Sahal.

A fine dining restaurant by Sen-Saal, Sahal is a welcome addition to Colombo's throng of fancy Sri Lankan restaurants. They've taken residence down Arcade Independence Square, where Kaema Sutra once stood. 

Food 

Sahal's menu is vast and carefully curated to embed the Lankan vibe to it – kenda (soups), kata gasma (appetizers), athurupasa (desserts), you get the gist. It features an impressive collection of regional cuisines in Sri Lanka too, from Balapitiye Maalu Olu (Balapitiya fish head) Curry and Sabaragamuwe Hath Maaluwa (seven veggies curry from Sabaragamuwa Province) to Jaffna Odiyal Kool and Fried Cuttlefish & Drumstick Leaf Curry, coming all the way from Eastern seaboard. Aside from that, they've recently introduced a Chinese food menu as well. 
As per the recommendation of our server, we kicked things off with a portion of Pathal (miner's) Roti (Rs. 750). Three rice flour rotis, each topped off with a dollop of curried mutton arrived in this one. 

The roti itself was a bit tough for our liking, but the robust bits of deliciously prepped mutton made up for it. Chewy in texture and doused in curry, yet boasting with the fresh mutton-y flavours, it's a good one to awake your tastebuds without leaving you full before the mains. 

As for our mains, we ordered four curries – Gam Kukul Mas (free-range chicken) Curry (Rs. 710), Balapitiye Maalu Olu Curry (Rs. 650), Uluhal (fenugreek) Curry (Rs. 350) and Karaththa (bullock cart) Curry (Rs. 780), along with a serving of Steamed White Rice (Rs. 150). 
Incorporating the tangy burst of tomatoes, the bitter notes of fenugreek, the sweetness of caramelised onions, the milkiness of coconut milk and the magical aroma of karapincha (curry leaves), the Uluhal Curry is a testament to all the wonders we Sri Lankans do with the spices. Its gravy was thick, which paired up really nicely with the fluffy Samba rice.  
I'm not sure about the whole history behind Karaththa Curry, but according to what we read on the menu, it's a recipe forged by ancient cart travellers. Made with karawala (dried fish) and a bunch of veggies like beans, tomatoes, potato and onions, cooked together in coconut milk, it was a treat. 

There was a good balance between milky and spicy elements and a lot of curry taste. Scooping and mopping up this curry with some kadey paan is the dream! 
Dunked in a slightly thick gravy enriched with spices lies a giant Thora (Seer) fish head – its whiff itself had us drooling. The fish head easily fell apart, was succulent and fleshy with lots of meat.

I'm a bit of a buff when it comes to spices in Lankan food. I would have enjoyed this even more if the gravy was a bit more creamy in texture, and had more spices infused. But hey, that's just me. My lunch partner made no complaints. 
The Gam Kukul Mas Curry grabbed our attention since the very second we laid our eyes on its title. We were expecting a curried up curry chicken, but unfortunately what we received was the regular broiler chicken. 

Nonetheless, it was good. Two massive hunks of chicken cooked through and soaked in a well-spiced up gravy, this is easily sharable between three people. The chicken tasted very curry-like, thanks to having soused up all that curry goodness in the gravy. Some goraka (Malabar tamarind) in the mix could have brought it to the next level. 

Our dessert was a Kithul Thalapa (jaggery palm flour pudding), which was offered with the helpings of kithul treacle and coconut milk on the side. This stuff is not easy to come across, and Sahal's take on this pudding was so darn good. Not sweet, but rightly so, its texture was spot on. Make good use of kithul treacle and coconut milk for the extra flavour. Priced at Rs. 500. 

As of now, this is my favourite dessert in town. 

Cocktails

*Pictured above – Scofflaw (left) and Saima Cut Wela (right)

Much like their food menu, Sahal's collection of drinks is quite catchy. They have the regular booze, cocktails and a whole list of concoctions of their own which has a very Lankan twist to it. The names themselves had us cracking up – Siri Lanka Sudiya, Malle Pol, Karakila Amberella, Sumihiri Paane, and Kurundu Watta etc. 

Out of the lot, we ordered two – a good ol' Scofflaw (Rs. 900) and Saima Cut Wela (Rs. 950).

  • The rust coloured drink on the left is the Scofflaw – made with bourbon, dry vermouth, lime juice, grenadine and orange bitters slipped in together. A citrusy refresher with a boozy punch – that's what it is. 
  • Bits of pineapple, cucumber, pomegranate seeds, and ice jiggling in a tall glass full of vodka, tequila and triple sec, Saima Cut Wela had us from the initial sip. When you can’t decide between a strong sipper or a fruity kick on your palate, this is a happy medium. 

Ambience & Service

The ambience here is neat and classy. Furnished with black colour chairs and tables, it had beautiful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There were candle lamps sitting on top of every table, which they light up during the evening.

The serviettes and tablecloth with batik patterns on them, and classic Sinhala instrumental music that fills the room, all add up to the Lankan charm. 

Our server was a very polite, friendly gentleman who was very helpful throughout the experience. He was happy to make recommendations whenever it appears like we need any and managed to bring out the food within around 15 minutes into ordering. 

Conclusion

Sahal does a god job in whipping up some beloved Lankan favourites that we usually do not come across in every Sri Lankan restaurant. The focus they've given to regional cuisines is quite admirable too. In terms of pricing, it seems to be on par with the high-end restaurants of the same kind. 

*Photographs courtesy of: @raveen.re
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