Archive for December, 2013

Festive Cheers

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

ROYSTON REPORTS, Number 192, Sunday 22 December 2013.

Season’s Greetings to all readers of this newsletter, with my end of 2013 list of places that I recommend as Tops For Tourists.


This miniature clay oil lamp is often lit in homes as part of Buddhist rituals. I’ve incorporated it as part of our Festive Season decorations at home.

Aglow for Christmas (Photo B Kumarasiri)

Aglow for Christmas (Photo B Kumarasiri)


At a party at Pier 88, the riverside restaurant behind Nebula, my favourite supermarket in Alutgama, I was introduced to a revived brand of Arrack. To the uninitiated I hasten to explain that Arrack (if it’s genuine and not coloured neutral spirit) is a kind of coconut brandy, distilled from the sap of the coconut tree.

When I settled in Sri Lanka 34 years ago, I swore never to touch Arrack. That’s not just because its bouquet was reminiscent of the odour of soggy socks but because it was then so cheap I realised if I became addicted to it, my writing (and liver) would suffer.

The party was hosted by Rockland Ltd, a company that has been producing Arrack since 1924. While there was plenty of wine available (which the company imports) and cocktails made with local spirits, I ventured to try Halmilla Old Arrack. On the box it is described as 100% Pure Aged Arrack produced in the company’s eco distillery. So it’s environmentally OK then.

Hamilla Old Arrack (Photo by Neel Jayantha)

Hamilla Old Arrack (Photo by Neel Jayantha)

The tasting notes claim “its subtle honey and distinct but gentle notes are from the Halmilla vats.” These vats, I was told by Ravi Morris, the company’s Regional Manager, are old, creating a taste of the natural flavour of the dry-zone halmilla (Berrya cordifolia) wood with which the vats are made, and the hint of earlier Arrack stored in them over the decades.

I breathed in the bouquet cautiously at first and was relieved to find it had a whiff of brandy rather than old socks. The taste was an eye-opener as well as a tongue tingler: full bodied, aromatic with suggestions of cinnamon and jaggery (coconut fudge); a worthy warm tipple after a good meal. The 750ml litre bottle costs Rs940 (£ 4.47;  $ 7.23).

Neel advised me not to ruin this arrack with either ice or soda or, even worse, cola, but to have it neat to savour its full richness. Great for welcoming the New Year.

Memorable Event

I’ve written previously (Newsletter 188) of how I was privileged to be invited to the birthday party of HRH The Prince of Wales held at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Colombo. Thanks to the High Commissioner, HE John Rankin, I have received this photograph of the memorable moment when HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, said delightedly: “The Beatles? That’s our generation!”

The Beatles? That's our generation

The Beatles? That’s our generation

Tops for Tourists

From my experience of staying in hotels here during the past year I have found that while the tourist infrastructure (like bedrooms, bathrooms, catering, and furnishings [with good mattresses, linen sheets and plump pillows]) has improved, this is not always matched by confident and efficient service.

However amiable the staff, their friendliness does not make up for their poor training or sheer incompetence, given that one is paying high prices plus 10% service charge and about 17% tax for the privilege of being a guest.

Sri Lanka has a wonderful variety of properties to stay in, from informal home stay units to plantation bungalows, from cute boutique villas to opulent city hotels. My quest is for places that are agreeable and comfortable in terms of value for money, since that is more important than whether a place is cheap and cheerful or expensive and luxurious.

I ask myself: Is it good? Is it somewhere to recommend for tourists?

I requested readers for their suggestions and, while I received tips from many individuals, I noticed that some property owners had asked their satisfied guests to send me comments, in the way that they request their guests to review them on Trip Advisor.

While Why House ( and Jungle Tide ( received rave reviews from impressed guests, since I have yet to stay in either of them myself, I’ll keep them in mind to review in subsequent newsletters. Also, I would like to hear of any respectable budget hotels in Colombo (around Rs5,000 [£ 23.80; US $38.46] a night?).

Here, then, based on readers’ tips is my personal list of places I have tried and can happily recommend.

RR (Royston Reports) Tops for Tourists  2013.

Maalu Maalu, Passikudah

Maalu Maalu, Passikudah

Top Beach Hotel:        Maalu Maalu, Passikudah

(For a pure beach holiday: good rooms & food; friendly & fun)

Top Boutique Hotel:    Brook Boutique Hotel, Dambulla

(City smart in a wilderness; informal, not smug.)

Brook Boutique Hotel

Brook Boutique Hovel

Top Bungalow Resort:  Kelbourne Mountain View, Haputale

(For relaxing with family & friends with obliging staff, plantation food and breathtaking vistas.)

Ready for breakfast at Kelburne Mountain View

Ready for breakfast at Kelburne Mountain View

Top Colombo Pub:  Cricket Club Café

(A legend; the pub at the back is consistently good in service & food, with   drinks available all day.)

Top Colombo Theme Restaurant: Ministry of Crab (Old Dutch Hospital.)

(A must for every visitor with stylish presentation of sensational fresh crab in a lively atmosphere.)

Top Colombo Fine Dining Restaurant: London Grill (Cinnamon Grand Hotel.)

(A benchmark for classic fine dining; truly the top for food & service in traditional style & ambience.)

Stuffed oysters at London Grill

Stuffed oysters at London Grill

Top Colombo Hotel:  Colombo Courtyard

(Perfect accommodation in a novel manner in a central location; ideal for staying on business or pleasure)

Top Kandy Pub: Royal Bar & Hotel

(A secret conversion from an arrack tavern to a popular pub for discerning locals and visitors with courtyard barrel seating & a fine restaurant.)

Royal Bar & Hotel, Kandy

Royal Bar & Hotel, Kandy 

Top Restaurant out of Colombo:  Paradise Road, The Villa, Bentota


(Creative cuisine and caring service in a contemporary setting near the beach.)

Top Theme Hotel: Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, Kandapola

(Unique: a genuine tea factory converted with verve into a smoothly operated comfortable hotel with gourmet dining in a railway carriage restaurant.)

Heritance Tea Factory Hotel sign

Heritance Tea Factory Hotel sign

Top Upcountry Hotel:  Bandarawela Hotel, Bandarawela

(Colonial nostalgia in spades and at low prices; apt for its setting.)

Top Home Stay: Hagolla Plantation Bungalow

(A charming clued-in couple host appreciative guests in their ancestral home; good for wilderness trekking, creative reflection & fine local cuisine.)

Holiday Time

There will be no Newsletter next Sunday, 29 December, for obvious reasons (party! party!). The next newsletter, with some exciting news about new books (by me and others) will be issued on Sunday 5 January 2014. So here’s wishing all readers a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Retro presents for reprobates

Retro presents for reprobates

Meanwhile, the beat goes on with these books still available through Cyber Shopping. Gone Man Squared (with a foreword by Jimmy Page) from:

and The Big Beat Scene with an account of my days with The Beatles, Billy Fury, Cliff and others, from:

Beat regards

Royston Ellis