The Barnesbury is another one of Colombo's growing number of cafes/lounges. It's changed a little in appearance since its inception two years ago, in a good way. It's a comfy, quiet place to hang out, especially their lovely garden out back, and the food is alright.
We actually really liked the ambience out front, where there were comfy old school sofas, wooden floors, light streaming through the glass and pages of a book on the walls. It's a nice place to relax with a couple of friends. Further interior, the lighting gets dimmer and the furniture is a little stodgier and leathery, for a more formal lunch maybe.
There's a really neat, unexpected garden at the back of the restaurant - all white cane and picket fence. The garden probably turns into a great space in the evenings with its old English lamps lit up.
The owner's wife happens to be a designer of wedding dresses, so there's a little room for that in the interior, with wrought iron furniture and some make-up and jewellery for sale.
Food & Service
The food here is mostly typical Western dishes - spaghettis, meats, burgers. The food is good, if not something you'd brag about.
We got a cheese coated fish fillet with crab meat and mashed potatoes, for Rs. 950. This was well flavoured, tasty, and plenty in terms of portion. We also got the chicken parmesan spaghetti combo (Rs. 825), which was alright, it was what it was, nothing stood out about it.
Our pick from the menu's 'roti bar' was the only truly memorable thing we had. I actually loved the roti we got stuffed with cheese and beef (I mean, you can't really go wrong with that combo) - the roti portion was large and of a good firm consistency, very cheesy, and we kept going back to this throughout our visit. It cost Rs. 525, and is good value for money.
The drinks here, at about Rs. 400-500, are so-so. The chocolate hazelnut was milky and good with that nice aftertaste of hazelnut, but the iced tea just tasted like disappointment since it was excitingly named 'strawberry souffle iced tea', and simply tasted like slightly flavoured water.
These guys make a tasty chocolate biscuit pudding, for Rs. 375. It's not the best out there (Skrumptious makes a super one), but it's very good by ordinary cafe standards, with plenty of sweet thick chocolate, crumbly thick layers of biscuit, and maybe the hint of warm toffee in the middle somewhere.
Our dishes came to us fast, and the presentation was good. Our waiters seemed a little confused though, about the names of the dishes they were serving and about when they should come take them away.
The Barnesbury may not be the kind of place you'd keep going back to but it's a decent place for some down time with a few friends. The decor is cute, and the food is alright, and on par with other big cafes in terms of price (almost Rs. 1000 for a main).
It seems like almost every week there's a new restaurant or cafe popping up somewhere on the streets of Colombo - so much so that YAMU writers are developing symptoms of RBS (round belly syndrome) trying to keep up with it all. But popping buttons and ventricose bundis aside, it isn't all bad; 2013 has seen the arrival of a few excellent establishments that really do stretch out the highs of Colombo's culinary landscape: there's the wonderful, healthy alternative to the buth kade, Currymuch - which we don't know how we ever lived without - the exquisite chocolates of Gerard Mendis Chocolatier and, of course, the contentious 'return' of the emerald palmed king, New Banana Leaf.
Last week, yet another cafe materialised, adding itself to the ever growing list of 'new in 2013': The Barnesbury. Completely unrelated to The Kingsbury - although following what I hope isn't a rising trend in random British pub nomenclature - this self-designated restuarant/cafe/lounge is, well, we're not quite sure. The Barnesbury fits into a fuzzy genre of somewhat nondescript cafe/restaurant/lounges that are springing up across the city - places like The Boulevard, Cioconat or Choco Luv that try to stretch widely across multiple culinary domains, offering absolutely everything you can think of on encyclopaedia-sized menus while running amok with concept of fusion food.
But despite an alarmingly prolific menu, the food here isn't bad. It's the wide-ranging sort of fare you can expect from Commons, while not quite as good. We had a respectable baked crab (Rs. 650)- cheesy, soft and sprinkled generously with herbs - a french onion soup (Rs. 350) - fine, if a bit salty - and a slightly tough but well-seasoned jerk chicken (Rs. 575). All of which was fine, but you do wonder... what's the point of this place? What are they trying to be, and is there anything that would make us come back?
And I think that's the problem. The Barnesbury really doesn't really seem to know what it's trying to be. You enter the building through a slim rectangular space that resembles the front end of a coffee shop. There's the cupcake shelves and large chalkboards, the enormous lightbulbs and kitschy book page wallpaper. Walk through to the next bit, though, and the design completely changes - the interior's been licked into shape according the rather tasteless design of the house it occupies - unattractive stucco walls, polished terrazzo (?) floors and what I can only say is a rather goday indoor fountain, trimmed with a golden railing. The garden, however, is lovely. Spacious, well-lit and scattered with rather interesting seating.
While Commons really filled a niche in Colombo dining - a great, well-designed hang out space that could be occupied by teenagers and businessmen alike - none of its followers have got it quite right. While the Barnesbury has the potential to be rather good (they're sitting on prime real estate - a simply enormous house and garden on Barnes Place), right now, they're somewhat unremarkable. And this isn't really what Colombo needs - another vague eating space. The filigreed font, the fancy name, the opulent, kitschy designs - there's all the pretensions of grandeur but none of the delivery. But the garden is really quite pretty, the prices are reasonable and they do make a great date & honey shake - however, it feels like there just needs to be a litte something else. Then again, it's early days, so treat this as a preview. We'll go back in a couple of months and see if things have changed.