A VIEW FROM SRI LANKA

6 February 2011. Number 43.


Welcome to regular readers and to those many new ones who are finding their way to this weekly column.

Mixed Grill

Fans of Sri Lankan cuisine (ah, that curried garlic!) may be surprised to learn that one of the best mixed grills in the world is to be found in the beach resort of Bentota.

Curiously, while Sri Lanka is well served for hotels of all categories, it is very poorly served for independent restaurants. Most tourists simply put up with their hotel fare which, if they are on a package, they have paid for anyway, and rarely venture out to dine. And given the poor choice of places (without liquor licences) that’s not surprising.

But this is a paean to Mixed Grill. My photo shows only a portion of it. The base is an entire leg of roast chicken, a man-sized pork chop, a steak (medium rare if required) of Texas proportions, buried under a fried egg, bacon and tomato, a beef sausage, a mountain of French fries and garnished with boiled green beans and carrots. and a salad. (Oops, I nearly forgot the pineapple.) And all smothered in a sauce that has been created by cooks who are cooks and not “wellness”consultants.

This dish for real trenchermen and those tired of tourist pap is to be had at The Golden Grill, Bentota (reservations necessary on 034 2275455 because the veranda restaurant overlooking the Bentota lake is usually packed). I hardly dare mention the price because, at Rs 975 ( £ 5 .5 7; U S $ 8 . 8 6) it’s less than you’d pay for a tired steak or a frizzled chop in most places.

Tips for FITs

I always suggest to someone coming to Sri Lanka for the first time (and without a friend to meet them at the airport), that they either book a hotel in Colombo by Internet for the first two nights, or book one at the counters of the major Colombo hotels that are in the arrivals hall, immediately after clearing customs.

It might seem an expensive way to start an independent holiday but that’s how to guarantee a comfortable hotel logo taxi at the proper price into Colombo and a decent room to recover from the flight.

Why stay in Colombo for the first two nights? To get over jet lag, to orientate yourself, and decide how you want to see the country. Take a look at the chaos at Fort Railway Station and decide whether you want to book a seat in an observation car to Kandy or the hill country, or simply take a daily train (never a bus!) from Colombo down to Bentota or Hikkaduwa and start discovering local life.

Cocktail Army

Sri Lanka lacks a cocktail bar like the legendary Boadas off Barcelona’s Rambla that hasn’t changed since it was founded in 1933 and where a quartet of dinner-jacketed barmen mix up every known cocktail in the tiniest space imaginable, or like the great Harry’s Bar in Paris (established in 1911) where the original Bloody Mary was invented and the atmosphere alone gets you high.

But hope is in sight, thanks to the Sri Lankan Army. A report quotes a source from the Ministry of Defence saying the Taj Samudra Hotel in Colombo has provided training for 11 members of Sri Lanka’s elite army commando unit to “learn the fine art of mixing cocktails.”

The ministry quoted a Lieutenant Colonel as saying there was a dearth of “professional knowledge among the soldiers handling military banquets, officers’ messes and similar other occasions where such knowledge is necessary.”

So thanks to these newly trained army barmen, we should at last be able to get properly made B52, Bull Shot, Kamikaze, Grenedier and Torpedo cocktails and possibly that explosive combination of peach schnapps and vodka known as Sex On The Beach?

Books & Birthday

One of the most unexpected presents I received this week, as though in recognition of my 70th birthday on Thursday 10 February, is a copy of What Love Is (Arcadia Books, www.arcadiabooks.co.uk), a just-published collection of short stories, edited by Peter Burton. Peter kindly bills my contribution as “a new story by Royston Ellis, an influence on John Lennon, making a return to fiction after a long absence.”

That nicely defines what I’d like to do now I am 70, and no longer a rock ‘n’ rolling adolescent: start to act my age and enjoy days quietly (and fruitfully) penning more fiction, instead of forever chasing fun.

As it is, I shall mark the day with glittering foolishness – and with astonishment that I have not only survived but have also had (including translations into French, German, Italian, Russian and Sinhala) over 70 books published. It makes me wonder when I had time for all that fun too.

The book to look for now if you haven’t yet got it, is The Big Beat Scene from http://musicmentor0.tripod.com/book_big_beat_scene.htm

Beat regards

Royston

One Response to “A VIEW FROM SRI LANKA”

  1. James says:

    Dear Royston, I stumbled across your blog the other day and I’m now addicted for two reasons; I adore Sri Lanka, I’ve stayed probably at least 12 times in the Past 10 years. I have many Sri Lankan and expat friends, and indeed, about 5 years ago tried to find your cottage, as I was at the time, stay at Saman villas. I did find your home, but unfortunately you were away in Tailand, I think your it must have been your business partner who told me this. These days I tend to go straight to Galle and stay at my friends hotel, ‘Tumbapani’, then move onto ‘Sun House’, or ‘Taprobane island’ (if it’s been a good year!). Secondly, I like your writing very much, enjoyable, informative and interesting. Please keep going with your blog as it warms my heart for a country that I call my second home.

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