Review: Elita Restaurant, Galle, Sri Lanka

On the very first full day of our time in Sri Lanka, it became clear that the humidity was going to be the downfall for many of the members in our family party. While K, my brother, my father and I were able to persevere in the humidity, thanks in large part to our initial stay in Singapore, many of my aunts and uncles wilted in the humidity.

After just an hour of exploring Galle Fort’s walls and the town, many of my aunts and uncles decided to head into the air-conditioned comfort of a restaurant for lunch before heading back to the hotel. My group of four people persevered for a few more hours walking along the fort walls before heading into Elita Restaurant for an early lunch.  

While it’s still located within the fort, Elita is slightly off the beaten track and isn’t on one of the main streets with the other restaurants and cafes. Instead, it’s located in a more residential area. As I mentioned, we were early for lunch, and were in fact the first group to arrive in the restaurant – clearly, midday is too early for lunch in Sri Lanka!

This did mean that we got good service though, as the waiter was able to concentrate on the needs of our table. In ordering freshly-caught fish off the hand-written whiteboard menu, I wasn’t able to decide what type of fish we wanted. Naturally, the waiter brought out both fish – snapper and garupa – out to the table for us to inspect and choose from!

Fresh Steamed Full Fish (Garupa) in Curry Sauce with Garlic Butter Rice, Market Rates (about 1300 LKR)

We ended up choosing the garupa, Fresh Steamed Full Fish in Curry Sauce for the ridiculously low price of about $11 AUD. With those prices, why not eat fresh fish every day?! This curry sauce was quite light and aromatic, which complemented the delicious garupa. The fresh chopped chillies, herbs and spring onion really finished off the fish perfectly. 

Fresh Octopus Salad with Mango Dressing Salad, 2250 LKR

We ordered a Fresh Octopus Salad with Mango Dressing – deliciously marinated octopus served with freshly diced tomato and Spanish onion which gave it that extra lift. The sweet and fruity mango dressing was a winner as well. Is this dish for everyone? No – not everyone is a fan of the texture of octopus. But even my brother who is quite a picky eater was very happy to eat this dish, so I think that says something about how tender the octopus was, and how well the dressing went with it!

Fresh Tuna Steak with Lime Cream Sauce, Fries and Salad, 1750 LKR

The last main we ordered was the Fresh Tuna Steak with Lime Cream Sauce, fries and salad on the side. This wasn’t anything special – not when compared to the garupa. In fact, the tuna was actually a little bit dry, so the lime cream sauce was much needed to make it a bit more palatable. This is definitely not a winning dish, and we would have done better to order another garupa cooked in another sauce. Lesson learned – freshly caught local fish is a better choice!

The steamed fish (first dish) came with Garlic Butter Rice, and they put some Stir-fried Kangkong on top for us as well. The rich buttery rice helped to fill the corners of our stomachs and I was able to kid myself into thinking that it was vaguely healthy because of the greens on top…wishful thinking!

Elita Restaurant was a great find in the seaside town of Galle in Sri Lanka. It’s just far enough from the touristy centre that only those truly dedicated to great food will make the effort to find it, but close enough that it’s not a hassle to get there.

The food is cooked well and while definitely Sri Lankan in nature, has a slight East Asian or European touch which may come from the years spent training in Europe by the head chef. A great place to visit for those who find street food challenging, but don’t want to eat at tourist traps either. Fresh seafood at a reasonable price (just skip the tuna) – you can’t beat it.

Elita Restaurant is located at 34 Middle Street in Galle, Sri Lanka.

Review: Epirus Tavern, Athens Greece

A visit to the Athens Central Market is a must for any food-lover while visiting Athens. The market is quite large with distinctive halls for the meats, the seafood, and across the street, you’ll find the fruit and vegetable stalls. Just make sure that you rent self-catering accommodation, as you’ll want to buy all the amazing produce to cook dinner at home!

Case in point – when we visited the markets, we walked away with five fat huge pork loin chops for $8.50 AUD, a whole kilo of strawberries for only $1.50 AUD, a bunch of bananas for another $1 AUD, and a massive block of homemade feta cheese for only $2 AUD. Bargain! We could have bought a lot more, but our time in Athens was limited and I couldn’t envision us taking bags of produce with us onto our next destination in Rome!

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Visiting all the stalls and inspecting all the produce to make your selection can be hard work and will easily take the whole morning. Once you’ve done all your shopping, lug your bags to the back of the meat market to find the Epirus Tavern and join with all the older Greek locals as they too have lunch after a hard morning of grocery shopping.

The ordering at Epirus Tavern is very personalised – there’s no sitting down at a table and quietly perusing the menu. Instead, the waitress will lead you directly up to the cafeteria-like counter and point out the various different dishes they’ve prepared for that day. You make your selection from what’s available (they will make particular suggestions for traditional Greek foods they think you should try), and they’ll bring plates of your choices to your table for you.

