An interview with Mahela Jayawardene

Mahela Jayawardene; one of the greatest batsmen in cricket of all time. The highest scoring right-hand batsman in Test cricket in the history of cricket (374 runs against South Africa). Named the Best International Captain of the Year in 2006 by the International Cricket Council and nominated the Best Test Cricket Player of the Year in 2007. He also happens to be the most capped player in One Day Internationals for his country; Sri Lanka. These are but as few accolades as I could fit in to a single paragraph. Given how much the Sri Lankan nation loves cricket it would be fair to say that Mahela Jayawardene is a sporting hero both in Sri Lanka and around the world. Whilst he has retired from playing cricket professionally Mahela is currently the Head Coach of Mumbai Indians cricket team in the Indian Premier League.

Recently Sri Lanka has needed its heroes more than ever. A devastating terrorist attack on Easter Sunday shattered the peace of a nation knelt in prayer. In excess of 250 people died and left hundreds more wounded. In the immediate aftermath 39 countries issued travel warnings adding to the woes of an economy dependent on tourism.

However, less than three months later Sri Lanka is on its way to recovery. With clarity comes the task of caring for those affected and left at the mercy and goodwill of strangers. Several events, organised around the world, have helped raise funds. One such was hosted by Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London. Sri Lankan seafood restaurant Ministry of Crab collaborated with the hotel for a pop-up and proceeds were donated to the cause. The event was attended by Mahela Jayawardene who co-owns Ministry of Crab restaurant. I caught up with Mahela where he expressed his thoughts on the issues that face Sri Lanka as the country moves forward.

GTW: Mahela Jayawardene welcome back to London.

Mahela Jayawardene: Thank you.

GTW: I appreciate you making the space in your schedule for this interview. Do you get to spend much time in Sri Lanka now with your coaching and other commitments?

Mahela Jayawardene: I do make time to do so. I manage my coaching schedule and break it down to quarters so it’s spread out equally and I spend time in between in Sri Lanka. Obviously travelling for events and my businesses does take me away but they’re always short trips so it’s not too bad. This year with the Cricket World Cup it’s been busier than usual after the IPL. But by next year things will settle down. Sri Lanka is always home and I will never keep away for too long.

GTW: The world was shell-shocked when news of the Easter Sunday attack on Sri Lanka broke. Where were you when you heard the news? How did you feel when you saw those images on your screen?

Mahela Jayawardene: I was in India. It was IPL season. I woke up to the news. My family is in Colombo so I called and made sure everyone was safe. I also knew a lot of the staff in the hotels. We’re regulars for Sunday brunch at those restaurants. We were calling around to find out about the staff there. We personally knew some of the staff that died.

I felt sad when I saw the images. Especially when I looked at the pictures a friend sent me of the church in Negombo. When I saw the children that were hurt it made me really sad. But at the same time, a few days later, when it came to light that the whole situation had been mishandled, I was quite angry. I put this out on my social media. It needed to be said. The only way we can ensure that something like this never happens again is if we are prepared to tell the truth.

We took our eye off the ball with our security and didn’t execute any plan with whatever little intelligence we had. I’m not saying that we could have prevented the whole thing but we could have prevented it being on such a big scale. We could have managed it better. We could have done something. We may not have been able to stop it but we could have done something. That was the root of my anger.

We also have to sympathise with all the tourists that were killed and affected in so many ways. We met the Archbishop of Colombo too to find out what needed to be done. Kumar Sangakkara and I met with with him because we now have to think about the long term effects of this and raising money for the things that need to be done.

Some of the children will need long-term care and we are not necessarily equipped to deliver that in Sri Lanka in the way that it’s required. So we may have to fly these children overseas to get them the care they need. That includes their education. We will need to look at what’s best for them and offer them the best possible chance to become a part of society again. We have to make sure they’re not left behind. There’s a lot to be done and it’s going to be a slow, long process. We need to make sure we don’t forget what happened.

