Thursday, January 12, 2012

Drinking in Colombo

There's hope for a country in the developing world, where cars actually stop at zebra crossings, and jaywalking is frowned upon. Try using a zebra crossing in Delhi, or indeed any Indian city, and hoping that the traffic will stop for you. Suicide wish. That's Colombo for you. Of course, it's also a city, where an auto driver offers me a  massage (fortunately, not by him personally) at 2.30 in the afternoon on Galle Face road, right in the heart of town (but that's another story).  

It's great to be flying Sri Lankan airlines this time, especially as I'm offered Lion Lager on the flight over from Delhi, which I gratefully accept. A really nice, crisp and refreshing lager, 3 cans keep me sane for the flight, and on a visit to the Taj Samudra, I have it's cousin a bottle of Lion Stout beer, along with a plate of an island speciality, the Devilled Prawns. At 8.5% abv (alcohol by volume), Lion Stout is not for the faint hearted, but it's an excellent  stout.  

I was last in Colombo in November 2006 when the LTTE led insurgency was very much in full swing, and Colombo was under a virtual state of siege. Post the LTTE's supposed disintegration, things are far more relaxed. My taxi in from the airport is still stopped a couple of times, by soldiers, but maybe that's because it was 2 am in the morning. For someone however used to post 26/11 India, where hotels resemble security bunkers, the non-existent security provisions at any of the hotels I visited, made me nervous. Maybe that's why I drank so much in the 3 days I was there.  

Lion Lager kept me company most of the time, but on my visit to Mix at the Samudra, where I was hosted by members of the hotel's F&B team, they recommended I try a cocktail from one of their younger bar staff, who had been drafted from the banquets into the bar. Prasanga, duly obliged and whipped me up an improvised cocktail, his own creation, a tall, fruity and delicious combination of of Vodka, pineapple juice, lime juice and mint. Sri Lanka's bartenders (and bars) are crazy about flair bartending, and Tulleeho had been drafted in to send in a team of flair bartenders to Colombo, to be placed in major hotels for the month of December.  

Prasanga's Creation
Mixology or cocktail skills, is still not top drawer, and a common complaint I hear is that the moment a bartender learns his craft, he's off to the Middle East or to a job on a cruise liner. However Sri Lanka gives all signs of being a nation moving rapidly forward, and with ambition of it becoming the next Singapore. Tourism seems to be doing well, and the hospitality industry is growing fast, especially as more and more resorts open up on their beautiful coast line, and one hopes that better job prospects will keep Sri Lanka's talented bartenders closer home.   

Of course my too brief sojourn was not only to be spent drinking the local beer, I also made it a point to visit the legendary Galle Face hotel, and head for their sea facing al fresco drinking and dining area. Seaspray, their sea food restaurant, had  a "buffet only", so I shifted scene to Patio, right next door, and with all the Seaspray benefits. Bear in mind, that Seaspray literally means just that. The waves are crashing literally at your feet, and little children are being whisked away from the side of the cliff. All of Colombo is out to party, as tis the run up to Christmas, and even the stony faced soldiers manning check points across the City, manage a smile. Patio has a BoB of 3.75 (LKR) for a 650 ml bottle of Lion Lager.  

I scan through the drinks menu and order one of the Galle Face's signature cocktails, the Old World Charm (LKR 550), a combo of Pimm's # 1, Gin, Lemonade, Mint Leaves, and with a Cinammon stick as a stirrer. On further probing, Sampath, the bar captain reveals that the first case of Pimm's # 1 was exported to Sri Lanka, and brings out a small tent card which confirms the same. The cocktail itself was well balanced, and as the band played Besame Mucho at Seaspray, I sat and sipped it as the waves crashed on the waterfront.  I'll be back.  

Old World Charm @ the Galle Face

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