The business of getting on with life: Get the long view from Movenpick Hotel Colombo
It's one thing to get work done out of a luxury hotel room, even if it’s on the 21st floor, in the heart of the bustling city, with a magnificent skyline view from your window.
It’s another thing entirely when the Ocean View suite you’re in actually encourages you to get some work done, even if it’s from the private comfort of a bubbling in-room jacuzzi.
There has been a lot to report from Colombo over the last few weeks. The city appears to have more-or-less recovered from the horrifying Easter Sunday attacks from earlier this year, while coming to terms with international media watchdogs gloating over their many-tentacled hold over civilian proceedings.
Don’t forget the flurry of cyclone and hurricane alerts, and, of course, the Presidential elections — the one all-critical event that has been on the mind of every Sri Lankan, even over cricket, with an eye to a future of assured peace.
From my top-floor suite, at the five-star Mövenpick Hotel Colombo, the view to speak of, did stretch all the way across the blue expanse of the Laccadive Sea, onto the Arabian Sea, and further on over the Indian Ocean.
Looking into the distance, a little to the south, I also had a view of the upcoming Port City, like an arch of land spilling over into the waters, being built with support from the Chinese government, with an equally expansive view spanning the next 100 years and more.
Without a hint of doubt, there’s a lot going on in Colombo, and for a complete 360-degree panoramic glimpse of the capital, you’d have to take the elevator up to the hotel’s terrace, on the 23rd floor.
From above, you get to turn around and look at the rest of the city, peering through the clusters of highrises in the works, construction sites towering into the sky, buildings small and tall all around, and
the city in general, going about a regular working day.
It’s a good feeling, no doubt, estimable by lungfuls of Colombo’s crisp air, and full of promise about the days yet to unfold. Peeking over the railings of the terrace, to look at all the dinky cars and ant-like humans milling and zipping about on the streets far below — the sight is sure to bring a wan smile to your face, amidst all the straight-faced men of affairs all around.
We’re pretty sure, that’s the only business we’re interested in — of getting a move on, and keeping a cheery disposition about ourselves.
Your latent, inner celeb
Back in my room, I discovered a little unexpected thing that floor-length glass walls tend to do, to massage your ego; they’re all one-way glass walls, of course, so don’t bother trying to pry a view into any room, from around the hotel building.
Even as you hold your gaze across the seas, and savour the pensive best of your self in the mirror... you just can’t resist that latent inner celebrity from awakening in you.
That’s when you realise, sipping on a fresh carrot juice and setting up the jacuzzi, all the while making voice notes and signing off on calls over the in-suite Bluetooth network — you’re never really given to think of this as a business hotel.
After all, which five-star affair would afford you the space to slip into a hot tub in your room or slither into the infinity pool for a dip, between meetings and calls you can attend to, in a pair of fluffy bathroom slippers?
At Colombo, you figure, that’s the real business — of taking charge of a sense of personal freedom, and getting comfortable with the idea of another day’s work.
There’s a good deal of pampering involved in between too, and you might just have that overpowering feeling coming all over you — of being some sort of a new-world, cyber-age pirate, taking command of that endlessly delightful, roll-of-the-eyes view.
You could slip into a fresh bathrobe, if you like, and put on some mock Jack Sparrow airs (with or without the eyeliner) — imagining a personal conquest and virtual voyage over and unto where you think the eastern-most tip of Africa might be, in the far-off distance... But that’s really just us, having fun between all our official exploits.
At Robata Grill, the in-house Asian fine diner at this Mövenpick, I also found that there is such a thing as a teppanyaki business meeting — which isn’t exactly an on-the-menu option for a dish.
Like any great meal, though, it’s really much more about the overall experience rather than just the food.
Of course, the Robata kitchen already has something of a loyal following of its own, which is due credit to the chefs here, and especially, the expert hands that man the teppanyaki grills.
But for our experience, we were taken in more by the many other busy tables around us — each revealing varying levels of animated interest among the patrons, marked by the hush-and-pause of halted, well-mannered dining with soft metallic tings of forks and spoons on the plates, and the slow, careful sounds of food being consumed, evidently allowing for a fair deal of dense, business-minded rumination to go around at the same time.
Thankfully, our only work-related purview to this meal was a casual interaction with the hotel’s cordial hosts, though we did try and keep an officious air about tucking into our portions of the tender Balinese pork ribs, glazed with a sweet and tangy BBQ sauce.
Looking around at some of the other specials being served — the warm and spicy hot butter cuttlefish, the surprisingly juicy bulgogi, and the faultlessly grilled Thai fish cakes — we did raise our eyebrows in extolled interest, but never dropped that earnest and purposeful business-like guard about us.
The sushi platters, for a side note, kept emerging in periodic displays of the kitchen’s pride, but it was dessert that sealed the deal for us, with the Sticky Rice & Cinnamon Pudding featuring tropical fruit toppings and sesame caramel splits, as well as a portion of Green Tea creme brûlée — a marvellous custard with a broiled hard crust that you have to lightly tap on, for it to yield the creamy, gooey and very yummy treat inside.
On a Tuk-Tuk Safari
Earlier, on my ride into Colombo from the Bandaranaike International Airport, I’d struck up a conversation with Mr Dissa, a middle-aged gent with a close-crop haircut, and the friendly chauffeur of my ride — a super-sleek Audi A6, no less.
“Gotabaya,” Mr Dissa had replied, with some sense of conviction, without batting an eyelid, when I asked him who he was going to vote for, in the presidential elections.
His answer to my other question too didn’t need a second thought. Favourite cricketer? Pat came the reply, “Sanga (Sangakkara), of course, he’s a real gentleman.”
These were the only two queries that I’d armed myself with, even on a fun tour of Colombo, driven by Chathuranga Madhushan on his Tuk Tuk Safari, in a three-wheel autorickshaw — through the landmark Gangaramaya Temple; the centuries-old Hindu temple of Sri Kaileswaram, alongside the mighty impressive Lotus Tower; the awe-inspiring architectural marvel of the Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) Theatre; passing by a number of colonial buildings that have come under extensive renovation; with a quick stopover at Independence Memorial Hall (Sri Lanka’s 72nd independence day will be celebrated on 4 February 2020).
We were accorded the heartwarming pleasure of an authentic Sri Lankan meal, and also privy to a special tea tasting session, at an outlet of the Embilmeegama Tea Factory, where we got to check out some uncommon tea infusions, taking in whiffs of select, flavoured teas, and various strands of black and green tea.
The highlights here were the somewhat rare blooming teas, apart from an indigenous white variety that’s pricey, but extremely high on health benefits.
The heritage Embilmeegama identity is enlightening to learn of, and in a charming way, a cup of their tea is likely to have you puff up your chest, and hold a swelled lungful of Sri Lankan pride. You could attribute a lot of that good cheer to the tea, but we insist, we’re just happy to be doing business here.
All in a day’s work
• Fancy a morning workout? Break into a sweat at the 24-hour gym on the 23rd floor or dip into the rooftop infinity pool, before you catch the sunrise.
• Tuck into a grand breakfast buffet, and sample a range of culinary offerings — in work hours, or otherwise — as Mövenpick is as much of a foodie’s paradise, as it makes for a complete 5-star experience.
The writer was in Colombo by invitation.