GTW: Immediately after the attack there was some fear that ethnic tensions might rise up again. With the exception of a few isolated incidents it seemed that everyone was eager to get back to some form of normality. Did you feel that this time round Sri Lanka was reacting differently to this act of violence?

Mahela Jayawardene: Yes, most certainly. We’ve had almost a decade of peace and we were finally able to enjoy our country for the first time without fear. When we were growing up, during the civil war, our parents were terrified to send us to school because they weren’t sure we’d come back. No one wants that again. That’s where everyone united and looked beyond personal agendas and political affiliations to put our country first and make sure we did the right thing. I think that’s why so many people made sure that their voices were heard on this matter.

I know that social media can be used negatively but in this instance it was a good platform for people to express what they thought. I know that some used it in the wrong way but we always have to expect that. We can’t prevent that. But mostly people were positive and standing up for the right thing.

GTW: So, tonight is a pretty special evening and an amazing collaboration between Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London and Ministry of Crab. The aim is to raise money for the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks. The fact that you’re here suggests that it’s important to you to give the event visibility. Is that the case?

Mahela Jayawardene: Most certainly. Shangri-La, London has always been supportive of Ministry of Crab. This is our third pop-up with the hotel. They’ve been a brilliant partner. We have a restaurant in Shangri-La, Manila too and I think when the attack happened Shangri-La also wanted to do something to help. So it worked out well. This evening is about having a visible Sri Lankan brand support this cause and not about promoting myself. We’re trying to showcase what Sri Lanka has to offer and encourage tourists to come back. Sri Lanka is still Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel for 2019.

GTW: Looking ahead, how assured are you of Sri Lanka’s recovery as a destination?

Mahela Jayawardene: Well, at the moment it’s too soon to say. I think as a country we are standing up quickly. It does also depend on the political trust other countries have in Sri Lanka. We’ve spoken with several Ambassadors and they are confident of the security measures we’ve taken which is the reason the travel ban came down pretty quickly.

Given the renewed trust that has been placed on us, by the rest of the world, Sri Lanka now needs to walk the talk. We need to show stability, that we’re taking action and that we would not let something like this happen again. It’s had a ripple effect on the entire nation. It didn’t just affect hotel bookings and airlines. It effected the entire tourist industry’s structure from small scale entrepreneurs to foreign investors.

Personally I’m hoping that we will recover by next year. However, our high season starts between November and December. As long as we’re all taking positive steps in the same direction it should happen.

GTW: Finally, as one of the highest profile Sri Lankans in the world what is your message to the world?

Mahela Jayawardene: Sri Lanka is a vibrant country. It’s a simple place but it’s beautiful. You can have wildlife, beaches, culture, tea and religious culture all in one place. The message is please come and enjoy that. People who’ve visited once always come back. That’s a very positive thing and it says everything.

Mahela Jayawardene at the Ministry of Crab pop-up at Shangri-La At The Shard, London

This interview was conducted at the Ministry of Crab pop-up hosted at Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London on 5th July 2019. All proceeds from the evening will be used to help victims of the Easter Sunday attacks. In addition, a further £2000 was raised through the auction of a bat and ball signed by Mahela and a five nights’ stay at Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo and Shangri-La Hotel, Hambantota, Sri Lanka.

Botanik Bistro and Bar – Colombo, Sri Lanka

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Colombo, Sri Lanka is beginning to make a name for itself in more ways than one. Of course the coastal city has the weather, beachfront and history on its side. All of this however, seems predictable given its emerging gourmet food movement which is inaudibly making Colombo a serious contender in the arena.

Botanik Bistro and Bar

Botanik Bistro and Bar has thrown its hat into the ring with a menu curated by Michelin starred chef Rishi Naleendra. It sits on the 6th floor rooftop of Fairway Colombo Hotel in the commercial district of Fort. The restaurant and bar signals a fearless departure from the failsafe palm trees and elephants school of thought prevalent on the island. It’s an elegant, ethereal space capturing the magnificent rise and fall of Fort’s skyline. The terrace, served by a striking 34-foot Moroccan tiled bar, faces the World Trade Centre dominating the view. As I sat under the dark sky on the bar’s terrace I felt the unmistakable scent of the sea glide past me in a warm caress of a breeze. Botanik evidently is here to entice a new breed of patronage; the free-spirited with a taste for luxury. The relaxed atmosphere by no means indicating a laissez-faire attitude to dining.

