Earlier this month Paul and I were fortunate enough to have a complimentary taster session in one of Colombo’s culinary gems, Kaema Sutra. I liased with Shalini – the restaurant’s Senior Public Relations Manager – and before I go into any further details about this revolutionary restaurant and the genius behind it, I must say that Shalini made the entire process entirely seamless, comfortable and enjoyable. She is a complete credit to both herself and the restaurants she represents.
Kaema Sutra is set in the incredible Arcade Independence Square; a recently redeveloped British colonial building that since its construction in 1889 has served as a mental asylum, University College and ultimately as the base for several government departments. It’s redevelopment in 2014 stayed true to the colonial design, replacing and retaining all of the charm and history of this beautiful building. Amongst the white walls and arches, Kaema Sutra has a prime location on the ground floor. The restaurant is framed with windows; allowing a flood of natural light into its space. The use of white walls is continued into the restaurant, contrasting tastefully with the traditional Sri Lankan wooden sofas and carved wood window frames. This tradition is also seen in the design of the kitchen, with a large ‘miris gala’ or ‘chilli stone’ used to grind spices. This staple of Sri Lankan homes has been reconceived in the restaurant as a focal point; a spectacle and something to engage diners with the cooking process. This interaction with the creating of the food is maintained with the open-front kitchen; where diners are able to observe their meal being made.
Founded by the world class chef Dharshan Munidasa and actress Jacqueline Fernandez, Kaema Sutra aims to “take traditional Sri Lankan food and elevate it”. And that it does. Its menu is based on traditional Sri Lankan home cooking and street food, but these dishes have been refined and are presented at a world class level. Kaema Sutra makes Sri Lankan food a fine dining experience, less intimidating for those unfamiliar with it and incredibly elegant. Quality is evidently extremely important to Chef Dharshan, and this is evident across the board with every aspect of every one of his restaurants. Not only is Kaema Sutra aesthetically pleasing, modern and immaculate, but dishes are composed beautifully, and those dishes consist of ingredients of the highest quality. Every part of the dining experience has been thought of, and this is what I believe makes Kaema Sutra stand out from the competition.
We tried a total of five dishes, allowing us to have a broad scope of the menu:
- “Two Egg” Hopper (Rs 240) – Hoppers are a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast food, and although its possible to find them almost everywhere you go, Kaema Sutra’s version was without a doubt the best we tried during the entirety of our trip. Almost three times the size of the ones found elsewhere, this thin savoury pancake was designed to appease those who enjoyed both the crispy and soft parts of a hopper. The eggs were cooked to perfection, and we were able to dip the crispy shell into that and eat the whites with the soft base.
- A la Minute Lunu Miris (Rs 240) – Lunu miris is typically a mixture of chopped onion and chilli, but in Kaema Sutra the mix had been freshly ground on the Miris Gala to give a salsa style appearance and consistency. It tasted wonderful with the the hopper as well as the other dishes, which let me know the menu was not only impressive on its own but allowed diners to mix and match dishes to create their own flavours.
- Ambul Thiyal (Rs 960) – Of all the dishes we tried during our trip (not just in this restaurant, but across the entire two weeks) this dish was both mine and Paul’s favourite. Traditionally this method of cooking was a way of preserving fish in a clay pot, and Kaema Sutra keeps traditional elements of the dishes history by serving the dish in one. A generous portion of tuna that had been boiled with a mixture of goraka, curry and pandan leaves and countless other seasonings. This is a pretty spicy dish, but the egg yolk from the hopper helped to balance the heat. This was the dish that made me excited to visit the spice markets, to go home and cook. For me, this is Kaema Sutra’s strongest dish.
- Lamprais (Rs 640+) – This dish actually launched the day before we tried out the food at Kaema Sutra, and when I spoke to Chef Dharshan about the process he told me about the time spent working and reworking the recipe for this dish until he felt it was perfect. This dish is unique to Sri Lanka and is identified as coming from the country’s Dutch roots. Kaema Sutra’s version of lamprais consists of suduru samba cooked in a pork and chicken bone broth, beef frikkadel, brinjal, shrimp belachan and a four meat curry. All these flavours balance one another tremendously, and instead of being overwhelming it was intriguing to try and identify all of the unique flavours.
- Kottu roti (Rs 240+) – Traditionally a Sri Lankan street food, Kaema Sutra’s version sees high quality ingredients like egg, crab and local spices mixed with godhamba roti. This dish is similar to pad Thai, although Chef Dharshan’s version sees no evidence of greasiness or lacklustre flavour. It takes a traditional Sri Lankan delicacy and makes it a quality dish, perhaps the most accessible on its menu to those trying the cuisine for the first time.
We were also given some of the restaurants very own chilled Thambili (king coconut) and Gotu Kola with king coconut water. If you prefer sweet, light drinks then the king coconut water is definitely better for you. The Gotu Kola was thicker with some spice, and has some impressive detoxifying and purifying properties. If you’re looking to order this, ask for the Centella.
With a menu suitable for vegetarians and meat lovers alike, Kaema Sutra definitely achieves its goal of heightening Sri Lankan cuisine. Although it may prove contentious amongst locals, who will always feel their mother or aunt or brother can cook dishes better than the chefs here, it makes fine Sri Lankan cuisine accessible. By committing itself to quality presentation, location and ingredients it sets itself apart from other restaurants not only in Colombo, but in the entire country.
Kaema Sutra is now housed in the Shangri-La in Colombo. For more information on their move and new menu, please see their official website.
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