One of Sophia Loren’s most famous movies is ‘Pane, Amore e’ Fantasia’, which translates to ‘bread, love, and jealousy’. The soundtrack to the film features the famous song ‘Mambo Italiano’, which is what we (four moms) were hearing in our heads when we heard that The King of the Mambo restaurant was the new charmer over at the Galle Face Hotel. With rumours that there was a well-known Italian Chef with a repertoire of international cuisine headlining the show, we thought it was worth checking out — for the food and music, and maybe a little bit of fantasia too.
Mambo, Mamma Mia. What a night.
Ambience & Service
Let me start with the decor. From the minute you step into the restaurant makes you feel like you’re going dancing in Havana. Vibrant colours, vintage posters, and tables under the stars with a view of the sea, bartenders, and waiters in classic Cuban hats, tossing cocktails and shimmying through the tables on a tiled floor that’s so vivid it looks like it’s already mamboing away.
The music was live almost all nights of the week until 2 am (that’s right Colombo – 2 am!), not too loud that you can’t talk over it, but loud enough that you feel that you’re all of a sudden out of Sri Lanka and smack in Cuba. From any part of the restaurant, whether it’s the playful bar or the lux sofas overlooking the beach, the beat happily reaches you.
Perhaps the best part of the evening though was the food…and drinks…and Chef Riccardo Dell’Ascenza himself. We were greeted at the start of the evening by Dell’Ascenza, who, alongside his staff, mambos up to tables and guides guests through the menu to ensure they feel comfortable ordering from choices that are unique in Sri Lanka. We were asked if we’d ever been to Cuba (yes), and informed on what dishes were the best on that day. Later in the meal, Chef Riccardo again did a round at the tables, shaking hands with guests like they were old friends, chatting about inspiration from his travels that infused the dishes on offer, and again providing suggestions on later courses.
Food & Drinks
*Pictured above: El Culicagao, La Chismosa, Maracuya’ Abstenida, and Classic El Camajan
Following recommendations from the King himself, we started the party with a selection of mocktails, all with names that again, made us want to dance (seriously, read them out loud and see how your feet get tapping). All of them are priced between Rs. 500 – 550.
The El Culicagao was a frothy cold sweetness of strawberries, the La Chismosa was cracking — peach with a twist of lychee, the Maracuya’ Abstenida was piled with fresh mint over ice, and the Classic El Camajan, which managed to smoothly merry vanilla with lemonade. All were served in unique glasses, goblets and tumblers that suited both the mocktail and atmosphere, with metal straws — a great environmentally-friendly move.
*Pictured above: Black Mambo cocktail and El Mohito Bodeguero
Getting in tune with the music, we switched to cocktails and Picoteo (bar bites). The signature tequila-based Black Mambo cocktail was not too sweet, but just strong enough, with a great twist at the end while the El Mohito Bodeguero, took the classic favorite to the next level by using cinnamon-infused sugar syrup.
*Pictured above: Calamarcitos Calientes and Guacamole con Mambo
They both paired well with the Calamarcitos Calientes (fried calamari – Rs. 950), which, topped with crispy curry leaves, was excellent. Also, a good choice was the Guacamole con Mambo (avocado guacamole served on a shrimp – Rs. 650). Though the cracker base did get a bit soggy, the zing of the pomegranate on the top was a great addition, and the colours of the dish matched the vibrancy of the restaurant.
Moving onto mains, we switched to a selection from the wine list. The service all night had been available, charming and attentive, and when the bottle (an Australian sauvignon blanc) arrived at our table slightly warm, we were surrounded by a dance of apologies. Our choice was sent back to the bar where the bartender bowed his hat, helped select another bottle, and whisked it into an ice bucket.
*Pictured above: Chicken kebab
Flaming through the night, the Barbacoa (BBQ) corner looked too tempting not to order from. When Chef Riccardo recommended to try them out, we decided to try the Pinchos Senores (king skewers) in Chicken (Rs. 1050) and in Lamb (Rs. 2050). We also selected the Naranjito Braseao (woody salmon – Rs. 2150) to compare it with other restaurants in Colombo.
*Pictured above – Lamb Kebab
All were cooked perfectly, served searingly hot, with just the right amount of spice. The salmon, pink in the middle, was a generous portion. The chicken, in particular, was outstanding.
*Pictured above – Woody Salmon
Paired with what has to the best chimichurri sauce in Colombo, it was packed with explosions of Italian herbs and pops of heat.
We paired these with the Esparragos a la Toronja (roasted asparagus with pomelo and almond flakes – Rs. 850), and will definitely return for the Burrata de Cienfuegos (creamy Italian cheese served with tomato and fresh basil), and the Pulpito Enlimmonao’ (octopus ceviche).
To finish the night we took a breather with Mambo’s Limoncello (Rs. 1200) and Espressos. The freshness and strength of both gave us energy to dive into the Final Feliz (dessert menu).
The Churros con Chocolate (Rs. 550) were crispy, light bites of bliss, paired with a dark chocolate dip that was very thankfully adult-friendly (too bitter for kids and not too sweet enough to flirt with the limoncello).
The Pastel Boludo (dulce de leche cheesecake – Rs. 700), was recommended by the Chef over the rum baba, or ‘Ron del Mambo’ (roughly quoting the Chef: “The baba is not perfect enough tonight”). The dish was large enough to share and had a crispy-yet-moist crust and creamy, densely-layered filling. The best part? You can mambo all the calories off on the dance floor.
‘Pane, Amore, e Fantasia’? Absolutely. We might be even generous enough to next time bring our ‘ninos’ (kids) to lounge on the sofas in the afternoon and share in the experience (but we’re still not sharing the churros). We’ll definitely be back for date nights, so husbands, get ready.
Follow up: The dishes were so generous we found it impossible to move onto the Platos Calientes (more hot mains), but we will be back to try out what looked like amazing choices of the Ropa Vieja (steak with black beans, a classic Cuban dish) and the Arroz a la Cubana (another classic Cuban, rice-based dish). We’ve heard that Chef Riccardo has created the perfect interpretations of these dishes, and yes, we’re definitely looking for excuses to return.