The Food

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I enjoyed a surreal evening of cocktails and dinner at Botanik. A starter of Sri Lankan buffalo mozzarella, green house tomato and anchovies served with basil was an utter delight. I was unsure of what to expect of the mozzarella as I’d only previously tasted its Italian counterpart. In terms of colour, texture and porosity it was faultless. Coupled with salty anchovies and basil the dish was a joy.

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My main of 12 hour lamb shoulder was served on roasted carrots, watercress and mint. This sure-fire crowd-pleaser didn’t disappoint. The tender lamb pulled away gently against my fork with the watercress and mint adding a feisty flavour to the palette. The star of the night for me however, was the chickpeas and feta salad served as a side. It was a fine balance of taste and texture which is not always achieved in basic dishes. This was a Mediterranean classic perfectly conquered at Botanik.

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I wrapped up my evening with lemon cheesecake served with the unsung hero of chocolate; chocolate crumb. It was clever use of a basic ingredient which added interest to a heavenly dessert contributing the perfect ending to an exquisite meal.

The genius in this menu lay in its simplicity. At any given point there were no more than three to four main ingredients on my plate. Yet their combination was so well accomplished that the results delivered an unforgettably refined dining experience. Proof that well sourced ingredients cooked with passion need no gimmicks. I followed my meal with a night-cap at the bar as I sat overlooking the bright lights of the city at night. It was as perfect a Colombo night as I could have ever wished for.

Botanik is located at 7, Hospital Street, Colombo 10, Sri Lanka. For more information visit: www.botanik.lk

 

 

The Best Rooftop Pool in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is enjoying unprecedented levels of tourism as Asia’s leading tourist destination at present. Colombo, the commercial capital, is relishing the best part of this new influx of visitors. Luxury hotel chains have taken over the coast line and there is an air of jubilance as Colombo enjoys what has eluded many – the end of a war. In fact, hardly anyone mentions the war any more as there is too much to look forward to in what is arguably one of the most exciting times in its history.

This is the city I was born and raised in for 13 years. As such, returning here feels akin to a pilgrimage. I celebrate new Colombo’s ever-evolving landscape as a tapestry which unfolds at each visit.

ON14 Rooftop Bar and Lounge

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Ozo, Colombo remains one of my favourite places in the city. The hotel sits on scenic Marine Drive which runs 3.6km along Colombo’s coast. The rooftop pool here offers views across the ocean on one side and the Colombo skyline on the other. Sit here from sun rise to sun set and you will still never be bored. With striking views across Colombo, a roof top lounge and bar serving perfect breakfast, brunch, lunch AND dinner accompanied by phenomenal cocktails you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere more suited for watching over the city.

Food and Drink

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As the sun goes down ON14 Rooftop Bar and Lounge serves palatial cocktails and rich, exquisite food. I spent a wonderful evening here and enjoyed the most delightful chicken and barracuda dish. It was sublime on the tongue. Served with a perfectly chilled rose´ from the bar’s extensive wine list I couldn’t think of a better way to round-up my evening.

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However, I couldn’t leave without ON14’s traditional chocolate biscuit pudding. It was a wonderful nod to Sri Lankan cuisine. This childhood favourite was served with an adult twist of strawberries, white chocolate and fresh mint leaves and  I could have easily eaten one more.

 

Five Things You Must See Around Ozo, Colombo.

Ozo, Colombo is perfectly located for exploring one of the most authentic parts of Colombo. A 10 minute taxi journey will take you to Colombo Fort which is an area of the city fraught with history. Its proximity to Colombo Harbour which has served as a port for over 2000 years carries a colossal bearing to the way Colombo Fort has evolved over centuries.