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After seeing all the beautiful plump octopuses (octopi?) at various seafood stalls throughout the market, I needed to order Epirus’s Grilled Octopus! In this dish, thin slices of octopus are simply boiled until cooked then grilled for flavour before being dressed with olive oil and Greek oregano. Very simple but effective – the octopus was nice and tender with a good smoky grilled flavour. The pool of olive oil and oregano also made for a good dipping oil for the complimentary basket of bread as well!

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We also chose a serving of the Fish Soup, made up of a medley of potatoes, carrots, herbs, a nondescript bony white fish, and layers of oil on top. The soup wasn’t particularly remarkable (a little too oily for me), but I was impressed by the fact that they use whole fish in their soup, rather than cheaper fish pieces.

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K was insistent that we order the Fried Sardines after seeing buckets of local freshly-caught sardines at the seafood stalls in the market. This was a very generous serve for two people – twelve large and plump sardines in all, whereas half of that would have been more than ample of this salty and oily fish. It’s worth asking the waitress for a half serve only – but definitely make sure you order them, because the meatiness of these sardines will blow your mind if you’ve only ever tried anaemic tinned sardines before!

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We finished off our meal with a serve of Giant Beans – no that’s not a misnomer, it’s actually the name for these very Mediterranean beans! Cooked in a rich tomato sauce and generously fragranced with fresh oregano and garlic, these well-cooked beans were almost falling apart as I ate them – a beautifully simple home-style dish.

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To finish our meal, the waitress brought out some home-made pastries despite our protests of being much too full – Greek Semolina Halva. It’s vegan for all those interested, but unfortunately not gluten-free. While K found the grainy agar jelly-like consistency challenging, I quite enjoyed the pastry as it wasn’t too sweet, and had a great cinnamon spice to it. A nice way to finish our meal.

The Athens Central Market is a must-visit, and Epirus Tavern is by far the best choice for a meal in the market, and even in the surrounding streets as well. Their fuss-free home-style cooking and friendly and personal service makes having a meal there like dining at Nonna’s house – complete with the old-fashioned patterned plates.

Prices are reasonable, if a little higher than other restaurants in Athens – a large meal for two (with a small tip) ended up costing about $45 AUD. The authentic local experience you get combined with the home-style cooking makes it all worthwhile though – it’s a must visit when you go to the Athens Market.

Epirus Tavern is located inside towards the back of the Meat Market of Athens Central Market, on 4 Philopoimenous.

Review: Fiskfelagid (Fish Company) and 48 Hours in Reykjavik, Iceland

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

Did you know that only about six years ago, it would have cost double the price for you to visit Iceland? The Icelandic krona was particularly strong and where booking a Golden Circle day tour might now cost you about $100 AUD, back then it would have cost you the equivalent of $200 AUD. So no matter how expensive you think Iceland is at the moment, keep that in mind – it could definitely be much worse!

With that said, a visit to Iceland is not like a visit to a cheaper EU country like Spain, Portugal, or even to places like Germany. Being a lone island makes most products particularly expensive because of import costs, and we were scared away from dining out too often when our first lunch on our daytrip ended up costing us about $35 AUD for one soup and one panini. We ended up cooking a lot to save some money – $50 AUD bought us enough from the supermarket for three breakfasts and dinners, and a few snacks as well.

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Still, you can’t visit one of the fishing capitals of the world without at least going out once for a seafood lunch! We followed our noses on our last day in Reykjavik and ended up at Fiskfelagid (Fish Company) close to the harbour – the smell of delicious fish emanating from their kitchen was too hard to resist! Located in the subterranean cellar of an old building, Fiskfelagid is hard to spot with its discrete signage – you need to know where to go to find it!

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With exposed brick walls showing the age of the building, exposed timber beams and support columns, combined with fraying Turkish carpets on the floor to deaden the noise of diners, Fiskfelagid exudes an atmosphere that feels entirely Icelandic – modern Scandinavian with a bohemian twist. Not unlike their most famous international celebrity – Bjork.

Appelsin (Icelandic Orange Lemonade) and Malt (Malted Sodapop), 450 Icelandic Krona each
Appelsin (Icelandic Orange Lemonade) and Malt (Malted Sodapop), 450 Icelandic Krona each

We started with the two most Icelandic drinks we could find on the non-alcoholic menu – Egils Appelsin and Egils Maltextrakt. The Applesin is like a carbonated orange drink, and the Maltextrakt is not dissimilar to beer in its flavour, with a strong malty taste that I found difficult to stomach. More appetising was a mix of the two drinks together (centre of photo) – according to our waitress who brought us an extra glass for this specific purpose, the Icelandic people mix the two together as their drink of choice around Christmastime.

Hazelnut whipped butter and Orange Ginger whipped butter
Hazelnut whipped butter and Orange Ginger whipped butter

If there’s one thing I love more than butter, it’s whipped butter! Fiskfelagid offered us two different types of whipped butter to go with our delicious sourdough bread – one hazelnut and the other orange ginger. The orange ginger was my pick, with a strong citrus burst that made it seem as though I had both butter and marmalade spread on the slices of sourdough.

