Sri Lankan culture is interlaced with a vast diversity of foods. A variety of cuisines have originated in different provinces of the country, each one taking pride in their authentic blends. An array of delightful sweets, fruits and spices can be found around the island that has become part and parcel of the cultural identity of each destination.

By Chiranji Abeywickrema

Dining out is also an integral part of social interaction which has given rise to a fascinating selection of dining places, very often linked to extensive thoroughfare. A range of restaurants, cafés and fast food chains are evolving rapidly with new trends in culinary art and dining. There is a rapid increase in new and trendy restaurants with a variety of multi-ethnic and multi-cultural cuisine to select from. With the emergence of new and chic restaurant the diners are on the lookout for an appealing environment where they can enjoy a leisurely meal. There is an increasing demand for ambience dining as the customers are better informed through travel and developed media.

Comfort level of the diner does not entirely depend on the physical qualities of a space, but certain intangible attributes of space can generate a sense of liking or disliking towards a place. Good air quality, desirable temperature levels and cleanliness of the environment are fundamentals of a comfortable dining atmosphere. However the spatial qualities can be enhanced by simple and thoughtful interventions such as ambience lighting, introduction of vegetation, bringing in diffused light that eliminate glare and heat gain caused by direct light. Manipulation of vistas, choice of furniture and upholstery, use of colour and good acoustics can create genial vibes. A child friendly dining environment is enjoyed by many where the young and adults alike can freely indulge in dining without having to keep an eye on the young ones.

Circulation space also accounts for the overall aesthetic appeal. Generous circulation space sometimes regarded as a waste, determines the distance between tables that can make a room feel crowded or less crowded allowing for privacy of conversations. Provision of a hostess’s table and a waiting area at the entrance creates a welcoming ambience and a transition to the main dining facility.

The careful contribution of the architect/interior designer can create a significant difference that can produce unique vibrations and enhance the dining experience.

Lagoon Seafood restaurant at Cinnamon Grand, Colombo is a novel experience in fine dining conceptualised as a fish market. This modern 80 person restaurant caters to the elite. The customer can select the fish from the central fish display, a glass cabinet filled with crushed glass resting on a cut and polished cement base. The fish is then prepared according to the preference of the individual in an open kitchen where the chefs can be seen at work. The open kitchen is used as an integral element of interior design where the action station beyond the glazed display could be observed from the seats.

The concrete and glass extension which houses the seafood restaurant is sensitive to the context, framing the immediate landscape dotted with trees and a water feature in front of the restaurant. A gradual transition between the indoors and the adjacent water feature in the garden is created across a paved outdoor dining area that conjure the landscape to become part of the dining experience. A bar and an exclusive private dining area on either side also maximise on the garden view through floor to soffit glazing towards the garden. Working with the column and beam grid of the existing building the architect has used fluorescent lights embedded in stainless steel cladding along the exposed beam lines. A black painted soffit is used to give an elevated feel. The sleekness of this ceiling feature has created a contemporary and modern appearance.

The interior of the seafood restaurant also features beige cut and polished floors, warm yellow on the walls and columns plastered with sand, in contrast to the cool hues outside which are beckoned in through the glass. The resultant atmosphere is infused with a subtle vibrancy yet with a soothing sense of calmness that enables a guest to relax after a busy day or indulge in a romantic dinner.

Chutneys South Indian Restaurant at Cinnamon Grand, Colombo greets its patrons with a cheerful air and the experience of a different culture. The contemporary restaurant caters to an exclusive clientèle with vibrant colours highlighting its interior. The restaurant is modern in design yet derives the essence from the elements of a different culture, whilst demonstrating a clear balance between the traditional and the modern. Plush timber floors complement the interior with its brightly upholstered furniture. Black painted columns are wrapped in gold fabric, imprinted with letters from the five dialects of South India. The white ceiling is provided with random letter imprints on the ceiling panels. Careful manipulation of light further articulates the interior augmenting to the glamour. The restaurant overlooks the swimming pool and the garden below with a landscaped terrace for outdoor dining.

Attention to detail plays a significant role in creating the anticipated ambience. Creative use of colour, selection of music, art and imaginative lighting can set the stage for an unforgettable dining experience. Everything from the table decoration to the way in which the menu card is presented will amount to the popularity of a place.

