This has long been among the most exciting restaurants in the city. Not because of its cutting edge cuisine but because, for years, this was the only place to eat at Katunayake (BIA) airport. So a meal at the Palm Strip meant you were going places.
As a wide eyed and expectant six year-old before a trip to Bangkok (yey big crocodiles!), at the end of summer when it’s time to go back to Uni in London, Melbourne, Chicago etc. or before your honeymoon in the Maldives you tend to find yourself sitting at the back of this large space at the end of the terminal, staring out through the floor to ceiling glass onto the the runway and swaying coconut trees beyond. It really must be a candidate for best restaurant view.
Almost by default you’re in a good place – you’ve cleared check-in, dealt with immigration formalities and have just enough time to kill before boarding that you can grab a coffee and a sandwich. But beyond the moment, filling those empty seconds before a flight, they actually serve some pretty tolerable food. Even during BIA’s really dark days- men with guns everywhere and a deeply underused runway, I recall some fairly substantial and tasty plates of fried rice and noodles. Really you get some pretty horrific and dreadfully overpriced airport food (Heathrow, JFK!) and by these low standards the Palm Strip can hold its head up high.
Most importantly despite benefiting from an utterly captive market (you can’t leave the terminal and there’s still few places to get a meal) they haven’t gone in for acute overpricing- a common airport catering trick. Recently though the cost of a meal has crept up- suddenly rice and noodle dishes are going for $7-13 which is fine by international airport standards but a bit ludicrous given how much you’d pay for the same outside. Still look at the menu board by the entrance and you should find a couple of better value items. I go for the Club Sandwich (about $3.50) which is well worth it. That’s basically what you’d pay in the city and for the price you get a well-executed club. A good layer of cheese, crisp, fresh lettuce and tomato, a fried egg, sadly no bacon, but a tasty layer of chicken, butter and mayonnaise
Not gourmet but a decent snack and enough to keep the hunger pangs at bay for few hours. This is particularly important in this age of budget airlines facing a 3 or 4 hour short hop on Tiger or AirAsia with no free meals – a bite from the Palm Strip should stop you reaching for their over-priced menus.
To make things that much better I enjoy elevating my Palm Strip Meals with a can of Schweppes Bitter Lemon. Since Elephant House stopped the local version a few years ago, this is one place in Colombo you can still enjoy that blue-green nectar. So sit down, order a sandwich and start sipping a bitter lemon – you can already taste the abroad.
Honestly it’s still a classic – and better value I think than the airport’s Coffee Bean.