At some point you realize just how many Chinese restaurants Colombo has. In terms of sit down, air-conditioned restaurants Chinese must outnumber any other category – even local Sri Lankan, by a factor of at least four. I haven’t done an exact survey but I’m estimating there must be near 100 Chinese or Chinese inspired establishments in the city. And after what seems like your millionth plate of hot butter cuttlefish you being to wonder – why don’t we go for a bit more diversity? Can’t we have a few more Thai joints, what about Cuban? Myanmar or Senegalese? Still for a large percentage of Colombar restauranters the tried and tested route through sweet and sour, and egg drop soup, it appears, is the one true path.
What’s somewhat amazing however, is that for all this over abundance of hot butter and szechuan pepper you can still find your self excited and impressed by yet another Chinese restaurant- as we were at Moon River. We just enjoyed a superior Chinese meal at 88 and weren’t massively excited about the prospect of a meal at Moon River- a large Thimbirgasyaya establishment popular with the mainland Chinese community.
This is probably the largest of the city’s mainland-Chinese run restaurants and at the 7-8 dinner time favored by our eastern-investors etc. is usually packed with Chinese expats. The menu, which features large pictures of assorted multi-regional Chinese delicacies, is exactly like one you’d get in China. There’s a huge selection of authentic staples- hong shao rou, dumplings, di san xian, and more acquired Chinese tastes like chicken feet, jelly fish and 1000 year eggs but they’ve also made concessions to the local palette including the all-important hot-butter cuttle-fish and Indonesian-inspired curry dishes.
This authentic-Chinese with a dash of local/South East Asian strategy seems to to work – this place is always crowded with Chinese earlier in the evening and locals later on. The interior, while basically unremarkable, is a little more high-end than your average mainland eatery. Lots of bright lights, relatively clean table cloths, private rooms, waiters in those troubling shiny waistcoat things and, of course, the obligatory screen showing Chinese state television.
So blaring CCTV, Chinese owners,lots of mainland patrons- all very promising but, in the end, everything reduces to the food- and it was very good. The Szechuan Chilli chicken (Rs 900) was authentic and spicy with a large dose of those tongue numbing, Szechuan pepper corns (Ma La). The savory and mushroom laden shredded Yuxian pork was excellent (Rs 800), and the meltingly soft Shanghai bean-curd with those creamy, faintly blue cheesey 1000 year eggs(Rs 800), pretty delicious. There was also a very respectable take on hot butter cuttle fish- light, crispy batter, generous tender pieces of squid, The flavors were somehow fresher and more distinct that at most rival Chinese-joints- less grease laden than 88, not as much sickly gloop as Flower Drum. Authentic without being as bland as say Lucky Star – there was plenty of chili and spice. Its really a pretty good balance – authentically Chinese but suitable for spice loving local pallettes.
While the service was a little haphazard – the place was full to capacity, and they got the basics right- dishes were served fast, nothing was mixed up- and they, eventually, made an effort to clear a table for us. There aren’t many places in Colombo that you have to wait or a table mid-week- but its worth spending 10 mins on Moon River’s couch for a superior Chinese meal. Recommended.