Review: The Gallery Cafe, Colombo, Sri Lanka

On our last day in Sri Lanka, the last members of our family tour group who were still in Colombo decided to go our separate ways for Christmas lunch. While most of the group went to Ministry of Crab for a meal, my father decided that it wouldn’t make sense for our group of four (father, brother, husband and I) to go as neither he nor my brother eat crustaceans! It would be a waste of money for them to pay $60AUD for a crab-based buffet lunch.

While I was a little bit disappointed as a crab-lover, I was also excited as it meant that we could visit somewhere that has become an icon for those who appreciate Sinhalese design, architecture and art – the Paradise Road Galleries.

The complex includes The Gallery Café where we ended up having lunch, but also includes an art gallery with rotating works, a shop with hand-crafted goods, and more.

The real highlight of the Gallery Café is the fact that it has been created out of the former offices of the great Sinhalese architect Geoffrey Bawa, arguably one of Sri Lanka’s most well-known and respected household names. The building itself then, is as much of a destination as its inspired international menu.

A sense of soul restoration begins as you step through the main doors into the first pavilion where a serene water feature somehow seems to melt away all the noises from the outside streets. Even though this area isn’t air-conditioned, it’s been designed in such a way to keep out most of Colombo’s stifling heat and humidity with a good amount of shade and consistent airflow.

Stepping into the restaurant, we were greeted with a wonderful display of cakes and sweets. It’s partly Christmas themed with some more season-appropriate cakes and puddings available, but your standard crowd pleasers of chocolate mudcakes, lemon meringue tarts and the like are still available.

We had an early lunch reservation commencing at 12pm – as we’d experienced elsewhere in Sri Lanka, it was a very early dining time for locals and so it wasn’t until about an hour later that tables started to fill up. Of course, most of the Sri Lankan population are Buddhist, so the family groups that came out for lunch were not dining out to mark Christmas as we were – they were simply there for a good meal. 

Iced Coffee (625 Sri Lankan Rupees), Virgin Frozen Strawberry Margarita (995 Sri Lankan Rupees), Virgin Colombo Sunset (525 Sri Lankan Rupees), Homemade Ginger Beer (445 Sri Lankan Rupees)

We started off with some drinks all around. Interestingly, while the menu did include alcoholic drink options, the waiter did inform us as we were being seated that they were not serving alcohol on that day. We weren’t told precisely why – perhaps it was a Poya Day? Whatever the reasoning, it didn’t affect us much as we were more than happy to go alcohol-free for our beverages. In the hot weather, having a chilled non-alcoholic beverage was actually preferable to a beer or a cocktail as it was more hydrating. 

Some soft white bread rolls to start – nothing fancy and potentially not baked in-house. The pats of butter were still very chilled, which made it particularly difficult to spread. It’s a minor problem, but does indicate a slight lack of attention to detail as leaving the butter out for just half an hour before serving it to guests would make it more spreadable.

Broccoli salad with avocado, lime and honey vinaigrette (945 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Three entrees to share – the first a Broccoli Salad with Avocado, Lime and Honey Vinaigrette. It’s an unusual salad and an unusual way of serving broccoli as a chopped, diced green mash. Though it may not look particularly appetising, the lingering crunch of the fresh broccoli and lettuce worked well with the soft avocado. The sweet yet sour honey vinaigrette simply set it all off.

Vegetarian Mediterranean Salad (995 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Another salad, as I tried to make up for ten days worth of not having enough green vegetables on our family tour around Sri Lanka! This Vegetarian Mediterranean Salad was a great combination of fresh cucumber, chickpeas, Spanish onion and raisins, with a similar honey vinaigrette dressing with a touch of mustard. What a great combination of textures – while I wouldn’t often use raisins in a savoury dish, the sweet softness worked really well with the crunchier cucumber and chickpeas. I like it, and I might use raisins in salads more often!

Batter Fried Whitebait (935 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Fried salt and pepper whitebait is a dish that you’ll often find on menus in Chinese restaurants. The trick is to keep the batter light, and to serve it when it’s still piping hot. I ordered this Batter Fried Whitebait to show Dad what fried whitebait in a non-Chinese style would taste like. The batter was a bit thicker in this fish-and-chip style fried whitebait, and was herbed for flavour. The accompanying aioli was just the right touch to give it a bit of a flavour booster. Dad’s verdict? Not bad, but not as good as Chinese-style fried whitebait! 