Here are my top five picks of things to see in Colombo Fort.

Fort Railway Station

Fort Railway Station connects the capital’s rail network to the rest of the country. Even if you have no intention of taking a train from here the station itself is worth a visit. It opened in 1917 and has retained most of its original charm from wooden counters and ceiling beams to quaint purple train tickets. I bought a platform ticket for Rs. 15 which allowed me to walk on to any platform (but not board trains) and see inside the station. It’s an exceptional place to experience an unadulterated insight into the cultural diversity of Colombo. It’s also undoubtedly one of the busiest places in the city.

Colombo Fort Clock Tower

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Image source: yamu.lk

Colombo Fort Clock Tower (1857) also known as Khan Clock Tower at the entrance to Pettah Market is the starting point for measuring distances from Colombo to the rest of the country. It is effectively, km zero for Sri Lanka. When it was first constructed it was the tallest structure in Colombo and even served as a light house until 1952 and only ceased this duty after other surrounding buildings obscured its view.

In more recent times, during the civil war, the area surrounding the clock tower was a high security zone. The tower was not accessible until 2015 when roads reopened to the public.

Pettah Market

Pettah is a multi-ethnic district of Colombo within a short distance of Fort Railway Station. Pettah Market has always been here due to its proximity to Colombo Harbour. Very few tourists go to this market and it’s frequented by locals for their daily needs. So a visit here is as an authentic an experience as you could ever want.

I walked the labyrinth of streets within, each dedicated to a different trade including clothing, fruit and veg, fish and seafood, electronics and even gold jewellery. The noise, the crowds and the aromas were overwhelming and a little stray dog accompanied me everywhere. There is plenty of street food here too if you’re peckish and brave. Get here before nine o’clock in the morning before the heat of the sun hits the streets.  It’s far less crowded than too and makes walking around relatively stress free.

Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

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Travel bloggers have already made this magnificent mosque famous due to its striking red and white brickwork. It was built by the Muslim community of Pettah in 1909. Today it’s become a Colombo landmark amongst the travel community.

If you plan to visit, as with all places of worship, you will need to be dressed appropriately. I was able to walk into the corridor of the mosque but not enter any of the prayer rooms. Enjoy the stunning architecture which rises from the inner courtyard up several storeys towards the sky.

Dutch Hospital Shopping Complex

Image source: Timeout Sri Lanka

This old Dutch hospital building which dates as far back as 1600s is the oldest building in the Colombo Fort area. The hospital was set up to serve the health and well-being of the workers at the Dutch East India Company and seafarers from Colombo Harbour during the occupation of Ceylon.

Today, its architecture has been preserved and it’s a shopping and dining precinct. There are shops, restaurants and cafes served by two open courtyards. In the evenings there is live music and the many restaurants serve dinner under the stars.

 

 

In collaboration with Ozo, Colombo and Ozo Hotels. Prices for a Dream Room at OZO Colombo Sri Lanka start from approximately £76 per night (B&B) exclusive of VAT and service charge. For more information or reservations, visit www.ozohotels.com/colombo-srilanka.

Photo credit unless otherwise stated: Kosiwick

8 Places to Eat Like a Local in Colombo.

To say that food and drink plays a big part in Sri Lankan culture would be the single  greatest understatement in the world. When you are the producer of almost all of the world’s cinnamon and  most of its spices it follows that your cuisine would be pretty darn good. Mix in the Dutch Colonial and South Indian influences with centuries of being a trading post and you have a pretty picky bunch of locals when it comes to food. So, here to help you eat like a local, is a short list of restaurants, cafes and after hours joints that I frequent with my friends whenever I am in Colombo.

1.Sunday lunch – Barefoot garden cafe (704 Galle Road, Colombo 3).

