Nihal Arthanayake: my perfect day in Colombo

As well as being 5 Live’s main man, Nihal Arthanayake has just written a book called Let’s Talk: How to Have Better Conversations. So we thought we’d talk to him about his dream day in a place he knows well: Sri Lanka’s cracker of a capital city

I’d start the day in the grand old wing of the white-columned colonial-era Galle Face Hotel, with its massive rooms and dark wooden floors. I’d then come down for breakfast on the terrace, which looks out to the sea. There’s usually an old chap with a slingshot, wandering around firing warning shots at crows to discourage them from trying to eat your breakfast, which means I’d get it all to myself and I’d be set to venture out into Colombo. 

I like my clothes, so first up, I’d do a bit of shopping. In Colombo that means going to a boutique called PR, run by Annika Fernando, which stocks incredible stuff by contemporary Sri Lankan and Indian designers. 

After that, I’d head upstairs to Annika’s sister’s place: the Saskia Fernando Gallery. Saskia is the art queen of Colombo, and what I love about the work she sells is that it’s not “exotic” art for a western eye, it’s very contemporary and abstract. 

Then for lunch I would head to the old colonial-era Dutch Hospital, which has been converted into shops and restaurants including the Ministry of Crab, which is co-owned by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who are two of the all-time greats of Sri Lankan cricket. It’s the perfect place for a hands-on seafood feast. 

Then I might go back to the Galle Face and have a swim in the pool to work up an appetite for dinner and its legendary chicken burger. It’s a running joke that I’m addicted to the Galle Face chicken burger. But you see, in the west, people give you just the slab of a breast of chicken and they call it a chicken burger. A burger by its very definition has to be a minced patty, right? The western version is a lie. The one they do at the Galle Face is the real thing. I’d have it a with a fried egg because I’m a classy kind of guy. 

For drinks, I would go to Park Street Mews, which is a little cobbled street full of noisy bars. My favourite is Uncle’s, which has this giant mural of a Sri Lankan film poster from the 1970s. It’s where Colombo’s hipsters go to drink arrack cocktails. Arrack is basically coconut whisky and it is something you have to try when you’re in Sri Lanka, not doing so would be like going to the Caribbean and not trying rum. I would probably go simple and have it with ginger ale, but I might just ask the mixologist to rustle me up something special if I was feeling adventurous.  

At the end of the night, after I’d had a bit to drink and a dance, I would go to Pilawoos. It’s an institution. It’s the Bar Italia of Colombo where everyone goes at the end of the night for a plate of kottu, which is a roti that has been chopped up and fried with vegetables and spices. It’s brilliant comfort food, the Sri Lankan equivalent of a post-club kebab.

You can follow Nihal here and buy Let’s Talk here

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