Chesa Swiss is one of Colombo’s best restaurants. While it’s nothing to write home about design/decor wise, the food, the wine, the service – it’s generally all excellent. However, in a city where our ubiquitous local cattle plate up as tough, chewy excuses for tenderloin, excellence – or Australian beef – comes at a cost, and Chesa Swiss is expensive. With a great selection of imported meats – veal, venison, Australian lamb – you can end up spending over Rs. 3000 on a main course, Rs. 6000 on a bottle of red, Rs. 2800 on fondue, and so, depressingly, on. Fortunately, however, there’s a way of sampling Chesa’s highbrow Swiss wares without the dismay of a facing a five figure bill.
The set lunch. Two courses for Rs. 1400, three for Rs. 1700. Broadly, this is good food at decent value. But as was the case with the Spoons set meal, the standards are somewhat lower than when dining at night.
There was no host to greet us on entering the restaurant – we were left wandering around the house foraging for our own table – and the waiter who did eventually serve us, while exceptionally polite and friendly, completely failed to explain the various menus available, looking bewildered at very hint of a lunch deal. Persistence paid off however, and on our third attempt a menu was finally produced.
If we hadn’t called in advance to check, we would never have realised there was an offer. This seems to be some sort of secret that Chesa Swiss is reluctant to divulge – which is both strange and unfair to customers; a main course off the midday chalkboard can cost up to Rs. 2000 – so if you were ordering, it would nearly always be cheaper to go for the set.
Perhaps that’s why they don’t tell you.
However, if you do manage to hunt down the elusive menu, the food on it is very good – and pretty great value for Chesa-standard dining (although beware the post-meal tax bump). We had the chilled Andalusian gazpacho to begin – a tangy, cayenne-coloured soup of a puree like consistency, weaved through with crisp chunks of cucumber – one of the more perfect sides to a balmy day – and tender flavourful fillets of beef to follow – moist, thick hunks soaked in a powerful pepper sauce and accompanied by smooth, creamy orbs of soft mash and perfectly seasoned greens.
A respectable, if not exciting, spinach and mushroom risotto was also ordered – soft, creamy rice with meaty slices of porcini mushroom, a slight overdose on the spinach, but not too bad. Again, however, service was slightly amiss – there were no offers for a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan over the bowl, and salt and pepper had to be specifically asked for.
While the attentiveness of the Chesa staff seems reserved for evening diners (ie. the ones that pay more), the food is still good – and this is a solid option, especially for business lunches. It’s about as cheap as dining at Chesa Swiss is ever going to get, so if you’ve been intrigued but put off by the staggering prices, it’s a good way of dipping your toes in and seeing if the menu’s worth the expensive foray. It usually is.