Barefoot is somewhat of an institution in Colombo. Nestled in the heart of the city it is an easily accessible, vibrant space typical of Colombo. The garden cafe here is consistently packed on  Sunday afternoons. You will need to be earlier than midday on Sunday to grab a table in the shade. Get here later and you’ll be sitting under the baking midday sun. Sunday lunch at Barefoot is extremely popular with locals. The freshly cooked food is to die for. Ask to see the specials and the waiters will bring a giant chalk board up to your table. Barefoot is renowned for it’s black pork curry if you can handle it. However, pretty much everything on the menu is scrumptious. Even on a busy Sunday afternoon the service is quick. Just to make your meal a little more special you will be treated to live music by a fantastic jazz ensemble while you eat. This is alfresco dining at it’s best.

What to eat – Chargrilled butterfly prawn salad

What to drink – Lime and mint juice

Spoil yourself – Orange cake and vanilla ice cream.

2. Mid week lunch – Dutch Burgher Union  (114 Reid Avenue, Colombo 4).

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Lamprais in a banana leaf

The Dutch Burgher Union is a gem in Colombo serving great food that is far too popular for it’s own good. The Lamprais here is quite possibly the most authentic that you can buy. Consider the Lamprais a gift from the Dutch Burgher community of Sri Lanka to the rest of us. Traditionally, it consists of savoury rice, a mixed meat curry of chicken, beef and pork and vegetable accompaniments baked in a banana leaf. In recent times however, it has been adapted to chicken, mutton or fish only – a testament to it’s popularity outside the Burgher community where beef and pork maybe avoided. The aroma of the baked banana leaf and all the spices within it will have you salivating while you scramble to open it. Speaking from experience, this is also a great hangover cure.

What to order –  Chicken or Mutton Lamprais

What to drink – Lime juice

Spoil yourself – Another lamprais

 

3. Short Eat lunch – Fab

Lunch is considered the main meal in Sri Lanka. This is a busy old time in Colombo. Miss the lunch time rush and you will find there is no food left any where in your locality. As such, you will have to down grade to eating ”short eats” for lunch. If you find yourself in such a predicament while in Colombo, hail down the first tuk tuk you see and ask to be taken to the nearest “Fab”. You will never be too far away from a branch of Fab because they are conveniently scattered through out most of Colombo. This chain has the best offering of Sri Lankan “short eats”. Short Eats are usually served as snacks at parties before the main meal. The most popular are cutlets, patties and Chinese rolls. These are filled meat, fish or veg rolls breadcrumbed or encased in crusty pastry and deep fried. Dip your short eats in the nectar of the Gods that is Sri Lankan chillie sauce for a great alternative to a rice and curry lunch.

What to eat – Cutlets, patties, Chinese rolls.

What to drink – Water

Spoil yourself – Chocolate eclair

 

4. Organic Food – The Good Market (http://www.goodmarket.lk)

As the name suggests The Good Market in Colombo is an offering of all things good. As well as local handicrafts, the market offers organically farmed fruit and vegetables, spices and cooked food without additives. There are also stalls representing local charities if you wish to support them. The market happens twice a week – Thursday afternoons in Diyatha Uyana, Battharamulla and Sundays at the Racecourse Grounds, Colombo 7. Both locations are easy to get to. More refreshingly, they will take you off the regular tourist hot spots. You will see people of all backgrounds buying, selling and generally mixing at The Good Market. The range of food here varies from traditional Sri Lankan to tasty cup cakes. More importantly, the food is of the “home cooked” variety. Eat small amounts and taste everything. The traditional food stalls here are as authentically Sri Lankan as you will ever find.

What to eat – Everything

What to drink – Everything

Spoil yourself – A 30 minute massage from the blind therapists at Thusare Talking Hands.