Beef goulash with green peas and potato mash (1675 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Beef Goulash isn’t a dish that I would normally associate with Christmas, but for some reason it was advertised on their Christmas specials menu. I won’t complain too much – I ordered this for Dad as he loves slow-cooked beef, and he was well-pleased with his dish. The buttery pea and potato mash on the side worked a treat for soaking up some of the rich goulash sauces, and the beef was cooked to the point of simply melting in one’s mouth.

Lobster, prawn and fennel lasagna (1975 Sri Lankan Rupees)

K opted for another seasonal special which again, isn’t one that I would consider a standard Christmas dish – Lobster, prawn and fennel lasagna. There’s one thing about it that does make it a remarkable Christmas dish though. The richness of both the tomato and bechamel sauce made it a particularly indulgent meal which is what Christmas is all about – overindulgence. 

Grilled lamb cutlets with potato wedges and mint sauce (3695 Sri Lankan Rupees)

My brother opted for some Grilled Lamb Cutlets with Potato Wedges and Mint Sauce. An easy and safe option, executed well with crispy crunchy seasoned wedges and well-grilled cutlets that had just the right amount of tender pinkness inside.

Grilled garlic jumbo prawns with potato wedges and green vegetables and garlic butter (2995 Sri Lankan Rupees)

I chose the Grilled Garlic Jumbo Prawns, again with potato wedges but green vegetables (bokchoy) as well. Unfortunately the garlic butter that was supposed to come out with my dish was only sent to our table ten minutes later, by which point I had already finished off half the plate. Still, it may not be a bad thing that I didn’t slather my prawns with garlic butter as they were more than tasty enough with its smoky grilled garlic flavours. 

Passionfruit and mango sorbet (865 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Onto dessert! One each naturally. K got the Passionfruit and Mango Sorbet, a seasonal special that is entirely reminiscent of the flavours of an Australian summer – or Australian Christmas. This was a wonderfully light dessert, a perfect palate cleanser for the warm weather with contrasting tart and sweet flavours.

Coffee Ice-cream (795 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Dad loves coffee, so ordered the Coffee Ice-Cream, served with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Just one bite of the ice-cream had him rolling his eyes with happiness – the coffee flavour was very strong and sharp, just like a particularly aromatic espresso.

Paradise Road Banana Split with Palm Sugar and Coconut Icecream (795 Sri Lankan Rupees)

I chose the house special of the Paradise Road Banana Split, which comes with the signature palm sugar ice-cream and coconut ice-cream. It was a particularly rich dessert with a strong sweet and caramel flavour base. A bit too much whipped cream for my liking though, and I would have preferred more of the chopped nuts on top for some texture. 

Strawberry Sundae (Strawberry red wine icecream with mascarpone, fresh strawberries soaked in red wine and almond praline (795 Sri Lankan Rupees)

My brother chose the Strawberry Sundae, which like the desserts that my father and I had, featured particularly strong and rich flavours. In this case, the overpowering flavour here was the alcoholic red wine which particularly permeated the strawberries making this a dessert which could leave you quite woozy by the end. 

Gallery Cafe offers something quite unique – high quality Western-style meals that are tinkered with to freshen and lighten them for a hotter and more humid climate. They use high quality produce, and cook substantial and tasty meals that satisfy all palates. Their varied ice-creams are a highlight, and I would always recommend ordering some of their refreshing and interesting salads to share.

It’s worth noting here that while the prices at Gallery Cafe are not outrageous by Australian standards, they are far beyond the average salary of local Sri Lankan. We paid more than four times the average daily minimum wage for a main meal – not even counting the cost of drinks, entrees and desserts. It’s a privilege to be dining at the Gallery Cafe, and I was hyper-conscious that we were having an experience that many locals would never get to enjoy.

So, if you’re lucky enough to visit Colombo, I do recommend the Gallery Cafe as a lovely place to have a meal – for the location and serenity of the venue as much as anything else!

The Gallery Cafe is located at 2 Alfred House Road in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Review: Croque Madame, Warsaw Poland

If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of pastries and other baked goods. Just call me the carb-monster, I’ll answer to that name! Europe has been a dream come true for me in that regard, with excellent pastries, bread and baked goods to be found in every country – each with its own unique twist.

While in Warsaw, we got into the habit of stopping into Croque Madame, a little café on the main shopping street, more than once for a mid-morning snack to keep us going till lunchtime.

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The first day we stopped by on a Sunday, the tables outside were all full of guests enjoying a leisurely Sunday brunch. It was quieter on subsequent weekdays as you can tell from the photo above.

