rare has been one of our favorite menus since it opened, brilliantly blending local ingredients with international technique. However, now they've changed the menu? Is it still one of our favorites?
Spoiler alert: it's not the same, but it's very good, in a different sort of way. The pyrotechnics of stuff like seeni sambol ice cream are gone, but the cocktails are still excellent, and the quality of ingredients and preparation as well. They haven't entirely lost the special effects either.
We started with the Cinnamon Smoked Lobster (Rs. 2,900), which arrives literally smoking. It comes in a jar and they open it to release the smoke. The plate is surrounded by a dusting of rock salt and inside there are two hefty chunks of lobster skewered on lemon grass on top of a potato risotto with a few pieces of popcorn.
The lobster meat is tender and delicious - it's a rare treat, and the chili sauce is excellent. The smokiness infuses everything, which really depends on whether you like that. What comes across isn't cinnamon as much as a general smokiness. For me, this was just the right amount to add another dimension to the dish.
It seems simple but the bar in a restaurant like this is trying to clarify whether everything is perfectly cooked. If you're working with good ingredients - they source from their own and other organic farms around the island - the real bar is whether the chef knows when to stop cooking and when something is just right. In this case, everything was cooked perfectly, including the potato. The dish could have used a bit more popcorn though, I only found an errant few.
As a main, I tried the Tender Pork Spare Ribs (Rs. 2,490). Once again I should have paid more attention to the name because that's exactly what it was. The ribs were insanely tender, falling apart at the touch of a fork.
The cartilage at the top of the ribs was also cooked through, giving that delightful crunchy chew without ever having to get my hands dirty. Again the ingredients were excellent and cooked exactly right.
My only issue would be that the dish was overall quite sweet - paired with apple chutney and a pineapple puree. It could have used some acidity as a balance, something sour. It was also essentially just ribs, no carbs or sides. I should have ordered a side separately, I didn't know.
Even then, however, this was insanely filling. I couldn't even touch the last rack. It's a hefty and satisfying portion of pork.
My wife had the Risotto with a range of mushrooms (Rs. 1,990). This also arrived smoking, under a glass cloche. It's quite an impressive show but that was too much smokiness for her taste. I enjoyed it though.
A good risotto is exceedingly rare, it's usually over or under-cooked, and involves a lot of experienced stirring to get right. In this case, the rice was perfectly cooked, and the range of mushrooms (enoki, shiitake, and button) coated the whole dish in a rich umami flavor. The smokiness adds a welcome dimension for me, but again that depends on you. If you don't like smokiness I'd recommend asking the server here, because we saw a lot of these smoking cloches being sent out.
The ambience is much the same. rare is a cozy, warmly lit indoor dining area and plentiful, beautiful seating arranged around the pool. It's honestly really dark for doing a review, but otherwise quite romantic.
It wasn't too busy on a Wednesday night, but the service was generally great. Besides the staff is knowledgeable and polite, everything came out quite fast, and they were also quick to process the bill. That efficiency is also rare, and it's nice to see.
The damage, including drinks, was around 10k, which is pretty hefty, but what you're getting is one of Sri Lanka's best shots at fine dining. rare is still one of the few restaurants trying to take local cuisine to international levels rather than simply copying international cuisines wholesale. My worry was that the new menu would take them away from that vision, and thankfully it hasn't.
If you have a lot of change in your pocket and you fancy a change from the usual fine dining, rare is still a great bet. I'm happy to say that it's updated without losing what made it excellent before.