Bayleaf is one of the Colombo stalwarts, the few restaurants that have actually stood the test of a decade or so(which is forever in this city). It’s an easy, uncomplicated choice if you want to go for dinner and don’t want to spend too much time weighing pros and cons and waffling about.
It’s central, it’s not crazy expensive, and food is consistently good. It’s never been mind-blowing in terms of taste or ambience, but it’s a safe option that doesn’t disappoint (in my experience at least).
Personally, I don’t really see Bayleaf as a haute-fine dining sort of place. It’s great for a casual lunch or a dinner with friends, but a slightly bland option for a first date or a big occasion (unless you get one of the private dining rooms). This is just because it’s too much of a staple to be a special-occasion place.
Food & Drinks
I generally order the carbonara when I’m too lazy to flip through the 90 page menu (make hyperbole allowance here), which has the right ratio of bacon to béchamel to spaghetti. They manage to avoid making it too soggy/oily, which seems to be the downfall of most Colombo carbonaras.
As a general rule, their pasta dishes are very rich even though the portions seem tiny when they’re presented to you. I’ve never actually been able to finish off one of their pastas in a single sitting, which I find commendable because it feels like I’m paying for two meals. Be warned: this may be more of a comment on my own appetite than Bayleaf’s portion size.
Another notable option that I've enjoyed is the tagliatelle verdi con prosciutto (pictured below), a home-made spinach pasta tossed with honey glazed ham, mushroom, bacon, cream & parmesan cheese, at Rs. 1050. If you're vegetarian, Bayleaf is one of the few restaurants that has a pretty vast veg-friendly menu. You could try the fettuccine ai vegetali grigliati, which comes with heaps of fresh market vegetables and parmesan at Rs. 850.
Harpo's pizzas are also generally great - fresh ingredients, strong flavours, albeit a tad dry sometimes. We tried the Pizza Mediterranean at Rs. 995, which was topped with fresh tomato, mozzarella, mixed peppers, grilled aubergine, grilled zucchini, bocconcini, sliced black olives and oregano.
Drinks wise, we’ve been disappointed by their wine list far too many times. For such a large, well-established restaurant, their wine selection and availability is pretty bleak. I generally end up ordering a bottle of 35°South Chardonnay because it’s easy and cheap, and they never have the single glass options I choose.
Their cocktails are a bit steep but generally quite good. A small bottle of Lion is about Rs. 350, which is exorbidant but to be expected for a somewhat fancy establishment.
The service is efficient and knowledgeable – a great combination. I’ve found that the staff is quite familiar with the menu, and is able to recommend options and give you an overview as to taste and ingredients. However, what they have in efficiency they lack in friendliness. This is pretty strange in comparison to your average Lankan waiter, who comes equipped with a barrel of smiles, apologies, and sometimes gossip. The Bayleaf waiters (at least the more experienced ones) are a tad curt, which sometimes kills the vibe a bit. I personally think efficiency isn’t curtailed by warmth, but I could be wrong there.
Ambience-wise, I find Bayleaf quite comfortable. They’ve preserved the old flooring – a mix of hardwood and elegant monochrome tiling, and the whitewashed walls. The classic wooden furniture is simple and maintains the clean colour tones. I also quite like the posters and artwork on the walls, which they switch up every so often.
The dubious engraved cement tiles in the bathroom are my favourite aspect of the décor. It’s worth a superfluous handwash to peek in the loo.
As far as safe bets go, Bayleaf is right up there. Good Italian fare at not too exorbitant prices, and a rather extensive menu to choose from. We were, however, slightly unimpressed by the lack of wine availability and waiter friendliness.