The aptly-named Flamingo House is the newest—and possibly funkiest—addition to Colombo’s restaurant scene. The food is inconsistent but interesting, but the excellent cocktails and crazy interior win brownie points.
(UPDATE: Things turned out to be quite different when we visited Flamingo House just a few days after this review. On a weekend evening, the service was inexcusably slow and confused; not only did our food take two full hours to arrive, but it was also cold and tasteless. Find a brief summary of our experience at the bottom of this review).
Ambience & Service
At FH, when they say flamingo, they mean flamingo. With murals of the pink-feathered bird all over the restaurant walls, they make sure you don't forget the theme. Replacing the restaurant section of Gerard Mendis Chocolatier, this is arguably one of the hippest, most ambitious restaurants in Colombo right now. Walking in, the first thing that crossed my mind was that this is probably what the Mad Hatter’s house would look like, with no two things matching.
After we had a moment to take it all in, we began to see the subtle touches like the hanging bird cages, artsy statues and funky drawings that really make Flamingo House one-of-a-kind. It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into the design elements, like having the detailed history of the restaurant printed on the table mats and the backstory of each cocktail in their menu description, for instance.
Flamingo House has been open for just under a month now, but the service we experienced was nothing short of excellent, ranging from the waiter’s understanding of the menu to the quick service times. One waiter in particular took charge and handled most of the tables, with the younger guys shadowing him.
The Food & Drinks
The menu at FH isn’t quite as insane as the interior decor, but it does offer an impressive variety of Eurasian dishes. We wouldn’t call it fusion — it's mostly Asian and locally-inspired dishes with a Western twist and vice versa. The prices teeter on the higher-end of the spectrum, although they do also have a bunch of reasonably-priced options. Expect to pay around 2k per person sans cocktails.
The cocktail menu at FH isn’t as extensive as that of some of the more prominent bars in the city, but it’s certainly one of the most interesting, with a small story behind each cocktail. While they don’t have a happy hour yet, the cocktails aren't too expensive, mostly priced at around Rs. 800.
We tried the flamingo rosa (Rs. 750) a mix of vodka, mint and raspberry and the kalinga gimlet (Rs. 800), a combination of gin, lime and basil leaves. Both being signature cocktails, we were unsure about what to expect. But they turned out be brilliant. Neither was too intense in terms of alcohol, so the flavour of the raspberry and basil came through beautifully. While they had probably used frozen raspberries for the flamingo rosa, it still worked extremely well.
Our choice of starters was a pretty simple one. We knew we had to try the isso wadé (Rs. 450) as soon as we saw it on the menu. Yes, Rs. 450 for two wadé is a bit ridiculous, but these were quite sizeable, chunkier than the usual street vendor version and topped with two full prawns. The seasoning and crunchy texture were on point but we could have used a bit more heat. However, the accompanying dips (curd, raw onion sambol and chilli) did help a bit in that aspect.
Though not listed under mains, the pulled pork sandwich (Rs. 950) definitely qualifies as one in terms of portion size. We appreciated the fact that they kept the preparation simple, and allowed the flavour and the stringy texture of the pulled pork to come through. The pork itself had a good balance of savoury and slightly sweet notes. Although we thought the bread was a tad dry, this would be a minor quibble to most. For the price, we think this is a pretty good deal.
The lamb chops with dark cherry and port wine (Rs. 1,900) was a mixed bag with some elements that we enjoyed and others not quite as much. It came with mashed potatoes and and a pickled vegetable salad, both of which were fine with the exception of the eggplant that didn’t quite work due to its soggy texture. We asked for the lamb to be done medium rare but it turned up unevenly cooked. While certain parts were perfect, others were a bit overdone. The lamb chops tasted fine but the cherry and port wine reduction didn’t quite add the depth and intensity we were looking for.
We finished off with the baya silvestre (Rs. 700), which is basically a fancy name for a wild berry cheesecake. This ticked the boxes in terms of richness and sweetness, though the little dollop of wild berry compote on top didn’t quite provide the acidity that this dessert needed.
With its kooky interiors and Eurasian cuisine, Flamingo House has a lot going for it. While tasty, the food has room for improvement. The drinks and the service, on the other hand, are excellent.
Our second visit to Flamingo House could not have gone more differently than the first, just a few days earlier. Walking in for a 9.30 pm reservation on a Saturday night, we were initially thrown by the fact that there was no one out front guiding diners to their tables. We looked around a tad confused for a few minutes, before we were finally intercepted and led to our seats. A waiter took our cocktail, appetiser and main course orders soon after, but it would be 45 minutes before our cocktails were served. A bread basket materialised at 10.30 pm, not before another waiter had asked us if we had placed our food orders. It was only at 11 pm that our appetisers were finally served, by which time the evening had assumed almost comical proportions. At this point, a third staff member asked us if we were ready for dessert, clearly unaware that our main courses had not yet arrived. We were finally served our mains at 11.30 pm, two hours after we had arrived.
Turns out, it would not be the last of the evening's woes. Our mains were all cold, like they had been left sitting out on the counter for long. Given the time that had lapsed, all the seafood had turned cold and rubbery: the grilled prawns were overcooked, the shrimp burger required some serious sawing to cut through the tough pattie, and the calamari was stretchy and stuffed with under-seasoned lamb that looked like it had seen better days. Two out of our four mains were plated almost identically, with the same accompanying rice and a carelessly tossed salad.
To be fair, there were a few positives: our appetiser of deep-fried camembert was oozy, crunchy and hit the spot, and the best thing on my plate of calamari was the sharp salad with plenty of raw mango. However, it was amply apparent that there seemed to be no communication between the waitstaff, and the kitchen seemed to flag under the pressure of a busy night. (They informed us that they were short of one chef on that occassion). Other diners that evening seem to have faced similar issues, with at least one couple informing us that their food was cold and insipid.
Every new establishment faces teething troubles, but given the hype surrounding Flamingo House, we hope the creative flair extends from beyond the decor to the food as well.