Monday, September 24, 2007

The Galle Fort Hotel

The Galle Fort Hotel
Sri Lanka
Booking: +94912232870

Chris Ong and Karl Steinberg own the Galle Fort Hotel: Ong jacked in a career in investment banking in Malaysia and he and partner Steinberg bought the 17th century Dutch villa following a trip to Galle staying in a Muslim-owned guesthouse in the fort (where Madam was more than a little suspicious about her rather exotic guests).

Steinberg's a pleasant chap, a little shy perhaps. But Ong is a real character - scandalous, arch and highly amused, he's the cook and a fantastic one at that. Together, the pair have transformed a ruin into what must stand as one of the most stylish boutique hotels in the East: a fantastic, uber-funky 14 room slice of sheer post-colonial lavishness, the Galle Fort Hotel is an absolute must for a meal, but also the best place to stay in Galle by far. Rooms start in at around the same price as the badly-run Sun House, coming in at way under a third of the outrageous rates charged by the Amangalla down the road. And the Galle Fort, for my money, is a much better place to stay than the Aman, which may be posh but is also snotty, doesn't have AC in its dining room and serves odd food. Honestly, if I wanted to eat vichyssoise, Galle is probably not the first place I'd choose to eat it...

Now I must be clear here: we didn't actually stay at the Galle Fort. We'd blown it and decided to stay at the Sun House, but we ended up spending most of our time down at the Galle Fort before finally fleeing to Colombo after deciding we'd rather eat our own earlobes than spend another night at the Sun House and, when it comes down to it, Galle. But Chris took us around the rooms and they are utterly stunning: we ate there, hung around there and generally used it as a bolt-hole, much to our second host's amusement. And it's lovely.

The food is amazing. Ong is a self-taught cook and his talent for presentation, for innovative menus that combine asian, fusion and european dishes, flavours and textures means that every meal is a delight. There's choice on the menu and the kitchen will do pretty much anything you ask of it within reason. Chris' chicken soong starter and his amazing tarte au citron are still standout experiences for me, but I have to confess I spent three days stealing from him quite happily.

If you've had enough of the local food and you want to eat stunningly well in Sri Lanka, better than you can in Colombo, then the Galle Fort is the place to be. If you want to stay in Galle, then give it up (it isn't cheap) and stay at the Fort.

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