Asylum is tucked away at the far end of Arcade at Independence Square. It is both a bar and a restaurant, doing both food and cocktails very well, in a pleasant and relaxed environment.
Address: No. 3 Arcade, Independence Square, Colombo 00700 Phone: 077 360 1377
Directions: On the ground floor of Arcade at one end of the building. From the entrance that seems to be most used, by Burger King, go past the stairs, turn left and continue to the end.
Covid Care: very thorough. All staff wear masks, we were asked to complete a register with our contact details and a bottle of hand sanitiser was brought to the table.
Walking through the beautifully restored Arcade and its old school architecture certainly sets a scene, even in the current times. The Arcade was deserted when we arrived, apart from a couple of young guys who looked at us as if they had seen a family of ghosts. Thankfully the reception on entering Asylum was somewhat warmer.
Asylum bills itself as a "restaurant lounge bar"; it tries to be all three and, in fact, it carries it off well. To the left is a seated restaurant dining area; to the right is a bar, with stools at the bar and a couple of high tables, as well as some low sofas. The decor is quite simple but the window arches and shutters, the vases and ornaments, all give a historic atmosphere and the place feels warm and vibrant. A stage in the bar area promises live music.
We were offered a menu for "Lunch and Dinner". Flicking through it was quickly clear that the menu does not offer a huge number of choices, but an incredibly wide choice.
To start, there was a choice of two soups and four starters including two salads.
However for main course, it was almost like browsing at a travel agency. As well as the usual pastas and pizzas from Italy, there is paella from Spain; fish and chips from UK; spreading our wings further afield, there is North African Lamb Tagine; peri peri chicken - a dish from Portugal using a sauce from South Africa; lamb with a South American chimichurri sauce. To add a more "fusion" feel, the pizza choices include a chicken tikka pizza. Altogether there's less than twenty dishes to choose from, but with flavours from four continents, which is impressive.
The drinks menu is also broad but with much more to choose from, including some good whiskeys and four pages of cocktails - again, with the common cocktails supplemented by some with a local flavour.
We ordered some drinks, including cocktails - there was a happy hour so we were able to get two for the price of one from the selection - and to eat we opted for a mix of European and Asian. As we were ordering, one of us remembered having once had tapas here and we asked if they still have a tapas menu. They do - with over a dozen to choose from. So we opted for some tapas to whet our appetites, instead of starters.
During the course of the evening, we tried three cocktails including a traditional Singapore Sling and a more local Perfect Storm. All were well mixed, full of flavour and nicely presented.
Popcorn chicken Crispy whitebait
The tapas came after the first drinks, as it should, though it is worth noting that Asylum is one of the few places that delivered everything in the right order - drinks, starters, main course.
The popcorn chicken was a little disappointing; it seemed overcooked and dry. The chili mayo accompanying it was good, and spicy, but didn't make up for the dry chicken.
The whitebait on the other hand was excellent. It was only lightly coated but was still crispy and was not overly dry. The dipping sauce was light and added only a little to the flavour but that worked well as the fish and coating was tasty enough to need little enhancement.
Hainanese Chicken Pasta Alfredo Peri Peri Chicken
We had selected a variety of main courses, sampling European and Asian. The dishes all arrived together and were nicely presented, visually appealing.
The Hainanese Chicken was resting on top of some cucumber and tomato and was served with a sculpted mound of rice and selection of sauces. The chicken was tasted good and was juicy and the rice was well cooked. The main sauce was a little bland but otherwise all tasted good and the flavours combined well.
The Pasta Alfredo too was good, the sauce creamy and in just the right quantity to give it flavour without drowning the pasta. The broccoli was a bit scarce but otherwise it was a hit.
The Peri Peri Chicken too was good, nicely presented with two swirls of sauces. The Peri Peri had a nice tang to it and the mash was also cooked well.
We were all happy with the main courses. Despite having had starters and mains, we were tempted to try the desserts too! So with the decision aided by a couple of cocktails, we did.
Basked Alaska Baked Alaska Chocolate Cake
We selected two desserts. The dessert of the day was a chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream and a fresh strawberry. This was good, rich and with a full chocolate flavour.
The piece de resistance though was the Baked Alaska, a large slice of Neapolitan ice cream, surrounded by chocolate cake and covered in meringue. To set it off, upon serving it set alight, so the top of the meringue melted into something warm and gooey, mixing wonderfully with the ice cream. Decadent, but recommended!
Ambience and Service
Both very good. The simple but effective decor, with the colonial arches and windows, and combining the bar, lounge and restaurant areas, gives a historic feeling, almost like a "speakeasy". It can be quietly romantic if you want to sit cosily on the sofa, or a group can gather at the bar for a drink and a laugh, or - like us - you can sit at a table for a family meal.
The service, too, was good. We were welcomed as we arrived, asked if we were wanted to sit at the bar or the restaurant. Before even bringing the menu, our waiter brought a bottle of hand sanitiser and another brought a register to note down our contact details. Empty plates were cleared after checking if we were finished, refills were offered, and the staff were hospitable and efficient.
Our total bill for the evening was a little over Rs17,000 including service charge and taxes.
The food alone added up to a little over Rs9,000 with tapas at Rs950-1000 and the main courses Rs1450 to Rs1850. So it is not cheap - but it good.
Beers were Rs900-950 per bottle; cocktails from Rs900 to Rs1700 but there's a good selection available at Rs550 during "happy hour", 5pm to 8pm, so much more affordable.
Ultimately, Asylum is not the place for a cheap date but it is a place to relax, enjoy, maybe impress and be impressed. There's places that are cheaper; there's also places that charge more but do not deliver quality. Asylum does deliver, good food, good drinks and good service in a great atmosphere.