 

5. Dinner – Upali’s by Nawaloka (C.W.W. Kannangara Mawatha, Colombo 7)

Located in Colombo 7, Upali’s has secured it’s place in the hungry bellies of Colombo dwellers as the ”go to” for traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. Do not let the impressive building and affluent location put you off. At the heart of this establishment and it’s success is traditional cookery. Upali’s has established itself in Colombo, where there is no shortage of quality food on offer, due to it’s eye wateringly tasty “village food” menu. This is a feat that at best would be a challenge and at worst impossible to pull off on this scale. However, Upali’s succeeds where many have failed. There is an extensive menu of traditional food such as ”pittu”, ”string hoppers” and ”hoppers”. That is before I can even mention the tear jerkingly tasty lunch buffet. All of which is highly recommended. You will need to visit more than once to enjoy everything on the menu here. Due to it’s popularity, it is commonly accepted that tables are not readily available, particularly in the evenings. However, true to Sri Lankan hospitality, they will never turn a hungry person away. During peak hours, provided there’s enough space, you will be escorted to their coffee shop next door where you may order from the restaurant’s menu. I kid you not!

What to order – Hopper special which arrives with two curries and a coconut sambol.

What to drink – Papaya Juice

Spoil yourself – Watalappan

 

6. Sri Lankan-Chinese Fusion food – Chinese Dragon Cafe (http://www.chinesedragoncafe.com)

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Hot butter cuttle fish and Kun Kung

With a considerable Chinese community, based mainly in the city, Colombo has always been spoilt with magnificent Chinese food. Chinese restaurants in Colombo have been part of the landscape since my childhood. The community has been kind enough to tweak the cuisine to suit local palettes with the use of spices and freshly caught seafood. The result is lethal! This is possibly the reason that Chinese eateries outnumber traditional Sri Lankan eateries in Colombo. They range from 5* restaurants to busy little places with plastic chairs and queues out of the door. The Chinese Dragon Cafe is a small chain and one of the best known in Colombo. Their take on seafood is not for the lighthearted. This is hardcore fusion cookery. The chillie crab, cuttle fish and prawns will sizzle on your tongue. Eat your seafood with Kun Kung – a local stir fried green which is executed to perfection. Skip the fried rice and eat them together.

 

What to eat – Hot Butter Cuttle fish and Kun Kung

What to drink – Lime juice

Spoil yourself – Chillie crab

 

7. Dinner – Flamingo House and The Love Bar (Horton Place, Colombo 7)

Flamingo House is a recent addition to Colombo’s culinary landscape. It has however, established itself fiercely amongst Colombo’s big players. With decor that is easily set to become one of the most Instagrammed spaces in Colombo, it rivals no other. An absolute credit to Flamingo House is that the same attention to detail has been extended to it’s food. The carefully curated menu is as eclectic as the decor. Order the dim sum and you will get a treat that is as light as a breath which melts on your tongue. If this is your cup of tea, get there on a Sunday for their “Sumday” special – All you can eat dim sum. All day! If you are at Flamingo House for an evening meal spend a little while admiring the space. It looks its best when the sun goes down. Once you finish your meal carry yourself upstairs to the Love Bar – the hippest venue in Colombo at present. Order yourself a Kalinga Gimlet and dance the night away.

What to eat – Dim Sum

What to drink – Kalinga Gimlet

Spoil yourself – Anything bubbly

 

8. Pilawoos – After hours (Galle Road, Colombo 3).

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No night out is complete without a 3am Milo

Of all the places on my list there are none more typical of Colombo than the national treasure that is Pilawoos. Serving Sri Lankan street food and open 24 hours, it’s come a long way since its humble beginnings on the sidewalk of Galle Road. It has grown to become an icon of Colombo’s nightlife. Night clubs have come and gone but mighty Pilawoos survived. Arrive here by car and you need not leave it’s comfort; waiters come to your window. This unique service naturally makes it popular with clubbers and night owls (and drunks) of Colombo. Pull in to the sidewalk at 3am and you will see all of Colombo’s elite hanging out of their car windows ordering Kottu Roti and Milo. (“Kottu Roti” translates to “chopped roti” in Tamil). Kottu, as it’s commonly known, consists of chopped roti, veg and meat. Cheese is added at your request. Wash this down with an ice cold Milo and you will be more than ready for bed.

What  to eat – Chicken and Cheese Kottu

What to drink – Milo or Iced Milo

Spoil yourself – Don’t