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As a café, Croque Madame offers a fairly small range of treats. Coffees and teas are on the menu of course, as are a selection of tarts, pies, pastries and cakes. If you’re after something more savoury, they have a small range of ready-made baguettes (get in early, they sell out quickly!) and salads too. However the real drawcard seems to be their gelato which is popular with many customers.

We didn’t try the gelato though. After having just visited Italy with their fabulous range of gelaterias, we feared that we would be disappointed with anything else! Instead, we tried a few of their pastries and sandwiches as takeaway items for mid-morning snacks over a few days.

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The first was described to us by the waitress as a “Polish cake with blackberries”. This proved to be a soft, sweet and squishy hybrid of brioche and a jam donut. While I liked the powdered sugar on top, the blackberries proved to be much too tart for my liking, with the sweetness of the sugar hardly doing anything to soften the tartness.

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Another choice was a savoury sandwich of brie, cranberry jam and rocket. It’s such a timeless combination – creamy ripe soft cheese with peppery rocket and sweet berry jam. Each element balances the other perfectly, creating a sandwich to die for on crusty seeded wholegrain bread.

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On another day, we tried a raspberry and custard pastry. Glazed with sugar on top, this was a delicious little doughy bun. The sweet custard helped to soften whatever tartness was left in the raspberries, and the sugary crust gave it a nice texture whenever you took a bite. It is quite sweet as a result though, and best suited to those with a sweet tooth!

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The last pastry we tried was a deliciously buttery raspberry croissant. Flaky and buttery, this croissant was lined with a thin layer of raspberry jam right throughout the pastry. Very simple, but the superb puff pastry makes it a treat to be savoured.

Croque Madame is popular with locals for their ice-cream, but their pastries are definitely worth trying as well! Either sit in the sun with a coffee and a pastry like the locals, or if you want to make the most of your time sightseeing in Warsaw, grab a pastry to-go as we did! There’s nothing quite like strolling the Old Town of Warsaw eating a buttery pastry and licking raspberry jam off your fingers.

Croque Madame is located at Nowy Swiat 41 in Warsaw, Poland.

Review: Ket Szerencsen, Budapest Hungary

Good reviews and a central location – that was reason enough for us to drop into Ket Szerecsen Bistro for lunch on our last day in Budapest.

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As we sat down and began to peruse the menu however, I started to notice little bits of racially-themed decor around the restaurant that began to make me feel uncomfortable. Then I saw their logo of two African faces with exaggerated lips and felt beyond uncomfortable. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t walk out at this point, but the situation was much too awkward as our orders had just been taken.

Sour Cherry organic fruit juice, 590 Hungarian Forint
Sour Cherry organic fruit juice, 590 Hungarian Forint

K and I had a lively debate over lunch as we pondered the question of whether we should have left without eating our meals. I’m definitely more sensitive to issues of race and gender than he is, but even he was uncomfortable with some of the drawings on the walls.

Breast of duck with pumpkin gnocchi and sage butter, 3290 Hungarian Forint
Breast of duck with pumpkin gnocchi and sage butter, 3290 Hungarian Forint

He enjoyed his Breast of Duck with Pumpkin Gnocchi and Sage Butter – a treat as we had been trying to avoid meats other than chicken since his diagnosis with gout. The grilled duck breast was succulent and tender which K enjoyed but I found a bit too gamey for my liking. The pumpkin gnocchi was much more to my taste, and the sage butter just heavenly. Sage butter is something that’s quite simple, but something we hardly ever make at home to go with our pasta. This has to change!

Chicken paprika stew, parsley dumplings, cucumber salad with sour cream, 2290 Hungarian Forint
Chicken paprika stew, parsley dumplings, cucumber salad with sour cream, 2290 Hungarian Forint

I ordered a Chicken Paprika Stew with Parsley Dumplings and a Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream (pictured below) on the side. I loved the richness of the paprika sauce, which went perfectly with the small herbed dumplings. The chicken was quite tender as well. The fresh cucumber salad is a must when you order the stew though, to help refresh the palate as the stew can be quite thick and rich.

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Guys, what would you have done in my place? Would you have walked out once you registered the racially-themed decor? Would you have made a complaint to management?

I don’t think their intention is malicious, but it is a rather jarring experience for people like myself who are hyper-sensitive to issues of race. The theming certainly hadn’t been brought up in the reviews I’d read prior to our visit, but I can’t have been the only one to make a note of it!

For what it’s worth, Ket Szerecsen does quite amazing food. The prices are a little high by Hungarian standards, but the quality alone makes it quite worthwhile. If you think you won’t be bothered by the decor, the food is worth trying.

Ket Szerecsen is located at 14 Nagymezo utca in Budapest, Hungary.