It's always a pleasure to discover somewhere that you have never heard of, that turns out to be unexpectedly good. That's what happened with Tarshish; we came across the place by sheer good luck on our way somewhere else. It looked interesting so we thought we would give it a try and we're so glad that we did.
Address: 85 Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 00700
Phone: 011 230 2952
Directions: on Srimath Anagarika Dharmapaka Mawatha, going east, it is shortly after Premadasa jewellery and the AIA building, on the left side opposite the Korean Embassy.
Tarshish is both a restaurant and small hotel with a little over half a dozen rooms. It is a few steps up a side street and has a small seating area outside, with two or three tables, and a larger restaurant area inside.
We weren't sure whether to expect a hotel or a restaurant (it is actually both!) and, seeing a few tables and chairs outside, we first thought that it might be a very casual dining place. However an impressive mural on the wall made us pause and we saw that there is actually a restaurant inside as well. Inside, it looked really nice, tables laid ready for a three course meal, with an orange-and-black theme: orange place mats, black linen napkins and alternate orange and black chairs. On each table was a wooden holder containing salt and pepper mills, also made of wood, a glass bottle with a decorative plant and a glass bowl inside which was a tea light candle ready to be lit. On the walls, Mexican styled wall art watched us as we chose a table and sat down.
Although the name might sound Arabian or Levantine, the food on offer is a mixture of Sri Lankan, European and with some Asian dishes as well.
For lighter bites the menu includes a choice of burgers and sandwiches. However, it's the main dishes that sound more interesting. From the international menu we noticed grilled seer fish, caramelised roast chicken, lamb cutlet and a selection of steaks. On the Sri Lankan menu we saw dishes such as Galle Pethi Mas, Nuwara Kukul Mas curry, Matara Isso Curry and Negambo Dallo Baduna. The Asian menu was a little shorter, with Nasi Goreng and a range of stir fries, rice and noodles.
There are some vegetarian options such as penne arrabiatta or vegetable fajita and there is also a kids' menu offering fish & chips, mac & cheese and the typical things that kids are expected to like.
As well as the regular full menu, they also have a choice of lunch specials which looked like really good value, and a daily breakfast menu from 7am to 11am.
Being a little short of time, we opted for one of the lunch options which gave us a chicken fried rice, chilli beef, kangkung with garlic and a green salad.
Clockwise from top left: Chilli Beef and Green Salad; Chilli Beef; Chicken Fried Rice; Kangkung and Garlic.
The beef and the salad arrived first, followed by the kangkung and rice a minute or two later.
The Green Salad was quite good, chopped lettuce and cucumber, with bell peppers and a few slices of green chilli mixed in and some slices of tomato on the side. Apart from a couple of pieces of lettuce which looked but aged, it otherwise seemed nice and fresh. There was no discernible salad dressing but that allowed for the flavour of the leaves and peppers. It was also chilled so quite refreshing.
The chilli beef was surprisingly good, with plenty of succulent beef mixed with red and green bell peppers. There had been some wariness that it might be very spicy; there certainly was a tang to it, so lips were a little numb by the end of it, but it was in no way uncomfortably spicy. There was a nice flavour, too, beyond the chilli and the beef itself was, mostly, tender with just a couple of slightly chewy pieces.
We were not really familiar with kangkung, also known as water spinach, so were not sure what to expect but were pleasantly surprised. It was lightly and crunchy, with a light flavour quite similar to spinach, unsurprisingly, and enhanced with sliced garlic and mushrooms. It was very good.
Finally the chicken fried rice, with finely diced carrots, peas, onion and egg. After the slightly fiery beef and the garlic flavoured kangkung this tasted rather mild, almost bland. That would have been easily remedied by mixing in some chilli sauce but that would have left us with just the salad to cool our palates so we enjoyed the mildness of the rice. It was light, not at all sticky, and filled us nicely.
Overall it was a nice combination of the spiciness of the beef, the tasty and crunchy kangkung, with the mild rice and cooling salad. It went well together, was all nicely cooked and very tasty. Very good and excellent value.
There was nobody else in the restaurant so we had the undivided attention of the staff. We were welcomed when we walked up, offered the menu, invited to sit inside or outside. The manager was happy to chat with us about the place and the cook came out to check that everything was to satisfaction. All very welcoming and friendly.
The set lunch that we chose was Rs500, and at that price it was really excellent value. The other set lunches range from Rs450 to Rs550, so all truly good value.
From the regular menu, burgers are priced at Rs1100 to Rs1200, sandwiches Rs800 to Rs900 and most of the western dishes Rs1200 to Rs1500, with prawns and Rs2200 and steaks from Rs4200. From the Asian menu fried rices and noodles start from Rs900 and the Sri Lankan curries from Rs1100 to Rs1500. Desserts range from Rs600 to Rs900.
However the daily lunch specials really represent excellent value at Rs450 to Rs550.
They also have daily breakfast specials, a different set breakfast each day from 7am to 11am, with five items; Wednesday for example offers Roast Paan, Scrambled Eggs, Chicken Sausages, Dhal Curry and a Set Yoghurt. Priced at Rs250 that, too, represents excellent value.
A really good find. The restaurant has a pleasant feel and ambience, the food that we tried was good, and with a nice range of Sri Lankan, Western and Asian food. The set breakfasts and lunches offer really good value. Overall, well recommended.