Botanik is already the most buzzing spot in Colombo. It is a great experience but the food has room to improve.
Which is, #$%&*, I can't be diplomatic, it takes too much work and is too boring. I'll just say what I feel.
I want more than anything to love Botanik. This is proper contemporary international cuisine. The menu and ambience would be competitive in London or New York, which is what Colombo needs.
However, aside from the starters, I just wasn't that impressed with the food. I went with Shru and aside from the Poached Chicken Salad, which I loved, have a look…
It's seemingly simple, but just take the slivers of chicken. At home I care about chicken so much as it doesn't murder me (dinosaurs will have their revenge, salmonella as their ally), but at a good restaurant they will watch the thing and stop it when it's perfectly done. This tastes better and is worth paying for (Rs. 750).
Then take the bits of pomelo. Pomelo is akin to grapefruit, it's a pink citrus. It's tart and acidic and paired with a light dressing and fresh coriander, it gives the dish peaks and valleys in your mouth which is fun.
Then we got to the mains. I apologize for the drop in quality, these are from my BlackBerry. Yes, it still exists.
Now, I assume that the sweetness should be balanced by the acidity of the charred cucumber salad but it had traces of peanut in it and I had to avoid completely (that's my bad, the service was great, I just didn't mention my allergy at the beginning).
So, I can't comment on the balance of the dish as a whole, but for me the duck was just too sweet. Well sourced, well cooked, but overpowered by the sauce. I actually took the time to call someone who had the same thing without my peanut problem and he said roughly the same.
Shru had the Steak (Rs. 3,800).
It was fine. It was a good steak. It had fatty bits which she doesn't like but I love, but beyond that nothing very special. Steak plus mushroom plus peppercorn is a classic combination, so the ingredients themselves can't surprise but a steak can of course still delight.
The steak was cooked perfectly, but neither the quality of the meat (fine) or the sauce (fine) elevated it above, well, fine.
As a side she had the Miso Butter Corn, which is actually baby corn, which was also… fine. The miso was not super detectable, but the butter was. So butter and corn, again not a dish that either surprises or delightes. It was good.
Which perhaps is the problem.
The menu here is designed by Rishi Naleendra, who won a Michelin star for Cheek By Jowl in Singapore. The place is run by Cantaloupe, whose previous restaurant Supper Club was among my personal favorites. Botanik is already buzzing, it has everything going for it, and it should work.
Which means, I think, that it will. In time. Which is why this is just a first look.
But You Ordered The Wrong Things
One objection to my review is that perhaps I ordered the wrong things. For example, look at the Tuna Salad Nicoise (Rs. 900):
As for mains, the Lamb (Rs. 2,800) comes recommended:
Well, there are only 5 mains and 5 starters. Given our sampling, it should have held up. It's fine having a small menu, but then every item should be the best that item could be, and that wasn't my impression.
But They're New
This is true, and fair. We're not rating the place because it's only been open for a few weeks. I think when we re-review it in a month or so it will be significantly better.
There are smart people running the place, the service is responsive and excellent and I think they will learn. I mean, if they have to. People online that I talk to seem to think it's quite good so I may just be wrong. I have been eating a fair amount of baby food for the past few months and giving rave reviews, so I may just be nuts.
We tried the coconut panna cotta (Rs. 650), which I honestly did not understand at all. It tasted like a slab of butter in Thai green curry sauce with some pieces of coconut on it. I did not like this. Perhaps a matter of taste. There is only one other dessert which I've heard is nice.
One case in point for improvement may be the WE'SA'BI, a wasabi cocktail (Rs. 750). Bhagya tried it a while back and said it singed his eyebrows with spice, I found it quite a delicate, balanced and tasty cocktail. Also, flower.
On the negative side we ended up paying Rs. 600 on bottled water somewhat unintentionally, including a 625ml bottle for Rs. 450. I would ask for table water in the future.
Botanik is spacious, beautiful and has a buzz to it. The latter part I can't exactly explain, there are cool people there (which a lot of restaurants don't have) and it just feels like a scene. This is nice, and Colombo needs more of it.
The service here is excellent, from the moment you get in the elevator to sitting at the table. The waiter we had knew the menu, the manager was on hand and everyone was nice and pro.
This more than anything gives me hopes for the place because everyone involved is smart and paying attention.
There is something I can't capture in the categories above. That is the fact that Botanik is the hottest restaurant in Colombo right now. It's exciting, it's new, it's high end and they're trying something different.
They're taking it a bit slow (having two controlled seatings at 6:30 and 8:30) but they already seem quite popular. And people are going back again and again, so they're doing something right.
With Botanik, the Brasserie at Movenpick and rare, Colombo is finally stepping into the international dining scene. This will only grow as everyone from Shangri-La to Cinnamon Life has similar ambitions, but for right now this is one of your best changes to step into a restaurant that wouldn't be out of place in London or New York.
Could the food improve? Yes, but I've had similar food experiences at quite popular places in London. So maybe it's just me, or maybe that's only part of the experience. The food is however, something the management would care about, so I assume they'll keep pushing it.
Botanik is already a really exciting restaurant, one that sets itself up for high standards. It's already a quite fun place to visit. Let's see if it grows into its own possibility.