By Madushka Balasuriya
Six months since its launch, the Hilton Colombo’s all-day dining restaurant Graze Kitchen has changed things up again, refining and streamlining its offerings in its constant bid for perfection.
On matters of food, most buffets tread a fine line between offering customers as much variety as possible while simultaneously attempting to ensure that the food is of a consistent quality across the board. At Graze, this issue is resolved by simply placing focus on the fundamentals and going back to basics.
“Last time when we opened we all tried to do our best dish,” revealed Hilton Colombo Executive Chef Kazi Hassan addressing a media gathering. “For example with pasta we tried to do a beef cheek ragout and stuff like that, so we tried to be very fluffy and very modern and stuff. This time however we decided to go back to basics.
“The Italian chef will do simple aglio e olio, which he has probably grown up with his mother’s cooking. Same thing with Indian cuisine and same thing with Western. The focus is being rustic. Rustic home cooking is the feeling that we want to give the guests this time.”
This focus on simplicity is also why those at Graze hesitate to refer to the restaurant as a ‘buffet’. The concept of Graze has always been at odds with that of a traditional buffet; instead of offering endless variety, it encourages patrons to be generous with their time, relax, have a drink, and at their own pace try a little of everything on offer. With that concept however comes its own unique challenges.
“Imagine feeding 200 people at once in this restaurant; you need to cook a lot and make sure food is constantly available. But we’re all about live cooking, that’s why we don’t have chafing dishes. Cooking stations are just right there, so we can cook fresh and serve fresh.
“This is why even the pots with the food are small. It might be more stressful for the chefs because they want to always have food ready, but it’s important for the guest to taste food which is as fresh as possible. Which is why we are not like any other buffet, it’s not two miles long, we didn’t focus on that. Our goal was quality and freshness.”
Mixing it up
On a purely cosmetic level, the locations of some of the stations have been switched up, with the dessert counter, previously taking up a central location, now moved near the entrance. A move definitely for the better, as the medley of delicacies on display provide an ideal welcome with the colourful and technically perfect structures eschewing a veritable feast for the eyes.
The salad and sushi counters, meanwhile, which had earlier taken up the focus at the entrance, have now been relocated to the centre, where guests are provided with more space so as to peruse a wider selection of healthy food options. This is something Chef Kazi was keen to emphasise on, in light of recent trends towards healthy living.
“We’ve focused a lot on the salad buffet. People these are days are very health conscious, they eat a lot of salads. If you see the salad section, you will start of by facing the composition of all the salads, such as dips cold cuts and artisan cheese. On the other side, we have got the compound salads, which are very much ready to just take on your plate and go. Then next to it you can make your own salads as well, as well as an option to have traditional Thai salads as well.”
The other stations remain the same with the expected offerings of Thai, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Indian and Western cuisines, with just one notable change. In their first six months a noticeable trend was for the Sri Lankan station to be less popular during dinner, as a result Sri Lankan food will no longer be served at night. Instead it will be replaced with a revolving door of international cuisines such as Mexican, Arabic, or even a Tempura station.
“We’ve noticed that people don’t really go for rich Sri Lankan curries at night. Moreover, we at Hilton are focusing more on Curry Leaf at night when it comes to authentic Sri Lankan.”
While the march towards culinary perfection is likely a never-ending one, Graze does have an ultimate goal in mind: to set Sri Lanka on the map as go-to destination for international standard cuisine.
“I’d like to ask you to judge us not only among Sri Lankan restaurants, but on an international scale as well. Why because we have brought in many international chefs, and we take pride in what we want to deliver. We want to be in the international market with our standard and quality.”
To set about achieving this Chef Kazi, who is Australian, has brought together a highly-talented team of chefs from China, Thailand, Italy, India, and Japan to head up their respective cuisines. The backbone of the team however is made up of Sri Lankan talent.
“Our goal was to get Sri Lankan chefs who had international exposure but wanted to come back home and settle down. In fact internationally Sri Lankan chefs prove their quality time and again. If you look at the Gulf culinary competition, there are not many Sri Lankan chefs you will find who have not won medals.”
Pix by Daminda Harsha Perera