This is part of our Flower Drum trilogy – the canonical Flower Drum review, Flower Drum Revisited, and now this, Flower Drum Meh. There was also the spin-off, Flower Drum Chili Paste.
Wanting to demonstrate to a foreign visitor the excellence of Sri Lankan Chinese food the other day I stepped into Flower Drum. I’ve long believed that in terms of taste and value for money this ancient staple of the local Chinese scene was the real archetype of Sri Lankan Chinese food,surpassing the older but less reliable Chinese Dragon. On this latest visit however I left disappointed and honestly worried for the future of Sri Lankan food.
We ordered such staples as – hot butter cuttle fish(HBC), kan kun, seafood omlette, spicy pork – and got well a pretty mediocre and unsatisfying lunch. The omlette was passable but far from good and unforgivably the HBC was bad. Too much floury batter and dry stale pieces of squid – it was close to inedible. The spicy pork was fine but suffered from a lack of pork (stingy portion) and well the Kan-Kun was Kan Kun so hard to get wrong.
However, more than the mediocrity of the food the issue with this particular meal was that our four simple dishes (all small portions) came to Rs 4000. We drank 1 bottle of water- no soft drinks, no booze. This was for just two people. There are cheaper 5* hotel lunch buffets. You can eat well at Nihon Bashi for less(get the set lunch Rs 1500 net) and Cafe Japan has a good 50 piece sushi platter for Rs.3000. Flower Drum used to be a mid priced staple but a simple lunch at that price seems to completely eliminate its value for money premise and well the food just isn’t good enough for them to compete as a high end destination. Which leaves the restaurant in a bit of a hole. I think this is a bit of a shame because Flower Drum was my SL Chinese gold standard. With Chinese Dragon in decline, Flower Lounge shutting shop, Orient Hong Kong seemingly closed, Chinese Park View a shadow of its former self what is left of Sri Lankan Chinese? Where can you go for a good plate of HBC, or like that classic neon-red sweet and sour pork? I am really not sure.
Min Han for example is excellent and great value but it’s more an authentic mainland place, Fortune Boat is also a mainland import. 168 and 88 are Malaysian/Singaporean – all of these I can recommend but they just don’t have that local chili and spice hit. The gloopy chopsuey the MSG riddled fried rice that Sri Lankans know and want. These are flavors we grew up with- HBC might not be authentic but it can be delicious however finding good food in Sri Lankan Chinese restaurants has become a bit of a challenge lately and after a few disappointing experiences trying to relive the tastes of my past is it time for me to retreat to reliability of mainland imports? Or are there still bastions of SL Chinese food out there flying the flag for good creolized sino-lanka food?
If so I’d like to find them and any tips would be appreciated.