Coco Citrine in Battaramulla offers Mediterranean gourmet cuisine, its name symbolic of widely used ingredients, the coconut from Sri Lanka and the olive from Greece. The main restaurant is housed in a colonial period house with a garden that was converted into a fine dining restaurant in recent years. The noise from the street is buffered by the front garden and a relaxed atmosphere is created within, which is gratifying to the senses. Predominantly white interiors are enlivened with cheerful orange and green upholstery. A variety of seating arrangements are available that include fine dining in an air conditioned environment and alfresco dining. The rear verandah which wraps around a courtyard is a refreshing experience with its built in seats and a cement washed wall articulated with light and shadow. The outcome is a relaxed atmosphere that is fitting for an unperturbed meal with family or friends.

Informal dining options can vary from café s, restaurants, franchised fast food restaurants, bistros and coffee houses. With the emerging trends and a competitive market there is a significant increase in the attention paid to enhance the spatial quality of restaurants.

Arpico mega store in Hyde Park Corner, Colombo in an interesting new venture has introduced a attractive and novel concept in casual dining, a restaurant cum food court. The Urban Kitchen as it is called is a dynamic creation in an attempt to transform the food court into a lively dining atmosphere. The swirling lines that spin across space demarcate the different areas of seating. A vibrant atmosphere is enhanced by illuminated lines on the ceiling and the tile patterns on the floor. A white illuminated dessert counter provides a backdrop to a central lounging platform with Eero Aarnio fibreglass and black leather upholstered chairs. The Philipino chef can be seen in action behind the stainless steel and white counters of the open kitchen that is juxtaposed with a black background. The choice of cuisine varies from Sri Lankan, Chinese, Thai and Malaysian with a variety of dishes such as seafood Laksa, hot lamb baguette, sandwiches and salads.

The first impression of a restaurant can be transforming but the levels of social interaction and prolonged acquaintance may depend on the cuisine and overall ambience of the place.

White House a conserved heritage site in the heart of the Kandy town has been recently provided with a facelift. True to its name a daring all white interior generates an elegant restaurant housed within – a welcoming break as you step into the café from the bustling streets outside. It has a comforting ambience where one could relax while grabbing a quick meal after a hard days work, shopping or catch up with a friend in town. White, stainless steel and glass interior is illuminated with the light boxes above the central pastry display and white light fittings with stainless steel frames hang above the tables along the white wall. This urban café with its limitations in space is tactfully addressed in a bold and stark design that highlights the lofty interior and creates a transforming effect within the urbanscape.

Bars café in Colombo 3 adopts a timely and modern concept which is essentially a collection of bars and is frequented by people of all age groups. The sandwich bar has a variety of bread with different fillings and waffles to offer. There is a salad bar, a juice bar, a dessert bar and a new lean bar for the health conscious. The dishes are served in pots in the pot bar. The pizza bar, rice bar and an Asian bar geared to serve Sri Lankan cuisine are said to be popular with the customers. The café has adopted minimalistic finishes of timber and cement with synthetic cane furniture. Cement wraps up on the vertical wall surface and occasionally on the beams, framing the views of the adjoining streets on two sides. The elevated café  maintains the privacy of the diner whilst inviting greenery of roadside tree canopies which transforms the space into an urban oasis.

The Commons Coffee House in Flower road Colombo is a cosy hangout that offers a variety of seats from sofas, tall stool tables and garden tables in a restful, laid back atmosphere. This wi-fi enabled café  allows its patrons to browse and listen to music of their liking whilst enjoying their coffee or a meal in a homely environment. It is quite popular for casual dining and an inspiring location that is enjoyed by many intellectuals and groups of friends.

Dining can be an exciting excursion if you’re in the mood to try something different. A way-side rotti shop in Hikkaduwa with wooden tables and benches alongside the busy street will have a wide variety of flavoured rotti to offer. The choice of rotti filling will vary from cheese, ham and pineapple, tomato and onion, banana, chocolate and honey fillings to avocado. There are quite a few shops with their tiny shop fronts adorned with painted signs, ‘Number1 Rotti Shop, Hansie Rotti Shop’ that can bring about an affable change. In the evenings the whole street comes alive with the tourists, and the tiny wayside boutiques are lit up, for a delightful night bazaar along the coast line.

Quality of service offered by a restaurant may depend on the understanding of the customer and his needs. Attention given to improve customer comfort include convenience of parking, access to adequate and hygienic washrooms and even minor details such as magazines and daily newspapers made available to the customer. The arrangements of seating can also incorporate variety with lounge chairs and alfresco dining to suit different moods and occasions. Certain restaurants have considered introducing courtyards and greenery where views are limited, which are a treat to the eye especially in an urban set up. These aspects in details can give a snug and homely feel and enrich the spatial quality of the dining environment.

Attention to detail plays a significant role in creating the anticipated ambience. Creative use of colour, selection of music, art and imaginative lighting can set the stage for an unforgettable dining experience.