Town mouse visits Sri Lanka

Onion ice cream, anyone?

The politician Sir Charles Dilke loved Colombo, capital of what was then Ceylon, when he visited in the 1860s. Having cantered along the esplanade, he rode over the moat of the fort and found himself ‘in what is perhaps the most graceful street in the world’.

Fort, part of the modern business district, was, until recently, a high-security zone, due to Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, which suppressed development. Now, colonial Colombo is being restored.

We stayed in a boutique hotel, whose origin as the home of a British official was betrayed by its name: Tintagel.

We ate in another, called the Uga Residence, gorging on a menu that combined the spices that are indigenous to Sri Lanka — a country where pepper vines grow by the side of the road and cinnamon is practically a weed — with the imagination of a brilliant young chef of the new school.

Highlights were jackfruit soup (a taste between mushroom and chestnut) and ice cream flavoured with the caramelised-onion relish seeni sambol and fried sprats, which was palatable, if weird.

Then there’s the Ministry of Crab in the Old Dutch Hospital, which Dilke would have seen. You’re given a bib when you arrive — order your crab by weight and go on from there. I fear they’ll have to weigh me as well as the luggage when I go home.