Steam Boat (Mount Lavinia).

Steam Boat, according to their website, is Colombo’s largest chain of Chinese restaurants, located in Nawala, Moratuwa, Borella, Kandana and Mt. Lavinia. Competing on the Sri Lankan-Chinese front (compare to the authentic Chinese of Lucky Star, Fortune Boat, etc. Steam Boat comes up against local heavyweights like Chinese Dragon, Flower Drum and Peach Valley.

While serving distinctly average – sometimes even disappointing – food, what Steam Boat has going for it is its rather lovely venues and locations. While the Nawala Steam Boat is nothing special, the Moratuwa outlet consists of a pair of beautiful and spacious colonial houses and Mount Lavinia is a prettily unkempt beach shack opening out onto a stunning, close view of the ocean.

The branch sits on the much coveted sands of Mount’s golden mile of beachfront eateries. When at its best, the Mount Lavinia beach can be breathtakingly beautiful. While the strip is seasonally popular with Colombites for swimming, sandcastles and general beach frolic, its broad, curling restaurant strip – not dependent on the moods of the capricious tides – has an all year draw; you can’t always swim in the ocean, but you can always sit beside it.

Steam Boat provides a lovely spot for sunset and wave watching. With an elevated cement and canopy dining area as well as shaded chairs and tables on the sand, venue wise they’ve got it spot on. Food, however, not so much. Small portions at Steam Boat, we discovered, are indeed very small, serving just enough for the hungry individual or calorie conscious couple. And sadly, they aren’t small dishes of deliciousness that pique the appetite and leave you aching to order more – which works out well in this case.

In Sri Lanka, you judge a Chinese restaurant by its hot butter cuttlefish. This being the most ordered dish in the country, every sensible establishment trying its hand at our favourite Lankanised cuisine should ensure their crispy, deep fried crowd pleaser is of, well, consummate crowd pleasing standards. Here, however, the curly crowns of cuttlefish were rather meh, small and lacking in zesty spice and crispiness, nowhere near good enough to compete with the big boys. The schezwan beef was a watery, bland gloop of leeks, spring onions and hard meat, and the veg fried rice was just rice with veg, no egg (this may be for vegan friendly purposes – but fried rice with no egg?). A meal consisting of three main dishes (small) and a large rice came to Rs. 2500.

While other dishes on the menu may be better, the core choices failed to deliver. If you’re only interested in snacks and drinks, however, Steam Boat is a nice place to sit down in the evening. For tasty food, however, venture further along the strip. This is not one of our canonical Chineses.

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