for good measure. Similarly, Kaema Sutra is a modern Sri Lankan restaurant promoting the ubiquitous hopper.

For truly authentic fare, Upalis’ is another iconic eatery, serving up exquisite curries, hoppers and string hoppers, in a fuss-free, family friendly setting.

Afternoon tea is sacrosanct in Colombo, and if you’re looking for a cup of Ceylon tea, head to the quaint tea room at the Paradise Road boutique or unwind at the Dilmah T-lounge at Independence Arcade.

Shopping

While in Colombo, something that cannot be missed are the homegrown boutiques. Paradise Road, easily the city’s best home decor store, is nestled in an old colonial mansion. Owner Annika Fernando’s curated collection can be seen at Paradise Road as well as at her new fashion store PR. Be sure to check out some local Sri Lankan designers at Independence Arcade too, the trending brand being Lovi Sarongs, a new label by local entrepreneur Asanka de Mel, specialising in highly stylised couture sarongs (for men and women). The city’s biggest and most-famous department store, ODEL, offers just about anything under the sky. Local wellness brand, Spa Ceylon has spas and boutiques across the city and a visit there is surely going to leave you rejuvenated.

By: Riaan Jacob George

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