The whimsical pink exterior of Hotal Colombo, along with its shiny golden sign, could be part of the set of a Wes Anderson movie. The newest addition to Black Sheep Restaurants’ imaginative (and delicious!) portfolio, Hotal Colombo brings a taste of Sri Lanka to Hong Kong. The restaurant, modelled after the egalitarian eateries of Colombo, transports diners to the bustling streets of the tear-shaped island nation. Everyday canteens in Sri Lanka are often given palatial names such as “grand hotels” (or hotals, based on the local pronunciation), despite not offering any room and board.
Relaxed, homestyle cooking is the ethos behind affable Chef Gisela (Gizzy) Alesbrook’s menu. A native Sri Lankan, Gizzy started her kitchen life with Black Sheep six years ago at Boqueria, subsequently moving to the group’s various restaurants, from Chôm Chôm to Maison Libanaise. As Black Sheep co-founder Syed Asim Hussain puts it, “Back in those days, Chris [Christopher Mark, co-founder] and I were both working long hours in service. They were tough times, and often the best part of our day was when we finally got to sit down after closing and Gisela would make us her incredible Sri Lankan karis. We would tell her that one day we’d open a restaurant with her. Six years later, it has finally become a reality, so Hotal Colombo really is a dream come true.”
The brightly lit, 40-seater restaurant washed in soft pastels has an endearing, retro feel.
From left: Hikkaduwa Fizz ($98), a spin on the classic pina colada with coconut rum, pineapple juice, lime and soda, Colombo G&T ($98), a refreshing mix of Colombo gin, maraschino liqueur, cucumber juice and tonic, Ginger Galle ($98), a tropical version of a Dark and Stormy with dark rum, cinnamon syrup, ginger ale and bitters
We started our meal with a bevy of... well, beverages! We really enjoyed how the cocktails were flavourful yet light on the sugar, making it much easier to down several glasses.
“Short eats” are small snack dishes in Sri Lanka. Our meal started with devilled shrimp ($98) that were cooked to juicy, bouncy perfection in an addictive, tangy and spicy tomato-based sauce. The sauce was so good we almost wanted some carbs to mop up the leftovers!
Also from the Short Eats section, the bone marrow varuval with pol roti ($88) came with slow-cooked tomato, black pepper, fresh curry leaves, sliced red onion and Indian pennywort. Freshly grilled flatbread made with wholewheat flour and fresh coconut flesh made for the perfect accompaniment for layering the buttery, caramel-like marrow. The sweet crunch of the onion added extra flavour and a nice textural contrast. This was a definite winning dish!
You can’t open a Sri Lankan restaurant without offering hoppers. During our trip to Sri Lanka for The Food Nomad, we literally ate hoppers for breakfast, lunch and dinner! These crisp, bowl-shaped “pancakes” are made from fermented rice and coconut milk and are usually accompanied by a fried egg and sambal. Hotal Colombo’s hoppers ($48) came alongside coconut sambal and golden turmeric broth (kiri hodi) for dipping, with optional chilli paste on the side for the brave.
Chicken kothu ($98) is the perfect hangover dish, made with a mishmash of ingredients ranging from roti, to fresh vegetables, to egg and chicken. Traditionally, it’s a dish where you throw in whatever is leftover in the fridge following a bender the night before.
Fish kari ($108) with fresh curry leaves, laced in a coconut milk sauce. Sri Lankan karis (curries) are surprisingly light, as they use no ghee or butter – only coconut milk or oil. Most of the karis are made with a slow-cooked tomato base. The result is a clean-tasting kari with none of the heavy saturated fats while remaining big on flavour. Also on the table is a platter full of idli, a type of small rice cake, and string hoppers. Sambar ($18), a lentil-based vegetable stew cooked in a tamarind broth, and pol sambol, a coconut sauce made with chilli, salt, sugar and dried fish, made for delicious dipping companions.
Fresh roti and potato fry ($38) provided carbs to soak up all the delicious sauces.
We’re getting hungry again just writing this review! The homey dishes of Chef Gizzy’s menu took us back to those balmy evenings spent in Sri Lanka. Flavourful but much lighter than the dishes of the subcontinent, Hotal Colombo is our pick for guiltless curry binges, and the cheerful and knowledgeable staff there are a rarity in Hong Kong. The restaurant is still in its early opening stages and will soon roll out additional menu items like meaty Sri Lankan crab. We’re also hoping for some traditional curd and treacle!
31 Elgin Street, SoHo, Central, 2488 8863 (no bookings)
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
For more reviews like this, like Foodie on Facebook