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A Pastry Chef's Guide to Colombo


Czar of sweets Rukshi Nethicumara gives us the scoop on her hometown in Sri Lanka. By RACHNA SACHASINH.

Published on Jul 13, 2017


COLOMBO IS USUALLY
the first place tourists leave. The charming port town has been short-changed as a transit pit-stop for travelers flying into Bandaranaike International Airport and then heading on to surf in the south or tea-estate hop through central hill-country, but there are plenty of reasons to stay put, as 31-year-old Colombo-native Rukshi Nethicumara will tell you. "People in Colombo are warm and friendly," she says. "We have an island mentality, ever ready to chill out and have a good time."

Rukshi Nethicumara
Rukshi Nethicumara. Supachat Vetchamaleenont.

Inspired by the city's penchant for melding exotic flavors, Nethicumara crafted fanciful cakes using local spices and homespun ingredients in her teens. In her mid-20s, the budding foodie peddled confections at the Good Market, a hub for the city's hip gourmands. When not scouring the city for the hoppers-and-cocktails den, Nethicumara can be found mixing decadent and unexpected confections at Butter Boutique (34, 27th Lane; +94 11 257 4119; cake and coffee for two Rs2,000) her patisserie in the trendy Kollupitiya neighborhood. We turn to her good taste for a well-balanced itinerary of must-visit eateries and specialty shops in Sri Lanka's biggest city.

Butter Boutique
A Butter Boutique cake. Courtesy of Butter Boutique.

 

SEE & DO
Get in with the locals straightway among street hawkers and kite-flying crowds at Galle Face Green's (Galle Main Road, on the waterfront) seaside fields. Once you've noshed on a plate of isso wade (fried lentils patty with prawns) and soaked in a brilliant Colombo sunset, you're automatically one of us. + Old Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct (Hospital Street; +94 78 854 1400), the city's oldest architectural relic, is teeming with boutiques and eateries. I love to wander through the massive colonnades and breezeways for a bit of window-shopping and people-watching. + I often slink into Spa Ceylon for an Ayurvedic foot massage with handcrafted sandalwood, Ceylon cinnamon and cardamom oils.

Good Market
Shoes are among the cornucopia of quirky buys at Good Market. Jeewan Kumara.

 

SHOP
I've been filling my cupboards with handcrafted batiks from Salt (34, 27th Lane; +94 77 923 5576; cotton and silk dresses Rs2,000 to Rs20,000). Their dresses and kaftans are brilliant, and the bed collection celebrates tropical island living. + The 1920s shophouse Barefoot (prices start at Rs200) is as good-looking as its wares. I can't seem to get out the door without a pile of hand-loomed cotton kurtis, or tunics. For gifts, I pick up a few exquisite pillow covers in Dumbara, a local weaving style with bold graphic motifs. + Cruise Good Market for organic herbs and tinctures, contemporary crafts and recycled threads. Billed asa creative farmers market, it's a great spot to catch pop-ups where artisans and foodies flex their talent.

Salt
Nethicumara fills her closet with Salt's batik designs. Yasendra Amerasinghe/Courtesy of Salt.

 

DRINK
The wine list and a dizzying line up of local crafts beers make it easy to rack up a bar tab at Re.pub.lk (57 Hospital St.; cocktails for two Rs2,400). For something pretty with a kick, I order Strawberry Basylum, a berry, basil and gin tonic that goes down smoothly.+ When pulling an all-nighter, we invariably end up at 41 Sugar (sugarcolombo.com; cocktails for two Rs1,800), the rooftop bar at old Gymkhana Club. Neon cocktails and live music will keep you amped 'til the wee hours.

Re.pub.lk
Strawberry Basylum cocktail served in jar at Re.pub.lk. Courtesy of Re.pub.lk.

 

STAY
Check in to the recently spruced up Galle Face Hotel (doubles from US$170). The white colonial façade, fabulous lawns and sea views are straight out of a Merchant-Ivory production, and their afternoon tea is a delight.

GAlle Gace Hotel
The recently renovated Galle Face Hotel. Courtesy of Galle Face Hotel.

 

WEEKEND EATS

 

 


SATURDAY





SUNDAY


9 A.M. Folks flock to Upalis (breakfast for two Rs3,600) as early as 6 a.m. for their legendary hoppers, an island staple made from fermented batter. Pair that with roti, pattu and parripu for a Sri Lankan breakfast of champions.

Upalis
Courtesy of Upalis.

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12 P.M. Jaffna-style cuisine at Palmyrah's (lunch for two Rs6,000) is my go-to spot for comfort food. The vintage-hip dining hall lined with buttery leather booths is perfect for a long, lazy lunch with friends. It's old-school home cooking with fabulous crab curry and a hot list of hoppers.

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3 P.M. When I'm fighting midday inertia, I head to my place, Butter Boutique, for our freshly roasted beans flown straight in from Niccolo Coffee in Melbourne, and a slice of Arabian Nights cake.

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7 P.M. The Curve Bar (drinks and dinner for two Rs3,900) brings tapas to the city; order the sesame-tuna with horseradish and a passion fruit mojito.

9 A.M. Head to local institution Green Cabin (483 Galle Rd., Kollupitiya; lunch for two Rs2,200) for brunch with the whole family, Sri Lankan style. The tropical courtyard and laidback vibe are the perfect accompaniment to spicy sambas and ginger beer, a winning combination that has kept the place buzzing for six decades.

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12 P.M. After a decade-long hiatus, famously delectable mutton rolls are being dished up again at Nippon Hotel's refurbished KAFÉ (123 Kumaran Ratnam Rd., Slave Island; mutton rolls from Rs140 per piece), which feels like a cross between a bakery and a diner, with red booths and a pleasant atmosphere.

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7 P.M. When I'm in the mood for top-notch steak paired with a meaty Bordeaux, I dress up and head to London Grill (at Cinnamon Grand Colombo hotel on Galle Main Road; dinner and wine for two Rs15,000). Red brick, live piano, and a no-kids-under-six-allowed policy make for a refined dining experience.

London Grill
Courtesy of London Grill.

 

 

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The recently renovated Galle Face Hotel. Courtesy of Galle Face Hotel.
  • Courtesy of Upalis.
  • Pick up hand-loomed gifts at Barefoot Store. Courtesy of Barefoot.
  • Courtesy of Barefoot.
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