Mixed Sushi of the Day (14 pieces), 2490 Icelandic Krona
Mixed Sushi of the Day (14 pieces), 2490 Icelandic Krona

We shared a Mixed Sushi Platter as our entree. With the Atlantic salmon fishing trade a particular feature in Iceland, I felt that sushi would be a great way to judge Icelandic fish…and I was right! The salmon here was absolutely unparalleled with a smooth and tender flesh that literally defined ‘melt in your mouth’. A winner, and a real nod of confidence to the Icelandic fish industry!

On an interesting note, did you know that the Japanese and the Icelanders are some of two of the world’s populations that have the longest life span? With my unqualified scientist hat on, I would guess that it has something to do with their diet – large amounts of seafood, not too much red meat, and plenty of fermented foods which are proven to be good for your gut bacteria – which in turn, is linked to many different health factors!

Finest Fish of the Day (grilled perch), 2390 Icelandic Krona
Finest Fish of the Day (grilled perch), 2390 Icelandic Krona

I chose the Finest Fish of the Day on the recommendation of our Reykjavik tour guide who said that it literally is the catch of the day – restaurants apparently just head down to the harbour each morning to buy whatever’s come in on the fishing boats! On this day, it happened to be grilled perch served with a range of greens and pickled cucumber on a bed of mash.

Unfortunately the cream sauce broke its boundaries making the dish not quite as visually appealing as it could have been! Luckily it didn’t have any effect on the flavour of the dish – the perch was particularly well grilled and the plain white flesh worked as a great vehicle for the pickled cucumber and sauce.

Arctic Char (slowly cooked Artic Char and fried Icelandic lobster, scallops & beer glazed artichokes & apple globes, dill vinaigrette and beer foam), 2790 Icelandic Krona
Arctic Char (slowly cooked Artic Char and fried Icelandic lobster, scallops & beer glazed artichokes & apple globes, dill vinaigrette and beer foam), 2790 Icelandic Krona

By far the best dish of the day was K’s Arctic Char though, which was much nicer than my perch. The hours of sous vide cooking left the char incredibly tender and velvety, while the roasted artichokes and vinegary apple added some needed texture. With a strong dill vinaigrette throughout the whole dish, it was the perfect balance of flavours and textures…and that char is the ideal example of how fish should be cooked!

Fiskfelagid is a fantastic seafood restaurant right in the heart of Reykjavik, offering surprisingly reasonably priced meals at a fraction of the cost of other seafood places in town. Coming in at around $85 AUD for two people, it’s far better priced than the $50 mains you’ll find elsewhere. Definitely give it a try if you ever visit Iceland!

Fiskfelagid is located at 2a Vesturgotu, Grófartorg in Reykjavik, Iceland.

For the rest of your time in Iceland, be aware that it’s particularly hard to get off the tourist path. Some people rent cars and drive around to all the different natural sites themselves, but I would advise against it particularly in the hazardous winter months with its uncertain weather. Summer may be a better travel time for the more independent traveller.

In winter, this leaves you at the mercy of the million and one tour operators in Iceland where your $100 Golden Circle daytrip will find you on a bus with forty other people being shuttled from one sight to the next. Paying double that price will find you on a smaller minibus with a smaller group on a more personalised tour – however it’s hard to justify that expense if you’re on a budget like us!

The Blue Lagoon is a must-do experience for most visitors to Reykjavik – it’s hard to go past its miraculously clear waters and amenities such as the in-pool bar. However it is quite expensive, so if you are after the experience of soaking in natural thermal waters rather than the travel-checklist nature of the Blue Lagoon, why not consider visiting some of the city-based thermal swimming pools which locals patronise? It’s a similar experience (without the frills) for a fifth of the cost of the Blue Lagoon.

The Northern Lights is another checklist item for visitors to Iceland. The best advise I can give is to book an evening Northern Lights cruise or bus tour for your first night in the country. That way, even if you don’t manage to see it on your first night, you can always rebook for the second or third or fourth nights to maximise your opportunity of seeing the lights. We missed out all together on seeing the Northern Lights – our first attempt was cancelled because of cloud cover, the second went ahead but without any success (weather changed), and we were never able to book a third attempt because of timing issues with flights! Very disappointing.

Thoughts on the rest of our stay in Reykjavik? For a small city with an even smaller population, they sure know how to party. That streak of individualism that I always associate with Icelanders thanks to Bjork is apparent everywhere you turn with creative graffiti art, colourfully painted houses, independent jewellery designers, hipster bars…everyone seems to know everyone, and parties go on all night. We’re not the partying type, but our rented apartment was located above a bar, so trust me, I know!

Iceland is an incredibly unique destination, offering natural wonders and individualistic shops and restaurants. However, it can begin to feel quite sanitised if you end up seeing Iceland the way the tourist board want you to see it – through endless group bus tours and on a particular schedule. It’s fine to do that on your first visit so that you get a sense of what the country is like – however, I think that if we were ever to visit Iceland again, we would do so in a milder season and try to make our own way around the country.