By Daphne Charles
It was 8 pm and Monsoon Restaurant at Park Street was already abuzz when we were shown to one of the few available tables. This, we learnt, was perfectly normal for a Friday evening, so a reservation was always a good idea. There was a steady trickle of guests walking in and being waved to tables where groups of friends sat sipping drinks.
The sound of the chatter and frequent outbursts of laughter mingled with the notes of the enthusiastic 3-piece band playing just outside, seemed to lift into the high ceiling above, bouncing back an atmosphere of busy excitement.
With its contemporary ambience, the mood seemed set for what the restaurant had to offer – South East Asian cuisine inspired by home cooking and street food.
A quick glance at the drinks menu showed a range of soft drinks, fresh juices, milk shakes, smoothies and hot drinks on offer, with prices ranging from 250-900 rupees. The bar by the entrance boasted a range of alcoholic beverages on display.
One of the first things that caught our attention on the menu was the suggestion to try and order dishes that could be shared around. Given the variety of choices, this seemed an excellent suggestion to taste the range of Vietnamese, Malaysian, Thai, Singaporean and Indonesian fare. To better facilitate a choice, the menu clearly indicates at a glance which country the inspires the dish, how many portions it served and what meat and vegan options are available.
For starters we had the prawn sarong – four fairly big prawns in a fine balance between a cocoon of vermicelli, fried to a golden crisp. The accompanying sweet spicy chilli sauce added the right flavours to the Thai starter, giving the crisp vermicelli the kick it needed and allowing for the savouring of the prawn. Fried to just the right amount, the prawn was fleshy and well-seasoned. Priced at 1100, the prawn sarong was both aesthetically and gastronomically pleasing. We doubled this with a vegan starter – Goi Cuon Rolls, Vietnamese rice paper rolls served with hoisin dipping sauce. Priced at 600 rupees, the rolls were full of crunchy goodness, drawing a sweet and salty flavor from the hoisin sauce. The spacing between the arrival of the dishes was good, as was the spacing between the tables; for while the chatter was loud and consistent, you could still carry on a conversation without fear of being overheard by neighbouring tables.
When you spot Beef Rendang on the menu, everything else fades into the background. Priced at 1550, it was a surprisingly generous portion; the beef was gloriously flavourful with the spices and coconut gravy pleasingly coating every piece.
The Thai style fried rice that we ordered – Khao Phad Jay – was a good accompaniment, given that it had its own subtle taste, without taking away from the flavours of the beef. Priced at rupees 500, it was a sizeable single portion; one that could easily be shared between two, if you’re only feeling peckish.
The Baked Chilli Asian Sea Bass, a Malaysian preparation of spicy marinated fillet, was presented enticingly in a cosy packet of banana leaves, with the sauce and lime on the side. Normally one to opt for the steamed fish, the baked fish was a pleasant surprise, retaining its soft fleshiness.
Priced at rupees 1200, the fish also drew flavor from the banana leaf which it was baked in, adding something familiar to the local palette. The Long Bean Stir Fry, priced at rupees 500, coated in Thai red curry paste was crunchy, but a bit too spicy for greens for my personal taste. However, mixed with the rice, the flavours are well-absorbed.
The food was fairly quick in arriving, despite the fact that the servers were kept busy walking to and fro with many a variety of dish, that looked interesting in its presentation as it passed us. Given that the dishes were spicy, and rightfully so, this tiny detail of refilling the glasses would have added the touch of perfection. All in all, it was an appetizing meal in a vibrant environment.
Would I go back for more? Definitely yes! With more exciting dishes on the menu that are begging to be tried, the restaurant certainly has an allure for the foodie in me.
Dishing up some of the region’s favourite dishes under one very high roof, Monsoon has certainly set a high standard for South East Asian street food in Colombo. (Leisure Plus – Sri Lanka)