Colombo, Sri Lanka
Who doesn’t like a good buffet?
My family, for one, enjoys spending a couple of hours at a good buffet every once in a while– special occasion or otherwise. Of course, given my small appetite, I always get told that I’m the sort of patron that buffets thrive on to make their profits. Nonetheless, I like to try a bit of everything and taste the different flavours that their kitchens dish out. And come the dessert counter, I am shamelessly partial towards the chocolate-y stuff. Soups are a must-try, as are sushi and hummus, if present. Deliciousness (obviously) and innovative dishes are what I look out for.
Here’s my ranking of ten buffets that I have been to in the city.
#1. Taprobane – Cinnamon Grand
(Lunch – LKR 2,931 nett, Dinner – LKR 3,257 nett, Sunday Brunch – LKR 2,517 nett)
Fantastic spread. Great taste. Warm Ambience. And to top that off, unfailing consistency. These are probably what make Taprobane the number one buffet spot for myself and many others. And they set the bar pretty high. To begin with, you’re spoilt with the choice of appetisers, salads, dips and cold cuts on offer (and you know they do a good job when they get their hummus and pita right!). They’ve got plenty of veggies and condiments to toss up your own salad, as well as several other prepared salads with seafood/meat to choose from. Cold cuts range from chicken to beef to pork to seafood, prepared in a number of different ways. They offer a decent choice of cheeses too. There’s more than something for everyone. During my last visit, I noticed that their sushi selection has expended a bit. Their soups have never disappointed either. On to the mains and you have Western, Sri Lankan, Italian, Indian and sometimes Far Eastern and Middle Eastern dishes to choose from. Action stations prepare hoppers of your choice on demand and whip up pastas and other similar dishes too. Whatever you pick will almost always taste good – their flavours usually hit all the right spots. The dessert bar spoils for choice and you’re bound to find something to soothe your sweet tooth. Occasionally, you would find a chocolate fountain running as well – although I haven’t seen this more recently. All-in-all, you’re bound to leave with a very happy belly. And a sense of satisfaction that will undoubtedly bring you back here. Kudos to the Taprobane team!
#2. The Dining Room – Cinnamon Lakeside
(Lunch – LKR 2,800 nett, Dinner – LKR 3,150 nett, Sunday Brunch – LKR 3,100 nett)
Cinnamon City Hotels sure know how to do it right – vying for the top spot with Cinnamon Grand is Cinnamon Lakeside. In fact, I would say that The Dining Room is almost as good as Taprobane. And if I were to point a finger at why I’ve placed it at second position rather than at first, I would probably put it down to ambience and set-up. And this probably boils down to the architectural structure of the place. Not to say that The Dining Room is anything short of warm and comfortable, but there’s an element of spaciousness and grandiose about Taprobane that kicks it up a notch – visually, and possibly therefore psychologically. Although maybe a few dishes shorter than Taprobane (in number), The Dining Room too has some amazing appetisers to choose from. They take pride in their flavours as well, with their mains ranging from across different parts of the globe, as with its sister restaurant above. These guys come up with some pretty innovative and delectable desserts too – I particularly recall being in awe of their unique (and delicious) flavours of home-made ice creams some time ago. Again, another place that’s bound to delight you. Keep it up!
#3. Graze Kitchen – Hilton Colombo
(Lunch – LKR 3,388 nett, Dinner – LKR 3,888 nett)
This rounds up my top three favourite places to go a-buffet-ing. Graze Kitchen’s buffet (back when it used to be Spices) was quite good pre-renovation too, but they’ve certainly levelled up after the face-lift. A larger spread, more variety and an array of interesting flavours now colour the place bright. Although probably not as numerous as the Cinnamons in first and second place, their appetisers comprise an interesting range of salads, seafood and finger foods. You might also come across a dish or two of pâté on occasion, which is fantastic. If you’re among the early birds, you might find yourself with a choice of sushi that they do decently, although variety dwindles later on into the hours. Their mains are strong in their Far Eastern/Asian, Western and European, and Indian cuisine – all of which usually taste pretty good. Quite often, you’d also find an interesting selection of breads. And their desserts are delicious! The name escapes me, but I recall having this chocolate-hazelnut-y praline at Easter brunch last year (2017) that I cherish the taste of to date. SO good. Added bonus if you get a table near the windows – you might be subtly entertained by the black swans, white swans and a couple of hybrids (plus a few other aquatic birds) wandering around in the adjoining man-made pond. Another place that definitely won’t disappoint!
#4. Ayu – Mövenpick
(Lunch – LKR 2,950 nett, Dinner – LKR 3,330 nett)
To be honest, I was a little confused about what to make of Ayu’s buffet the first time I visited. The salad and appetisers bar had quite a decent spread, with a variety of cheeses too. But the sushi was dry and the mains were limited – predominantly Sri Lankan and Indian cuisine with a bit of Western. I rarely, if at all, opt for rice and curry when I’m out. So I didn’t have much to serve myself for the mains, and they were generally okay taste-wise. The dessert bar, which is hidden away at the other end of the restaurant, was quite impressive though. And they do some pretty good cookies, milk toffees, tarts and the likes. On subsequent visits, I feel like Ayu has made headway in terms of taste, and the appetisers do a good job in filling you up. (As do the desserts, to be honest!) The mains counter is still not big on variety – and I couldn’t help but be disappointed at not seeing the potato croquettes the last time – but I see improvement and potential to improve further. This is a place I wouldn’t mind going to again.
