Anyone driving between Mt Lavinia and Ratmalana lately would have noticed a new, brightly lit and rather striking, cement-fronted building some way beyond hotel road. The words Toby's Estate are emblazoned across the cement. Seems a little ambitious, I mean who has an estate in Ratmalana? We discovered, however that this is actually the Colombo outpost of an Australian cafe franchise.
Franchises it appears are all the rage in the city. There's Bread Talk
, Baskin Robins
, Coffee Bean
and even talk of TGI Fridays. Personally I suspect these shipped-in bubbles of the abroad only encourage mediocrity in a city that already has ample of that undesirable commodity. An Australian franchise seems particularly unpromising but still my YAMUnist duty required that I visit Toby and his estate.
Beyond the flat cement front it's basically a refurbished old villa and there's a lot of space. A separate cafe area, sandwich and coffee bars, air conditioned and non air-conditioned dining areas, a sizeable terrace, garden seating, private rooms and an upstairs chill-out room. While that might sound like a little much the rooms are well appointed and the whole thing flows and actually works as a space. This is very likely the swishest interior you'l find on the Galle Road south of Bambalapitiya's CASA Colombo
(though its not in the CASA league of style).
While the interior is pleasant the service is better. The staff seems to be genuinely enthusiastic, helpful and keen for you to like the place. Ok its only been opened a few days so you'd expect that the baristas would still be radiating enthusiasm but I've encountered attempts at restaurants in Colombo where they manage to get service wrong from day one.
So interior check and service double check, but smiling staff and gleaming fixtures alone do not a good eatery make. There is the crucial matter of the food and in the case of a cafe, of course, the coffee. Unfortunately it was late and steaming hot so I wasn't feeling like an espresso and therefore cant comment on the coffee but we did order - three types of fish done three ways (Rs 1100) and a broccoli pasta dish (Rs 700) from the 'fine dining' menu. It's actually more a mid-range dining menu with an unimaginative selection of western dishes at reasonable (Rs 700- 1200) net prices. We weren't exactly blown away by the food. All three types of fish were too heavily salted and heading toward over cooked and the pasta was pleasantly creamy but not exceptional in anyway.
It doesn't appear that Toby's Estate is about to revolutionize the world of Colombo gastronomy but I don't think culinary revolution is the point. This is fundamentally a cafe and hangout space and as a place of refuge from the torturous Galle Road rush hour- it's excellent. For newspaper perusing, some conversation or quality wi-fi time in an area (Galle Road South of the city) under-served by pleasant spaces it seems fairly ideal. The prices are fine and as long as the coffee is a little better than the food the place will make a solid contribution to upgrading the quality of south-suburban colombars lives.
Toby's is now also at Arcade Independence Square.