A sarong clad decrepit of indeterminate age greeted us at the Sea View Inn, off the Marine Drive in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The wicker seat of his chair had worn through, leaving a gaping hole. He had no desk – there wasn’t room for one. We were in a small, dimly lit room which served as both entrance lobby and reception. The paint had once been a shade of red. Our receptionist greeted us cheerfully and quoted room rates – Rupees 1400 (about £7 or US$ 10) for up to four hours or Rupees 1700 for the night. As an incentive to tarry overnight, a room service offer of two cups of tea (made and delivered by his unwashed eminence) was thrown in. My dinner companion, the Glamorous Mop Head, turned to me with an “I don’t find this funny anymore” look on her face.
We were in the wrong place.
Escaping the temptations of the knocking shop we found the darkened stairway next door that took us up to the Fat Crab restaurant and our friends. The Fat Crab serves up the eponymous crustacean with indigenous Sri Lankan accompaniments in a casual setting. The first floor rectangular space is open on two sides, affording views of the Indian Ocean. The breeze is delightfully salt encrusted.
The Fat Crab is the brainchild of a former Mrs World. I am not familiar with that pageant. One assumes it is a gathering of a better class of MILF. She’s made a decent fist of the restaurant.
Until recently the entire catch of prime Sri Lankan lagoon (or mud) crabs was exported, with the locals making do with second best. Although I doubt the crabs care, the best is now available locally. The options on the menu are simple; select your size (like condoms the crabs come only in medium, large and extra large), cooking style, and sides.
There is a choice of murunga leaf crab curry, Singapore style chili crab, black pepper crab, garlic butter crab, steamed crab with dips and a spicy Negombo deviled crab. We tried most of them. The traditional Sri Lankan murunga leaf crab curry remains my favorite, bringing back boyhood memories of pungent curries by the sea side, washed down with ice cold lager. The murunga leaf tastes a bit like spinach and adds a nice touch of bitterness to the spicy sauce.
The garlic butter crab was disappointing, with a cloying sickly sauce. We skipped the steamed crab – we were after all in the land of spice. The rest of the preparations all had their virtues, assuming spice is your thing. Of the accompaniments the crusty kadé paan with parippu (dhal or curried lentils) and pol sambol (spicy coconut sambol) is a must. Kadé Paan literally translates into store made bread. Each village used to have a corner store that baked a tall, uneven, slightly charred loaf. It was always delicious, the odd weevil baked into the bread adding a protein infused crunch. The Fat Crab’s version is considerably upmarket from the original, but still memorable.
While there was an intriguing list of cocktails my experience with cocktails in Sri Lanka has been disappointing. Hence my efforts to run training sessions for local bartenders. For now it is best to stick to the beer. The local Lion Lager is an excellent choice.
The decor is much of a muchness, consisting of a random assortment of posters from London’s West End. I doubt that our Mrs World featured in any of their productions. But who needs fancy decor and haute cuisine when the moonlit Indian Ocean is your backdrop, and crab curry is on the menu? Avoid the other distractions on the menu and the dubious temptations of the local knocking shop. This place is a keeper.