Spoons. The Hilton's haute cuisine flag ship has long been a by word for fine dining in Colombo. Its never been cheap but for special occasions- anniversaries high-order dates, significant birthdays, after exceptionally good exam results this has, for years, been the place to come.
There's always a sense of occasion surrounding a meal at spoons, a little thrill associated with dialing the Hilton and asking to be connected to the very best restaurant in the country's best hotel. Turning right as you enter the hotel's familiar marble atrium and stepping into the slicker, sleeker, more exclusive world beyond the relatively democratic pastry and chocolate counter should immediately elevate any day.
In all honesty though I preferred the restaurant and the space in its 90s incarnation - Gables; plush seats, old school, Frenchified food, palate cleansers and heavy wooden dessert trolleys. While Spoons' more minimal, more nouvelle, fusion-leaning food isn't quite my taste the restaurant has served me some first class meals. With diverse molecular foams and light reductions, modestly sized but carefully plated and beautifully presented dishes - I recall a truly epic lobster thermidore and some great angus steaks. Excellent but also very expensive, so when we heard they had a Rs 2000 net three course lunch offer we were really quite excited. There are places much lower in Colombo's food hierarchy where you can spend Rs 2000 on a three course meal. The prospect of an affordable (relatively) meal at Spoons set us reaching for the reservation dial.
Just hours later we took our place at the back of the restaurant facing the little garden beyond the glass (the elevated garden-facing table 17 is the best in the house). Picking at the bread basket,enjoying the bracing air conditioning and looking out onto a bit of light afternoon drizzle we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves and this bit of mid-week, mid-afternoon, extravagance. But things didn't quite go according to plan. The usually hyper-attentive staff seemed somewhat distracted. This was the first time I've found myself struggling to catch a waiters eye in Spoons- and it wasn't crowded. Eventually the menu was produced but, in terms of the set lunch it was barely necessary- there was hardly a choice. An assiete featuring samples of five different starters, a choice of one of four available mains and a set dessert. Still, four things done well is better than forty that are just ok. However, our assiete - five beautifully presented little dishes, featured nothing particularly tasty. Worse than that it featured items that were outright poor; a mixed pea and pasta salad- so heavy with onions and mayonnaise it was reminiscent of the worst airplane food, and a tomato soup with unwelcome bits of pasta that brought to mind the cheapest nastiest instant cup-a-soup.
Nothing of this abysmal standard should ever be served at a 5*, fine dining restaurant. Having dealt with the starter we waited, too long and while plates remained uncleared, for the the second course. This of course is the money shot. Any other failings can be overlooked if the major part of your meal is delicious. But again we had no luck. Our pork loin on a bed of red cabbage was sweet beyond all redemption. It tasted more like a Chinese char siu than the German inspired dish it was purported to be. Even by char siu standards this was sweet to the point of being difficult to eat- like those cups of maximum-diabetes kade tea. The risotto with crumbed mushrooms and truffle foam tasted like anyone's mediocre home risotto effort with some rubbery, poorly fried oyster mushroom on the side. There was no truffle foam- we pointed this out to the waiter and after a long conference involving all the restaurants staff a sheepish looking chef appeared and informed us that the foam had already been folded into the risotto so wasn't visible. Its taste wasn't perceptible either.....
To close off a pretty uninspired dining experience we got a a slice of chocolate cake - probably from their buffet or left over from the pastry counter, drizzled in a berry sauce - again there was a remarkable similarity to airplane food. Certainly nothing we ate bore any resemblance to 'fine dining'. Frankly, as I was entertaining a visitor from from that regional food capital - Singapore - the whole meal was an embarrassment This is supposed to be the pinnacle of this city's dining? Queue lies and deception to save local face in front of foreigners.
Of course this was a Rs. 2000 set lunch and not a morsel from the sought after dinner menu but at any price a restaurant, particularly the Hilton's flagship restaurant, should maintain a standard. Many of the world's multiple Michelin starred restaurants offer well priced set lunches which let you sample the quality of their kitchens at an affordable rate. At Alain Ducasse in London or Petrus a £30 set lunch doesn't mean lower standards than the several hundred pound dinner. You may get less food or less elaborate dishes but it's still delicious, meticulously prepared, presented and does credit to the restaurant.
At Spoons however we got food that was a disgrace to the Hilton and the restaurant's reputation. The food was barely worthy of the hotel's buffet and worse still sitting, uninterested in your food, feeling silly about your choice of restaurant gives you time to look around the space and notice that its all become rather faded. The furniture - too bright and luridly colored to be timeless, is looking pretty dated. There are even some chrome edges of a sort you're now likely to see in a Nawala fried rice spot. The paper and steel light fittings look deflated and while in 2000 this might all have been cutting edge today spoons looks like an interior design fashion victim. Actually, if you think about it, it looks like one those card-holder lounges in airports- which more or less sums things up. No one goes out of their way to eat at an airport and on this form you shouldn't go out of your way to eat at spoons. Certainly the Rs 2000 set-lunch gets a massive thumbs down and that reflects on the establishment as a whole.