Few things anger Sri Lankans as much as pricey Sri Lankan food. Kaema Sutra is a bold venture into upscale, re-imagined Lankan fare that delights some, irritates others, and bravely continues to divide opinion some 3 years since its inception. The menu, service, and execution hasn't really changed much over the years, but they have added lamprais so we decided to go check that out. If you want the usual hopper drama, head to our older reviews.
We opted for an Iced Tea Soda, which was totally worth it at Rs. 240 as it came in a carafe perfect for 2 or 3 people to share over a meal. Sweet, cold, citrusy, this is the perfect antidote to a Colombo heatwave.
We started off with this Egg Roti Squares With Chicken Curry situation (Rs. 400). I liked the little Kaema Sutra flags planted in the egg roti like it was the surface of the moon, but not much else. The roti was soft and warm, but it didn't taste wildly exciting and the gravy was barely a drizzle on one end. The curry had no chicken but it had that powdery taste of curry powder that hasn't been blended slowly and carefully and left to gently simmer on the stove. Uninspired and uninspiring.
Our first main was the Bento lunch box at Rs. 1200. At this price, I actually think this is a legit amount of quantity and variety. Virtually each component was well executed, from the buttery soft chicken curry and the tempered yellow rice to the superb paripu, gotukul, and polos. The chicken salad (pictured closest to the camera) was a bit random though, and we weren't sure what it was doing in an otherwise fully Lankan plate. The mustardy, powdery taste of the sauce on the salad was off-putting too, unfortunately.
Special mention must be made of the lunu miris in the middle of the box, which was pure death, fire, and madness. Do not ingest it. It is so spicy your ears will bleed. It's like they're deliberately trying to kill the friendly white tourists and their elephant print pants.
Barring the murderous lunu miris and anomalous chicken salad, the rest of the Bento family was well prepared and plentiful. While aesthetically the Japanese box was a cool fusion touch, it was a bit pointless because Lankan rice and curry is meant to be churned and pawed and mixed together, not separated like they're going through an ugly divorce.
We finally got to the lamprais (Rs. 640), which came out steaming and smelling like heaven itself was regurgitated onto a shiny white plate. At first glance and touch it was definitely too oily, but otherwise excellent. I opted for a mixed meat option (what else!) and was met with a hot parcel of pork, beef, chicken, all mixed up with stock-soaked rice, brinjal pahè and frikkadels. The only thing I missed here was the fried boiled egg. I read their blurb, which explains that their chefs were personally trained by a couple of Burgher aunties until they got the taste and feel right, which is pretty cool. Quantity-wise, this portion was perfect for me, which means that it might be a little less for your dad.
If the price phases you, remember that most people that are happily willing to shell out Rs. 600 odd for a processed, frozen, undefinable mass of fast food think the same amount is ludicrous for a steaming fresh, locally sourced and created lamprais. Well-executed Sri Lankan food shouldn't be priced lower than badly-executed foreign food. Complaining about that doesn't make one a patriot, it shows an inherent disrespect for the value of your own culinary culture. Of course if it's badly-executed, then it's a completely different story and we should all head to Facebook and burn them at the stake.
We wrapped up our meal with a What The Hopper! dessert at Rs. 480, which seemed a tad steep until we actually got the dish. It was a hopper the size of my head (which isn't a great indication if you don't know what I look like, sorry), with beautifully designed drips of kitul treacle in a concentric floral shape surrounding a scoop of absolutely delicious whipped curd and bits of local strawberry. It was probably the highlight of our meal, until a sharp piece of hopper entered my gum and hit my nerve. I then had to be rushed to the dentist to get an emergency root canal but that's really more my fault than this charming creamy hopper thing. I still think of it fondly.
The ambience is simple, classy, and cold. Cold in terms of temperature that is, so find yourself a seat away from one of the A/C streams unless you want to die a slow hypothermic death whilst clutching an egg roti to your face for warmth. There were quite a few flies while we were there, but we'll chalk that up to Colombo's Fly/Mosquito/Garbage Epidemic of 2017. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the rattan seating - it's such a lovely nod to traditional Lankan furniture.
The service was alright, but as cold as the A/C. The waiters and the hostess who took our reservation and found us a table never once cracked a smile despite our most earnest efforts to grin, thank them, or try and make conversation. Perhaps they've been instructed to be aloof and unfriendly to intimidate diners, but that would be plain silly. They've also got cool earpieces and smartphones to take orders and whatnot, but it was still very difficult to get someone's attention to clear the table or make an order, despite the number of staff milling about.
We'd recommend Kaema Sutra if you've got foreigners that you want to impress with Sri Lankan food but can't scare with kade dining (sorry Mayura Hotel), or parents that want to go somewhere classy but won't eat anything except hoppers. The prices are pretty average in comparison to any upscale spot at about Rs. 1500 a head. A meal at Upali's, Nuga Gama, Thuna Paha, or the like will all cost about the same.
As for the food itself - it's generally quite good, albeit peppered with a couple of minor disappointments. The hoppers and the curry have managed to be consistent over the years, but unfortunately so has the snooty service.
Given, the dearth in options for gourmet Sri Lankan eats in the city, this is a good option if you're new to town, want to try some relatively authentic Sri Lankan fare, and have the disposable income to match.
Fancy Lankan food for fancy folk
Kaema Sutra serves good, modernized Sri Lanka fare at a bit of a premium price. While we highly recommend it for tourists, for locals it's not necessarily that mind-blowing.
සිංහල කෑම සුත්ර කීවම ලංකාවෙ ගොඩදෙනෙකුට එක පාරට මතක් වෙන්නෙ ආප්ප වුණාට මේකේ තියෙන්න ආප්ප විතරක් නෙවෙයි.