My parents’ lack investment in my education coupled with my inability to make a positive first impression, prevented a career in investment banking, but has led to a somewhat successful career in advertising. All in all, I shouldn’t really quibble. The derision one has to endure from friends of chartered professions is offset by required alcoholism, unprofessionalism and – occasionally – interesting work.
A career in advertising also leads to interesting meeting locations. In the past I’ve run workshops in car plants, focus groups in dog kennels and brainstorms in farmyards. So, imagine my excitement when the brief for ‘the most important Sri Lankan hotel opening for 30 years’ landed upon my desk. My mind was prematurely transported to client meetings over lush tea plantations, consumer interviews aboard the Matale railway and product testing on a white sand beach on the Galle coast.
Alas, budgets are not what they once were and a Google search for top Sri Lankan restaurants in Hong Kong had to suffice. Yet, It turns out that Sri Lankan food in Hong Kong is as underrepresented as it is underappreciated. The search results at the time retuned one solitary result, that of Serendib in Sheng Wan.
So, it was with no prior knowledge that I made a booking for six at Serendip on a Tuesday lunchtime.
Serendip is nestled in between dried seafood wholesalers on Wing Lok Street. Everything about it perfectly contrasts its surroundings. Unlike the steely-eyed, pot-bellied merchants of maligned shark fin, the owner fizzes with warmth and hospitality. Unlike the Lamborghinis that ostentatiously block the entrance to restaurant, the décor is wonderfully ramshackle. And, unlike the acrid smell of congealed scallop, the restaurant is alive with the aroma of citrus and spice.
In my humble opinion Sri Lankan food is one of the world’s great cuisines. The teardrop island is paradise to a curry fiend such as myself. The curries are typically more complex, textured and varied than their Indian counterparts. All varieties from sour fish curry to creamy dhal, are served with tangy pickles, coconut relish and rice.
But for me, there is one dish that optimises the joys of Sri Lankan cuisine, Kottu.
Kottu literally means, “chop” and anyone who has spent any time wondering the back streets of Colombo quickly becomes accustomed to the rhythmic clatter of metal on metal as roti is shredded with a collection of other carb-heavy staples.
The Serendip Kottu is beautifully ramshackle and not as dry as many that I sampled in Sri Lanka. With each mouthful I wasn’t entirely sure I knew what I was eating, but was entirely sure I was enjoying it. It was served with a thick gravy that added just the right amount of moisture to the dish and tingle to the lips.
Like the Kottu, Serendip isn’t an elegant, but it will put a big smile on your face.