One Indian import that Sri Lankans absolutely love is biryani. We have it at weddings, for religious festivals, and on a daily basis. It's become so popular that nearly every eatery does their own take on it, some authentic and some not-so-much. It wasn't easy, but we hunted down and tasted the best biryani Colombo has to offer and came up with our top 5.
After much discussion and consultation we finalized the list of contenders:
||50 W.A Silva Mawatha, Colombo 6
|Big Bite (Mount)
||485 Galle Road, Mount Lavinia
||91 Galle Road, Dehiwala
||379 Galle Road, Kollupitiya, Colombo 3
||17 Charlemont Rd, Colombo 6
||124 Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 4
||Cumaratunga Munidasa Mawatha, Colombo 7
||15 Panchikawatte Road, Colombo 10
||115 Hill Street, Dehiwela
||56 W A. Silva Mawatha, Colombo 6
For the purpose of this taste off we went with generally accessible restaurants that serve individual portions, between saivar kades and fine-dining standards. So, this generally excludes caterers and some of the posher biriyanis. Even then we can't promise that we haven't missed some places, so if we have, sing their praises in the comments section.
Tasting 9 biryanis was no small task so we had 4-5 individuals sample each of the dishes and give their opinions and personal ratings based on some general criteria:
- The rice - (the type of rice used, texture, aroma and flavour)
- The meat - (preparation and taste)
- Value for money
- The overall package - (overall taste, along with any addition goodies)
We didn't want to overly complicate the judging procedure since this isn't fine dining cuisine, but we felt these covered most of necessary bases.
We all took turns tasting the main elements of each dish, and then the judged the overall cohesiveness. At the begin of this taste off we weren't quite certain if there would be many differences in the biryani for us to judge, but we soon learned the variety that Colombo had to offer. And by the end we were all biryani-ed out.
The Axe List
These are the guys that didn't quite make the cut, and fell behind in more than a few areas compared to the top dogs.
- Al-Maas - At first glance Al-Maas had a lot to offer on the plate. Unfortunately, every main element had some flaw or the other that just sullied the entire dish. In short - the rice was soggy and sour for some reason, and the meat lacked a lot of seasoning.
- Malay Restaurant - This was one of the more expensive options at Rs. 450. The good thing here was that the portion size is huge with additions of green peas and onion pickle, but it was just a case of quantity rather than quality, with everything tasting very ordinary. The fact that it was a samba rice didn't help the cause either.
- Hotel Buhari - Once again it was a similar issue with everything on the dish being just very average, from portion size, to flavour. At Rs. 350 it isn't really super cheap, so there are far better options to go for.
- Raheema Hotel- Raheema is an old favourite and still has it's merits. We're giving them an honorable mention here since they just missed the top 5. They offer a satisfying biryani with a good portion, large chicken thigh and additions like raita and gravy. It just wasn't as good as the top 5.
- Elite Restaurant - At Rs. 280 it was one of the cheapest of the bunch and had a ton of rice to boot (more than you see on the plate). The dish had a good balance overall, with the mint sambol adding to the flavour. The main issue we had with this one was that the rice was noticeably lumpy, so we had to use some elbow grease to break it apart.
Our Top 5
Kandoori is still relatively new to the scene and we're glad we gave them a shot. They had a the best rice of all the contenders. The long grain basmati was fragant and seasoned perfectly. Just goes to show what good ingredients will do for you. The chicken was cooked well, but we all agreed that it could have used a bit more seasoning compared to the top 3. That along with a raita addition would have seen them higher on the list.
This was easily the most unique of the bunch. It can barely be called a biryani but we all still loved it. The rice had a great flavour with the slightly charred flavour of the chicken chicken adding to that. The issue here was that at Rs. 650 for one person, it's nearly Rs. 250 more than the other options, so you could pay a bit more and get 2 from another place. However, if you're tired of the typical take on biryani these guys are a good change.
This is an addition to the list, a new shop on Galle Road in Dehiwala. Their biryani was served with 2 mint chutneys and a raita, with an adequately large piece of chicken. While the chicken was cooked well and tasted pretty great, the rice was what really stood out. The long grain bhasmati was light and fluffy with just the right seasoning and spice. We would happily have eaten just the rice with nothing else.
We weren't really sure what to expect when it came to Big Bite. We've had some contrasting experiences in the past from their separate outlets. This time, when it really mattered, they came up good. When you look at the plate it's very simple, it was just the rice and chicken with an odd addition of a chilli paste, but each element was great. The rice was cooked well and seasoned perfectly with the some chilli flakes been thrown in as well. The chicken was also really flavoursome and spicier than others. If you're a fan of chilli this is the one you want to go for.
Chana's in Wellawatte is a real hidden gem. They found themselves #2 on our samosa list, and now they've gone one better with their biryani. The best way to describe the biryani is that they hit the sweet spot in so many ways. The portion size is ample, the price is reasonable, the rice is fluffy and tasted great (only second to Kandoori), an awesome raita which we added for every mouthful, and the best chicken of the bunch. It just all worked brilliantly together.