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5/5

COi by Vichalya

4th Floor, Clique, 505, Union Place, Colombo 2


COi is a creative restaurant by one of Sri Lanka's best young chefs. Get ready for heavy hits of umami and some unusual combinations of Sri Lankan ingredients and Japanese style.



COi is a creative restaurant by one of Sri Lanka's best young chefs. Get ready for heavy hits of umami and some unusual combinations of Sri Lankan ingredients and Japanese style.

You can tell a lot about a restaurant by its bread basket. At COi what you get is a few ordinary rolls but also toast with a dhal spread, flatbread with a mutated katta sambol, homemade chili jam, and mustard coconut something. So, from the start you can tell that they care.

We gave COi a lukewarm review when they started but SPOILER ALERT, this review is good. The kitchen and staff have settled into their unusual menu and everything we tried was good, some of it exceptional. Vichalya is a rare talent in Sri Lankan cuisine and we're very happy to see him and his team shine.

The Food

Crunchy School Prawns - bites back

This is the Crunchy School Prawns with Spicy Narang Dressing (Rs. 1650). This dish looks rough, like bar bites, but that belies a very thin layer of what I think is tempura. Something gave the prawns a real hit of umami (savory taste) on their own and they're quite addictive. They gave us way more prawns than we should have eaten... but I ate them.

The way they cooked it managed to make the whole prawn not just edible but delectable. Tail, heads - all good. This wasn't your usual prawn dish where you're picking off parts to get to the meat. They used the whole prawn and used it well, giving it a real punch of flavor before you even got to the sauce.

Oh the sauce. Vichalya's signature at his last restaurant rare was using Sri Lankan ingredients in modern and surprising ways. Here the kicker is naarang - a smaller and more sour local orange. For this dish it made a tart sauce which added the perfect amount of acidity to really sharpen the savouriness of the prawn. This dish is a winner, brilliantly balanced but as simply and fundamentally satisfying as local bar bites.

Black Eyed Peas - better than the band

They have a range of salads, all unusual. We tried the Black Eye Pea Salad With Strawberry & Sriracha Cheese. Given that I ate way too many prawns, this was light and refreshing. The cheese, which looked a bit like a meringue, could have packed a bit more punch, but overall a very clear and bright dish.

By the time the mains came around, we were already feeling the effects of our overenthusiastic approach to starters... this was pretty much our own fault, although I do blame the bread basket a bit for being so intriguing (so many combinations to try).

Salmon And Pickled Guava - UMAMI!

Starting with the Salmon Green Tea & Pickled Guava Curry Paste In Banana Leaf (Rs. 2450), if I could summarize this dish in one word it would be UMAMI! What comes through overall is a deep and soft savoriness. The salmon was perfectly cooked and positively soaked in flavor. Again the chef has balanced punch-in-the-mouth savory with slap-in-the-face sour, in this case via the pickled guava (pera). This makes for a very exciting dish, and a lot of it. Served in banana leaf, the salmon was topped with crisped up skin, which was the only part I found unexceptional. It was a bit thick and just there. The crunchiness could have added more contrast if it was a bit thinner, but I honestly didn't care. 

Teriyaki And Kochchi Steak - tasty and doesn't break your jaw

Shru's Comments: For The Striploin Teriyaki and Glazed Kochchi (Rs. 1750), I was presented with beautifully arranged strips of steak, topped with chopped red chilli and spring onion, drizzled with a teriyaki sauce and accompanied by a crisp, colourful salad. There was also a small comet of light pink puree on the side which I couldn't quite identify. While I appreciate the variety, I sometimes wonder what the purpose of decorative blobs of sauce are, since you can only really use them on a fraction of your meal. Still, it looked and tasted pretty.

Back to the steak. I was quite wowed by how tender, almost buttery, the meat was. The menu didn't mention its origin, so considering the reasonable Rs. 1750 price tag I assumed the meat was local. My experiences with local steak have often ended in disappointment, and in once instance, a near-death choking experience. This was different.

My palate was initially confused, then delighted, by the sweet and spicy mix of teriyaki and kochchi - a punchy combination I've never encountered before. Paired with an excellent (optional) side dish of thick, rich mash containing green gram and spring onion, this shot right to the top of my steak experiences in Sri Lanka. 

Purple Velvet And Narang - lived its whole life in a jar

Shru's Comments: While I loved the unusual and interesting combination of high quality ingredients, I wished the menu had elaborated a little more on exactly what all those ingredients were. The waitress who served us was fairly well-informed and very obliging, but there were so many different elements that I wanted to know more.

The Purple Velvet with Naarang Cream, for instance, made no mention of the beetroot that made it purple, or the scattered crumb that decorated the plate. The meal would have benefited from either a more detailed menu or a thorough introduction of each course.

The Purple Velvet was served in a small jar (all the rage these days) and on a pastel blue plate, which gave it a cool, twee sort of look - ideal for an Instagram photo with a faded filter. It was a pleasantly curious dessert. The narang cream was tangy while the mildy sweet beetroot sponge was soft and light, with actual little chunks of beetroot. The surrounding crumb provided the needed crunch.

Ambience

COi is actually a rather small space, basically a rectangle that seats about 30-40. It fills up by around 8 and reservations are highly recommended (you can make reservations through YAMU, on the sidebar of this review). 

There are some cool touches like the Japanese/Sri Lankan artwork on the ceiling and walls, plus the table mats which alternate between color and black and white. 

COi is part of the Clique group which runs the popular nightclub upstairs, and the restaurant attracts a similar crowd. It gets a bit loud as the evening progresses, but it's nice to be in a restaurant that's buzzing and full.

Service

The service we had was quite good. There was a waitress for one, which is rare and nice. She was very friendly, attentive and professional. 

For us the food arrived fast as did the bill. Near the end of the night the staff gets a bit busier but they seem to manage.

Conclusion

COi has finally lived up to our very high expectations. The food here is beautiful, aggressively tasty, and surprising. Fusion is a cuisine that usually inspires dread in me, but these guys do it right. And we didn't even flip over the menu to try the Japanese options. There's so much creativity and attention to detail here that I personally want to go back and explore more.

Damage-wise, we paid 10k for two, but that was ordering for a review, including one dish we couldn't even eat because we ordered TOO MUCH. The portion sizes are well generous and you can get away happily for under 3k per person. One thing I'd note is that the side dishes can be as big as mains, so order carefully, or ask before.

Vichalya is a unique and talented chef and we're very happy to see him settled into his new home. COi had some teething pains, as you can see in our first review, but now it's a restaurant that we can happily recommend sinking your teeth into. 


TIP

Look out for the dishes that incorporate local ingredients.

Address

4th Floor, Clique, 505, Union Place, Colombo 2

Directions

It's on the 4th floor of the Clique building, which is roughly above Union Chemists. From the Union Place roundabout you need to do a U-Turn, legally after turning right on Darley Road. There's plenty of parking behind.

Contacts

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Report Inaccuracy

This place has closed down

Cuisine

Sri Lankan Fusion

Price Range

More than Rs.1500

Dish Types

Steak

Ratings Breakdown

Overall Rating
5
Quality Rating
5
Service Rating
4
Ambience Rating
3
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