Kaema Sutra serves good, modernized Sri Lanka fare at a bit of a premium price. While we highly recommend it for tourists, for locals it’s not necessarily that mind-blowing.
Rice and curry is something many Sri Lankans can unconsciously cook well but chef Dharshan Munidasa has tried to modernize and refine it at Kaema Sutra. To a great extent, he’s done well. We tried the boneless chicken leg curry (Rs. 700) which was tender and delectable, although a bit lacking in the hodi department.
There’s little to no gravy, as you can see. You’re also paying over Rs. 50 per piece of chicken, but they are tasty.
For the sides we tried the dal (Rs. 200) and mallum (Rs. 200) and pol sambol (Rs. 200). At dinner time they don’t serve rice, we had the kade paan (Rs. 200) and plain roti (Rs. 100).
Honestly, I don’t mind the prices at all if the dishes are lofted beyond their humble (and cheap) origins. In the case of these sides, however, they were good but not mind-bending renditions of the classics. A tourist certainly wouldn’t be disappointed, but you can get equally satisfying tastes at the cheaper Upali’s or a much much cheaper street kade.
Kaema Sutra has some interesting specialities like the carb-free kottu (using egg whites) and Dharshan’s spicy roast chicken and these do push the envelope. In terms of the usual rice/bread and curries, however, we’d say our experience was just a bit above average. This place would be a great experience for tourists as it edits and refines Sri Lankan traditions, but it can be a bit puzzling for locals. We went in expecting something way beyond the usual rice and curries, which perhaps was unrealistic. After all, how much better can Sri Lankan curries get? We had a nice meal, but we were somehow expecting more.
What you do get here is an absolute freshness of ingredients – the chicken is not frozen, pol sambol is fresh ground, mallum is made with fresh greens, etc. It’s definitely tasty food.
Kaema Sutra is set in the center of the beautiful Independence Arcade. The restaurant itself is simple and well-appointed, though if you’re seated in the center it can feel like a bit of a fish bowl. It isn’t a very private sort of place.
At the center there’s a stylized miris gala where they grind fresh spices, which is cool when they do it.
The service at Kaema Sutra is excellent. Waiters know the menu, they’re wired into the kitchen via earpieces and iPods, it’s a sleek and sophisticated operation. Note that there’s a sort of dress code here, you can’t just show up in shorts and rubber slippers.
Kaema Sutra is highly recommended for tourists who want to sample authentic Sri Lankan cuisine in a nice atmosphere. For locals it’s not that different from what we’re used to, though the emphasis on fresh ingredients and some creative tricks like boneless chicken and no-carb kottus lift the experience beyond the ordinary.