The once-humble Noodle now sits in uncomfortable waters, in the culinary world. Some people seem to react violently to the mere mention of carb-based dinners these days, carbs that contain gluten appear to be the biggest evil gripping the lives of the trendy people. Some of it is justified, gluten today is not what it once was, primarily because refined flour is often derived from genetically modified wheat, and you no longer know how many carcinogens your pasta or noodle hit is delivering.
But that’s the only bad news and both great chefs and normal people understand that balance is the key to longevity, and to flavour. Nonetheless, noodles often bear the brunt of gluten discrimination and not enough attention is given to the fact that not all noodles are the same. Glass noodles, for example, are made out of mung bean starch or other veg starch and some buckwheat and soba noodles contain no gluten whatsoever (check label).
There are so many varieties of great noodle in the world and many restaurants have made the most of it. The rise of the Wagamama chain is surely closely related to its noodle heavy menu and all over the world there are trendy, Pan Asian noodle bars that cater delicious noodles as well as related foods to urbanites, often combining with happy hours and great selections of matching cocktails and aperitifs.
This noodle-bar phenomena, now decades old in the developed world, has barely trickled down to Sri Lanka. Every Pan-Asian restaurant offers some noodle but no one focuses on it, and the resulting dining experience, except of course, Noodles at the Cinnamon Grand.
In selecting my favourite noodles in Sri Lanka, I have had to be ruthless. I know there are great noodles at fancy Japanese and Thai restaurants, but in this instance, I have focused more on the Hawker-style street noodle. Perhaps Obama’s recent noodle bash with Bourdain has made my mouth water for the real thing. I have found only a few places where the Noodle stands out from everyone else. I am delighted that one of them is a 5 star restaurant, and I am just as delighted that the other 3 are far from it.
NOODLES, CINNAMON GRAND
It’s possibly the grandeur of the venue, that makes one assume the noodles will be too fancy. In this case, with Noodles extensive list of original dishes from Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, China, Indonesia and every other noodle nation, you will find the right noodle for you.
But first, no matter what, enjoy the sensational starters on offer. I expected to roll up my betal leaf mince parcel, but instead, I received a delicate roll of green betal leaf, marrying with a savoury meat filling. Even better, the fresh Vietnamese spring rolls sprang their freshness upon my palate and the absolute winner must surely be the Vietnamese Nest Spring Roll of crab and pork. These are some of the best appetisers in the country, hands down. The reasonable pricing will alleviate only some of the guilt.
Given the options of soup based, or stir fried, I lean towards the latter. I was in fact, going to harp on at length about the juicy meat of the Roast Pork Tabasaki, my consistent repeat order at Noodles, for that guilty pleasure. Now, thanks to LT, I have discovered the Duck Ramen Soup, where the broth is light and flavoursome, yet wickedly spicy, the every other component of the dish, from the pak choi to the delicate noodle, lightens the flavour. Most importantly, the tender juicy duck steals the show.
I am a particular fan of Udon, a noodle that is hard to source in Sri Lanka. At Noodles, this Japanese noodle is on the menu and prepared in ways that are novel – try the Wok Fried Seafood in Tamarind Sauce. Accompanied by fresh veggies and drowned in tangy sauce, this Noodle will kill you with its indulgences.
I have never tried their desserts, but I hear from Team LT that both the mocktails and desserts are up to the same high standards. If I had to request a change, then I would ask the Noodles Team to consider adding a bar and some high tables when they next refurb. The décor is smart and hotel-like, while the noodles are exceptionally trendy and tasty, and priced most reasonably. This could be the new hotspot for Friday night or after work drinks and dinner if the ambiance reflected a more fast-moving vibe.
Regardless, you go to Noodles for the noodles. And you must.
Cinnamon Grand, Colombo 03
Tel: +94 0112 497 440
Tucked away next to Calorie Counter in the now-popular dining area that Thimbirigasaya Road has become, nestles PHO, the Vietnamese kitchen that boasts a limited menu but often a packed house. Trying it for the first time recently, since opening teething problems, I have to say I was impressed far beyond my expectations.
The Beef Brisket Noodle Soup was sensational. The broth was a standout, light, fresh and gull of subtle flavour. Further the meat was sliced well, removing the gristle that often accompanies brisket. But to really surprise yourself, I urge you to try the less-subtle BBQ Pork Noodle. Seek, and you will find.
47, Thimbirigasyaya Road, Colombo 05.
Tel: +94 0117 386 565 / +94 772 722 277
The Beef Brisket Noodle Soup is the signature dish of this perennially popular dive in Colombo 3. There is nothing fancy about Min Han, least of all the service. But the food, the Chinese food here remains worth coming back for.
The Noodle Soup I refer to here is homemade fresh noodles (double check, they sometimes run out and use the shop-bought varieties). The Beef is tender and fatty, not something for everyone. But the broth? The broth is legendary. I can taste the star anise, and it is both light and rich. If you feel particularly gluttonous, order the Fried Dumplings and add them to your soup. This is authentic Chinese casual dining, you won’t believe you are eating in Sri Lanka.
14, Deanston Place, Colombo 03
Tel: +94 0112 576 533
URBAN KITCHEN – LAKSA
Yes, the menu is extensive and one could be lost for choice but what I have always enjoyed, is the Hawker-street style approach to their Chinese and Pan-Asian preparations.
Char Kway Teow is ONLY found here and both the seafood and chicken varieties are authentic. This is a quick fix street noodle, for when you wish you were grabbling lunch in a Singaporean food court. Better than the Kway Teow is in my opinion, the Laksa. Again one of few places to offer it, what it lacks in terms of freshness of seafood (some bad days) is made up for in a flavoursome rich broth that I cant get enough of. Interestingly, the Laksa features both vermicelli and hokkien noodles, but I always ask for just the latter.
Hyde Park Corner, Colombo 02
Tel: +94 0115 732 732