Eat Local, you say? Why I would love to, Team LT. And I do, over and over again. I am a firm believer in sustainability and in Sri Lanka – we have some of the best produce in the world so why wouldn’t I support it? But for heaven’s sake, don’t detract from my guilty pleasures, even if that means we have to eat imported Salmon.
Let me state for the record that I do not believe that the Salmon that is imported into this country by wholesalers to be anywhere near high quality or for that matter, responsibly sourced. Salmon has been over-farmed, leaving the few remaining wild fish swimming for theirs lives, upstream and against the current. Here cometh the global food corrupters to feed the unsustainable demands of man and now you have a aquaculture economy, where salmon are fed carotenoids to dye their skin the required pink colour and kept in pens and cage ponds, breeding disease and covered in sea lice. And that is what we are mainly eating these days. Certainly, having enjoyed Wild Alaskan Salmon, I have to tell you, it tastes and looks nothing like this flaccid pink piece of fish we have become accustomed to on Colombo plates.
More and more people in advanced consumer-driven economies have become aware of what they are eating and so you have trendy catchphrases like ‘responsibly sourced’ and ‘freshly caught’ but it is much of the same green-washing that LT’s cover story seeks to expose. (#protectYALA has my full support, I do love a David v. Third-World-Government-Goliath battle for a great cause.)
And yet, I still crave my Salmon fix. I try not to eat it too often and I find very few restaurants prepare it well. Leave aside the Japanese Sashimi and Sushi interpretations, cooked salmon is often over done, no matter how many times I insist the waiter tell both the manager and the chef, in my presence that I like it cooked medium. Even worse, most 5-star hotels in this country will go as far as to ask you how you wish your Salmon cooked, before failing to execute it.
For the record, I like my Salmon just as I like my steak: Medium. Boring, I know but the trendy medium-rare is not my palate preference. I also like a crispy, crispy skin on top, if that’s not too much to ask. I mentioned the Japanese restaurants and I apologise for not featuring them all, particularly as I know Ginza Hohsen used to import fresh premium grade Salmon from Japan on limited order and it was by far the best Salmon I have eaten in Sri Lanka – I speak of the quality of the fish, the preparation was of course, Sashimi. Although some Japanese restaurants claim to bring in their own stock, I do believe I am eating the same Salmon everywhere I dine. The Sashimi Salmon preparations in this country vary, and I have my favourites but I really do not think they compare well with the Roka, Zuma, Nobu’s of this world.
I am delighted however, to say that some restaurants, given that they are working with a rather unremarkable version of the original fish, have upped their preparations to epic standards, keeping my continued patronage. The spectacular dishes featured in my selection are the best in Sri Lanka and I mean that. I have eaten Salmon at many, many restaurants over the years and I praise the ones featured here for the consistency and taste they deliver, time after time.
No. 11, Galle Face Terrace, Colombo 03. Tel : 011 2323847
This is fast becoming my favourite preparation at Nihonbashi. It’s a little gem that is worthy of its price tag and I suppose, validates all the bragging. The blow-torched Salmon at Nihonbashi is a subtle stunner. The Salmon slice on the rice is generous, larger than on your average sushi. As far as I can see, there is nothing to this dish beyond salmon and sushi rice except that the minute the blowtorch hits it, the complexity of flavours are released. The heat of the fire releases natural oils in the fish, changing not only its texture but also it’s taste. There’s also a little char on the rice which compliments the overall experience. A dab in some great Nihonbashi soy sauce mixed with wasabi is given for traditionalists but I truly need no accompaniments for this elegant, decadent explosion of Salmon.
The Gallery Café
No. 2 Alfred House Rd, Colombo 03. Tel : 011 2582162
It’s another masterpiece from TGC. I first noticed this dish when it debuted on the Christmas specials list last year, only then the tangy, spiced Salmon was served on a bed of outrageously green basil mashed potatoes. I still think about that basil mash sometimes. This is bold, the flavour combinations hit you like a gourmet sledgehammer and I am awed by the fearlessness of this dish. There are not many restaurants that can pull off a dish like this and certainly none in Sri Lanka. The masala spiced salmon is absolutely juicy, as the texture and subtlety of the fish marries so well with its powerful marinade. The waiters know I like it medium, I don’t have to tell them, but you might. As for the pesto risotto, this seems to have changed gears from when it showcased another Salmon dish in the past, because this risotto is not quite so subtle, it’s a thumping good hit of pesto. I am The Gourmand, and this is fusion flavour at its best.
No 61, Thimbirigasyaya Road, Havelock Town, Colombo 05. Tel : 011 2580980
I applaud the vision of this restaurant and what it is trying to achieve. It’s good to aim high and when that goal is to improve the health and nutrition of the public by giving access to good ingredients, prepared well, that wont add to the fat layers on your bottom, well then I think we must commend them and I do. Realistically though, I expected everything that comes out of this restaurant to taste like health food often does, when it hits a mass market. Which is again why I must give my fullest respect to the team at Calorie Counter. Quality control seems to be prioritised as much as health and all attempts have been made to maximise favour. The Salmon is always cooked to order and there is attention to detail in every accompanying component. Calorie Counter, well done. Your healthy option is one of the Top 5 Salmon dishes in Sri Lanka, not just because I say so.
No 65, Rosmead Place, Colombo 07. Tel : 011 4602060
Under normal circumstances, LT don’t allow 2 reviews of the same franchise (Paradise Road) but these are exceptional circumstances involving 2 defining Salmon dishes in Sri Lanka. I don’t play favourites, I don’t need to curry favour and nor am I threatened by the success of others. Perhaps that’s why I am not afraid to give credit where it is due. First, there is the beetroot risotto, which tastes sublimely sweet, with just the right hint of savoury undertone. Then there is a (sometimes too small) piece of salmon, poached delicately, resting comfortably on its deep-red beetroot risotto bed. And then along comes the Wasabi cream, to hit the salmon and beetroot risotto in equal measure, marrying the flavours and giving a most refined knockout blow to your palate. You wont find anything like this anywhere else, no matter how many fancy tricks in gastronomy the fancy hotel chefs and young bucks strive for. This is a beautiful preparation of Salmon.
No. 30, Arcade Independence Square, Colombo 07. Tel : 011 2670707
This restaurant occasionally surprises me, despite needing a more controlled F & B strategy, in my expert opinion. I love a good Teriyaki Salmon but no one does it particularly well. I believe it is quite a hard dish to prepare, between needing that sticky glaze on the fish via a hot grill and yet not overcooking it. I asked for medium (repeatedly) and they delivered something quite beautiful. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and complimented it with garlic rice and tempura prawns as a shared main course. I recommend the combination! The Salmon here is an excellent size, probably the biggest piece of this fish in town and priced very reasonably considering the cost of the dish. I like the sashimi and sushi but I absolutely will be back again and again for this gorgeous, sweet and sexy Teriyaki Salmon Steak.