Travel diary: Tea gastronomy, tuk-tuks and a custom duck oven at Shangri-La Colombo
From ocean-facing rooms to six buzzing dining outlets, a 24-hour health club, recreational activities for kids as well as MICE facilities, the new Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo ticks all the boxes.
From my breakfast table, I watch the ocean of lapis lazuli hues shimmering in the distance, and colourful boats bobbing on its surface. I’m at Table One, the all-day dining outlet at Shangri-La, which buzzes with interactive cooking stations and a mind-boggling array of food — from Continental to Indian to native Sri Lankan. I volley between different counters trying not to wolf down everything in sight!
The stunning hotel that recently threw open its doors to the public, was inaugurated by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena. Located along the Galle Face Green promenade, it offers six dining outlets, a spa, gym, and state-of-the-art facilities for business travellers.
The five-star property is a much-needed addition to the Sri Lankan capital, a bustling metropolis of 5.6 million people that is fast becoming a draw by itself. While earlier, the city rarely featured on the bucket list of vacationers — who seemed more enamoured of Sri Lankan beaches or leopard-spotting in its national parks — that’s not true any more.
Eateries, malls, art galleries, lounges, bars and world-class hotels today pepper Colombo’s cityscape like confetti, and the city is witnessing more visitors than ever before.
Colombo has a vibrant colonial heritage enriched by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British over centuries. The port city was a strategic spot on the ancient Silk Road, linking China and India to Europe with its unique geographical location and harbours.
Eager to explore the city, I opt for Shangri La’s introductory offer of a ‘Discover Colombo’ package ($245) that comes with an ocean-facing room, and also includes a Sunset Heritage City Walk around the city to experience its hidden sights, a tuk-tuk safari, street shopping as well as dining on native cuisine.
Exhausted after my walk, I check into Chi The Spa for some TLC. It offers seven treatment rooms and a selection of traditional Sri Lankan and East Asian therapies. My ‘Ceylon Indulgence Treatment’ combines a tea and spice full-body scrub with a white jasmine body wrap, and concludes with an ayurvedic body massage that makes me feel reborn.
At night, I head to Shang Palace for a hot Oriental meal. Inspired by China’s traditional Siheyuan houses, it features old wooden beams that were once part of these historical residences. There’s a custom-made duck oven where, the hostess tells me, all duck orders are wood-fired and then carved table-side.
When my own succulent duck arrives, I relish it in a rich plum sauce. My taste buds are further tickled by traditional cuisine from Sichuan, Dongbei and Canton as well as hot dishes from the dim sum kitchen and the crab kitchen.
Whiskey & spice
The next day, I dine at the Capital Bar & Grill, on a sizzling Norwegian steak and grilled seafood that bore the aromas of the ocean. The bar offers the city’s most extensive whisky selection. However, the hotel’s most fashionable dining address is Kaema Sutra, a Sri Lankan themed restaurant and bar led by Colombo’s celebrity chef Dharshan Munidasa and Bollywood actor Jacqueline Fernandes.
The eatery highlights the evolution of Sri Lankan cuisine using the island’s aromatic spices, rich ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. Intricately carved elephants and vibrant masks pepper the eatery that also offers an airy outdoor area framed by tiki torches to create a tropical island feel.
With the concept of tea gastronomy picking up in Sri Lanka, many hotels are offering afternoon tea in Colombo. At Shangri La’s Sapphyr Lounge, I sample the full gastronomic glory of this quintessentially English tradition. My Thea Wellawa Sri Lankan Tea Set arrives in a colossal six-tiered set with a bounty of Ceylon teas and infusions to be paired with Sri Lankan savouries and sweets.
I horse into the eats and then wash it all down with steaming cups of Pettah Market Milk Tea and Ceylon Ginger. The flavours still dance on my palate!