Tsing Tao (Colombo Racecourse).

Tsing Tao is a fine dining Chinese restaurant located at the Colombo Racecourse. It’s expensive, but the food is worth it.

Chinese. We’ve been eating our way through Colombo for about a year now and we still haven’t managed to get through the city’s vast range of hot butter cuttlefish and chilli paste wielding establishments. But within the many sub genres of Chinese restaurants that exist (mainland, Sri Lankan, pan-asian), what we’ve really neglected is fine dining Chinese.

What is fine dining Chinese? In Sri Lanka this particular branch of cuisine mainly consists of five star hotel restaurants: Emporer’s Wok (The Hilton), Long Feng (Cinnamon Lakeside), Yue Chuan (The Kingsbury). Tsing Tao, not attached to a big hotel, is the newest of the group; it’s located at the Colombo Racecourse – a beautiful but somewhat bizarrely compiled complex of shops and eateries.

The words ‘overpriced’ and ‘expensive’ have come up a lot in TripAdvisor reviews and general comments about Tsing Tao. Admittedly, the place isn’t cheap – due to an imported chef and ingredients – but the food is really quite good and definitely worth a couple of visits. We’ve also figured out a basic trick to keep the price down, if you read on.

The Food

So, the food. The menu is vast (over 200 items I hear – didn’t actually count), and therefore choosing can be tricky. Little descriptions could have been helpful, but there’s a little like button icon next to recommended dishes to help you navigate. We ordered the Hong Kong chicken (Rs. 738, small), prawns with dry chilli (Rs. 1078, small), sizzling aubergine (Rs. 638, small), ma po tofu with minced pork (Rs. 738, small) and three steamed rices (Rs. 594). All the dishes were very good, but the sizzling aubergine was the champion of the meal. Piping hot discs of aubergine are slathered in a garlicky sauce and the flesh is soft and flavourful – almost meaty. It goes well with a simple steamed rice – fried rice may over complicate the flavours. The tofu with minced pork is also recommended – slick cubes of tofu are dredged with crumbed pork and thickly weaved through with a rich sauce. Again, goes very well with a simple rice.

The Troublesome Matter of Portions

Tsing Tao has been criticised for their smalls being, well, small. This is probably because Chinese food tends to be approached with an all-you-can-eat attitude – the more stuffed you are at the end of the meal, the better the experience. Tsing Tao doesn’t provide mountains of prawns and towering heaps of rice. The small portions are indeed, small, but not unfairly so. Our selection of four smalls fed three quite comfortably and we even had a bit left over. You may not feel immobile and lethargic post-meal – but this is a good thing.

The Place

There are two dining sections, a more conventional space below and a prettier (but harder to access due to some rather steep stairs) glass rectangle above that overlooks the grounds and Reid Avenue. The upper area is nicer because of the view, but on our visit it was uncomfortably hot and stuffy. Perhaps an A/C malfunction. The staff, however, are obliging and the service is good – if a little slow. Our meal took well over half an hour to reach the table and getting the bill also takes a good fifteen minutes.

The Price

Our meal for three, with one beer, came to Rs. 5,500. That’s about Rs. 1,800 per person. I really don’t think this is that bad. You’d be paying about the same at Flower Drum – for more quantity perhaps but significantly lower quality and not nearly as nice a setting. Add more drinks, however, and the price shoots up. A tall Lion costs Rs. 460 – which brings it just under the Gallery Cafe on YAMU’s Lion Index, ie. it’s the second most most expensive bottle of Lion you could buy. Which is essentially the issue – the food is more or less fairly priced, the drinks aren’t.

And So…

Avoid too many drinks, and get your buzz off the food. Because it’s really very good.

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