Black Sheep Restaurant Group’s latest opening delivers big on flavours and spice, as Head Chef Gisela shares the unique and nostalgic cuisine from her homeland.
District: Central, Hong Kong
Cuisine: Sri Lankan
How much: Short eats range from $38 to $98; Hoppers and Dosas $58; Karis range from $88 to $118 (dinner for two, including a cocktail each approx. $700)
Must Order: Bone Marrow Varuval, with Pol Roti ($88); Masala Dosa, with Sambhar, Coconut Chutney ($58)
The Best for: Casual date night or dinner with friends. Best kept to parties of between two and four as the dining space isn’t huge.
Sassy Tip: If there’s only two of you, try and sit at the bar. Although the stools may not be quite as comfortable as the main tables, it’s worth it for an open view of the streamlined kitchen at work, and a chat with Head Chef Gisela Alesbrook.
Hot on the heels of Artemis & Apollo, Black Sheep Restaurant Group has opened up yet another winner, that is bringing the unique cuisine of Sri Lanka to the 852. Stepping into Hotal Colombo, it’s hard to not be instantly charmed by your surroundings. From the pastel tones of pink and blue, to the waitstaff’s tropical print shirts, and the lively soundtrack of Baila tunes, first impressions here go along way to secure the knowledge that a good night is on the cards. And we haven’t even got to the food yet. Aside from the vibrant atmosphere, the first thing that hit me when I came through the door was the delicious smell. And (spoiler alert), the food we tasted lived up to expectations.
Inspired by the eateries that spill onto the streets all over Colombo, Hotal Colombo is bringing something new to the Hong Kong dining scene. Helmed by Head Chef, and Sri Lankan native, Gisela Alesbrook, it is evident that the food served comes straight from the heart, with a hearty side of nostalgia and fondness for the cuisine of her homeland.
All dishes here are made to be shared, and can be eaten on their own, or accompanied by the array of side dishes, chutneys and sambols on offer. The food is flavourful and packed full of spice – but don’t worry if you think you can’t handle the heat – the spice is more flavourful than raw heat, and anyone with a moderate spice tolerance should be fine. Though if you’re concerned, the friendly staff can help to point you in the direction of the less spicy dishes, and you can always compliment your meal with a refreshing cocktail or two. We loved the Ginger Galle ($98) with dark rum, cinnamon syrup, ginger ale and bitters, along with the Ranatunga Peacock ($98), that is a blend of arrack, elderflower liqueur, passion fruit and soda water.
Beginning with some dishes from the Short Eats section of the menu (a nod to the snack menus in bars all over Colombo, where friends gather to pick at communal dishes), we sampled the Beef Chilli Fry ($78) and the Bone Marrow Varuval, with Pol Roti ($88), though the stand out for us was the bone marrow. I’ve had bone marrow many times slathered onto toasted bread as the most indulgent butter, but at Hotal Colombo it is served with a sauce of slow-cooked tomatoes, black pepper and curry leaves, and topped with sliced onions, Indian pennywort and shaved coconut. The contrast of the savoury and rich bone marrow, with the spicy and almost sweet sauce was heavenly, and unlike anything we had tried before. As the dish is served with slices of roti, be sure to get stuck in with your hands and mop up every last bit of sauce.
Another favourite dish of ours was the Chicken Kothu ($98). Described by Chef Gisela as the perfect hangover cure, it consisted of pieces of chopped up roti, chicken, veggies and egg which have all been fried together and delicately spiced. The dish was instantly comforting and moreish, made only better with the addition of the spicy and tangy pickled chillies on the side.
When it comes to curries at Hotal Columbo, the selection of “Karis” includes chicken, lamb, black pork, fish and seven veggies. We went for the traditional Fish Kari ($108), that uses succulent cobia, that stood up to the spicy coconut sauce. Paired with a buttery, flakey and soft Paratha ($38) it was delicious. Another aspect of typical Sri Lankan cuisine which is highlighted on the menu is Hoppers. These crispy bowl-shaped pancakes are eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner in Sri Lanka, and we loved the Hopper with Kiri Hodi (a light coconut milk gravy) and Pol Sambol (an accompaniment made from grated coconut, chillies and onion) ($58).
To finish off our meal, we couldn’t resist also trying the Masala Dosa with Sambhar, Coconut Chutney ($58). A crepe-like pancake that is folded and stuffed with a spicy potato filling, and served with a veggie sambol and coconut chutney – it’s a classic for a reason, so don’t leave without trying it for yourself.
Our verdict: I’m sure that the food at Hotal Colombo will bring back fond memories of the food consumed in Sri Lanka for those that have travelled the country, and for those that haven’t, it may just make it shoot to the top of your travel bucket list.
We loved getting stuck into everything with our hands and couldn’t get enough of the bright, punchy and spicy flavours that were so prevalent in every dish. As a cuisine largely missing from Hong Kong’s food scene, Hotal Colombo truly puts Sri Lankan cooking on the map and is sure to be an instant favourite for those looking for something new.
Hotal Colombo, 31 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong, www.hotalcolombo.com
All images courtesy of Black Sheep Restaurant Group.