#5. Table One – Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo
(Lunch – LKR 3,000, Dinner – LKR 3,300)
My experience with Shangri-La hotels in other cities around the world has been nothing short of excellent. Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, in particular, have consistently served up delicious food of a very high standard. In comparison, I feel like Sri Lanka’s are yet to reach that mark. Of course, both the Colombo hotel as well as Hambantota’s Shangri-La Golf Resort & Spa (Bojunhala hosts their spread) are still very young – with Colombo still being in its infancy. My initial perception as I walked into the restaurant was that the spread was near-massive. And then I realised that it’s the arrangement that made it seem that way. Not to say that it was small, but it just looked larger than life. Take out the substantial Sri Lankan counter (which, for some reason didn’t have much of a buzz that day – except for the kottu action station) and there’s Far Eastern/Chinese, Indian, Western and a bit of Mediterranean to dabble in. (I did note that their hummus was good though.) Appetisers and desserts were available in a moderate number of choices which, however, were repetitive and therefore gave the impression of a larger choice than there actually was. In terms of taste, I can’t complain – it was good. But I wasn’t mind-blown. Perhaps I was expecting a little more, having enjoyed their flavourful culinary delights elsewhere. Nonetheless, again bearing in mind how recently the place was opened, I think it would definitely be worth paying this place another visit in about a couple of months. And who knows, Table One might have climbed up the ranks by then.
#6. Flow – Hilton Residences
(Lunch – LKR 2950 nett, Dinner – LKR 3,350 nett, Sunday Brunch – LKR 3,800 nett)
Back when it used to be Jaic Hilton in earlier years, I recall trying out their buffet out a couple of times. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was decent. However, they seem to have had to start from scratch after their evolution into Hilton Residences. And that seems to have taken a toll on Flow’s buffet too. Which is a shame. We happened to have a chat with the new chef when we first visited after the face-lift, and he seemed to have a plethora of bright ideas and plans to bring the standard of the place up. Unfortunately, nothing much seemed to have changed by the time we paid a second visit about a year later. The potential that might have been seemed to have gone stagnant. The place still looked unanimated and on the verge of dull, and the limited choice and taste of the spread hadn’t made much progress. So, would it be worth giving Flow some more time and another shot? Debatable. I wouldn’t go so far as to write the place off, but I also wouldn’t expect a great deal more than what I have already seen.
#7. Latitude – Taj Samudra
(Lunch – LKR 2,650 nett, Dinner – LKR 2,950 nett)
Latitude impresses in selection, but disappoints in taste. They have quite a generous, teasing spread with a sizeable selection of mains. Plenty of seafood and meats. Their salad selection is pretty good too. But they fall short in flavour. There’s a sense of something being missing as you eat up – and that’s flavour. It’s not at the extreme end of the spectrum, but definitely something noticeable. This was my sentiment on my first visit. And it was my sentiment on my second visit as well. Hence, not somewhere I’d be visiting again anytime soon.
#8. Harbour Court – The Kingsbury
(Lunch / Dinner – LKR 3,000 nett)
It beats me as to what the hype about The Kingsbury is (or was?). Having been quite disappointed at their buffet a year or two ago, we only decided to try it again very recently after a couple of comments from acquaintances that the food is much better now. An improvement that escaped me. Perhaps it was quantity that they were referring to, for they actually did have quite a large spread. But quality was the issue. The same sort of mediocre salads with chicken, seafood and other meats – in fact, one of the “chicken” salads turned out to have pieces of chicken sausages rather than actual chicken (sausages that one could find at any local supermarket). Some of their breads were nice, but they didn’t have any pita to go with the hummus they offered. And there were plenty of unlabelled dishes at the appetiser and dessert counters. In general, they lacked flavour. They clearly were going for quantity over quality. To make things worse, the place felt quite chaotic during our last visit, with at least three staff-related crashes ringing in the background – cutlery and glassware. And they didn’t seem to mind it. In fact, one of the stewards dropped a knife while clearing our table too – he and the other employees who subsequently visited our table chose to completely ignore it and let it get kicked under one of the chairs instead of clearing it. Odd and unprofessional. Not the sort of detail to attention one would expect at a place of this sort. Overall – highly unimpressive.
#9. Gardenia Coffeeshop – Ramada
(Sunday Lunch – LKR 2,500 nett, Friday/Saturday Dinner – LKR 2,500 nett)
Lacklustre choice and quality of food is how I would sum up my experience at Gardenia Coffeeshop. It was Easter brunch a couple of years ago, if I’m not mistaken, and the ambience was sombre to the point of almost being boring. Ramada frequently advertises their Sunday brunches and High Tea on mass media, but the spread on this occasion was honestly nothing much to write home about. A small area with minimal choices, and very mediocre tastes. I’d be happy to give the place a pass on future occasions.
#10. Sheherezade – Galadari
(Thursday-Saturday Dinner – LKR 2,280, Sunday Dinner – LKR 1,890)
Appalling. It’s hard to be honest and polite at the same time about my experience at Sheherezade. The ambience was a disaster – from the peeling wallpaper to the unprofessional and uniform-less stewards, from the threadbare napkins to the crumb-covered seating. The food was certainly no better. Being Eid (at the time we visited), one would imagine that the place would dish out their Sunday best. Well, if that was their best, I can’t imagine what their everyday buffet must be like! From watery hummus to sloppy crème brulée, from cheese that looked stale and manhandled to cut vegetables that might have been lying there for a few days – the set-up was far from appetising. There were just two words that came into my mind as we walked out that night: never again.
PS: None of the photos on this page are my own – they’ve all been taken off the respective venues’ websites.