Away from the tourist throng of Unawatuna, the promise of a heady time suddenly leaps out at you from all directions. The names of the many hotels and cabanas that line this stretch of Thalpe are an exercise in boundless optimism: Happy Beach, Crazy Coconut Villa. Given the general air of hyperbole, the name Wijaya Beach is so down-to-earth, you could almost accuse it of being dull. But as we've said before, this unassuming restaurant with superb seafood, crisp pizza and a view worth killing for, enjoys a faithful following that pays no mind to its somewhat plebby name.
Ambience & Service
Who can resist the lure of a view such as the one above, enjoyed while resting on a sunbed with one's feet propped up on a deck? (No one.) Being longtime fans of the Wijaya Beach experience, it didn't take us too much motivation to embark on the one-and-a-half journey to Thalpe, early on a Sunday morning.
Channeling a laid-back, Mediterranean vibe, Wijaya Beach is appropriately colourful and casual, with whitewashed walls brightened up with a blue bar, and paintings and artifacts that further the beach theme. On one side, a massive wood-fired oven occupies centre stage, with a hand-painted pizza menu on the wall advertising your pie options. After eating their weight in seafood and pizza, most visitors make a beeline for the beach chairs thoughtfully placed to proffer a view of the sparkling ocean, and mull over their excesses, drink in hand.
The service is prompt without being insistent, which is just the sort of pace you need for an establishment such as this one. All our food arrived in quick succession, but after we were done, the waitstaff allowed us to dawdle all day, until we were ready to leave.
The Food & Drink
Wijaya Beach is the ideal place to kick back with a few beers (or Prosecco, if you're feeling fancy), but there are also a few cocktails on offer. Of these, we tried the passion fruit daiquiri, with white rum, fresh passion fruit and mint.
Refreshing and just the right amount of slushy, the drink did justice to its advertised ingredients, except for the niggling fact that it had not enough alcohol to befit its title. While we appreciated the fresh passion fruit pulp and fragrant mint, we would have liked a slightly headier concoction.
When it comes to food, we are big champions of local produce, so we were delighted to find local fishermen delivering freshly caught fish to the restaurant. The freshness of the seafood shines through in most of the restaurant's simple preparations, but it is, without doubt, the highlight of the standout tuna sashimi, served with a dollop of wasabi.
The jewel-toned, thinly-sliced slivers of tuna need no ornamentation except a squeeze of lime and a dab of wasabi. The quality of the seafood is the unquestioned hero of this dish. At just Rs. 750, it is a small plate that's worthy of several repeats. The seafood ceviche (Rs. 850) is slightly more substantial than the sashimi, and every bit as pitch perfect. Thicker slices of tuna and locally caught mahi mahi are cured in a vibrant citrus dressing speckled with green chillies. The bright and piquant dressing elevates the raw fish, as it should in a good ceviche, while staying true to the flavour of the seafood.
Most of Wijaya Beach's patrons flock to the restaurant for its crisp, thin-crust pizzas laden with sumptuous toppings. We chose a half-and-half pizza (Rs. 1,400), topped with bacon and mushrooms on one half and seafood on the other. We were hard pressed to find fault with the base that was thin enough to have biscuit-like crunch yet supple enough to hold the weight of the toppings.
Studded with plump bits of juicy bacon and stringy cheese (but barely any mushrooms), the meaty half vanished faster than the seafood. Although it was plentifully laden with prawns, this portion needed to be spiked with swigs of the excellent chilli oil, curiously served in an old Corona bottle. (All of the restaurant's condiments come in re-engineered liquor bottles – a quirky and eco-friendly touch.)
The finale to our mostly faultless meal was with a passion fruit and coconut cheesecake (Rs. 500) that is sure to star in an island-wide cheesecake competition, if there were one. Served in thin slices that assuaged any guilt we may have been feeling, the cheesecake had a light yet creamy body with the slight pucker of passion fruit and crunch from its seeds, on a crunchy and buttery biscuit base. Boasting the perfect balance of taste and texture, the cheesecake rendered the accompanying ice cream redundant.
When you venture beyond Unawatuna into the ruddy heart of Thalpe, take our advice and spend a day slumped like a beached whale at Wijaya Beach. The food is superlative, and every now and then, the beach even hosts surprise visitors like the guy below.
Lovely whitewashed wood, sun beds overlooking an emerald sea and warm wafts of air emanating from a large wood fire oven: Wijaya Beach is a delicious slice of island life serving the island's most delicious slices of pizza.
A standard trek to the Southern coast usually includes healthy portions of fried rice and roti, the fare synonymous with our seaside party towns. But a trip to the south shouldn't be considered complete without a piece of Wijaya's Italian pie.
Wijaya isn't a recent or sudden discovery - however it's located in Talpe, making getting there more of a journey than the stone's throw beachfront eateries Lucky Tuna or Happy Banana. If you're staying in Una or even Galle, however, Wijaya is well worth braving the bumpy bus or unmetered tuk tuk. Their slim crusted, cheese laden pizzas are the stuff of salivating dreams.
You get the choice of various toppings (mushroom, spinach, feta, olive, capers, bacon, red onion, etc.) and a pizza with four costs Rs. 1200. This is fairly large and can serve two as a full meal or four as a snack. The quality of ingredients, the light, crispy base - it's all excellent. And the bacon is actually bacon - nice thick chunks, generously strewn beneath the strings of melted mozzarella - a happy contrast to the curled up pieces of fat you may be treated to at one of our American franchises.
While pizzas of such stature may threaten to overshadow the remaining menu, this doesn't happen here. A glance through the offerings almost had us deviating from the much awaited feta/bacon/mushroom combo - think tuna sashimi, seared tuna steak, prawn curry.
Food aside, Wijaya Beach is also a lovely place to spend a sleepy afternoon or an excitable evening. The sea here is shielded by a reef, so you have masses of shallow water in which to paddle, lounge and languish after devouring a meal, with sunbeds to collapse on after too many Long Islands. The dimly lit restaurant and bar becomes even sexier by night, providing a laidback location for pre-drinks - or just drinks - removed just far enough from the thumping bass and repetitive electro of your standard watering spots.
If you hadn't guessed it, we really like Wijaya. The staff are efficient and friendly, the bathrooms aren't streaked with sand and dirt and the beach is great. So is the food. It's well worth a visit.