Saturday, 12 October 2013 00:00
If you are a regular visitor to the Lionel Wendt, there is no doubt you would have seen the small and homely space of light and cosy furniture a few metres away down Guilford Crescent, Colombo 7.
Enveloped in warm lights with plush sofas featuring lots of cushions and little knickknacks on low coffee tables, Cocoon is the latest addition to the ever-growing food business in Colombo.
Offering coffee, conversation and delicious snacking, Cocoon stands out from the typical cafes and restaurants sprouting up in every available corner in the city with its homely and snug invitation that is evident from the moment you step into the little space of happiness.
At Cocoon what you see is what you get – a chilled out zone for anyone who needs a breather from the fast pace at which we tend to move at these days and settle down for some good ol’ coffee with some good ol’ friends. A home-away-from-home of sorts, the cafe has a personality that brings out a warmth similar to the one at home on a good day, with nothing to do and plenty of time to relax and rewind.
Sitting down for a chat on a Wednesday morning, the key person behind the cafe and the adjoining furnishing fabric business, Shivanthi Manuel, is all smiles as she reflected on how “everything has fallen into place” despite never having intended to open up a cafe eight months after opening up her furnishing fabric shop, Cocoon.
“Because of the way we presented our furnishing, many who passed by started to drop in at the shop thinking it was a cafe. There were so many inquires initially that I began thinking about it more seriously.” Identifying that there was extra space in the form of a ‘plain old garage’ right next to her office, the designer in her got working and voila – Cocoon Cafe as you see now was brought to life.
“I believe it was the cosy feeling in our furnishing shop that led many to believe that it was in fact a coffee stop. Keeping that in mind, the cafe was designed with our own furniture, with little knickknacks that I feel puts everyone at ease,” Shivanthi said. “We want people to feel comfortable.”
As you walk in, just below the counter are wooden shelves with board games, Rubik cubes and realistic looking apples and capsicums. The wall is filled with photographs of Shivanthi, her family and friends. “I believe it is important to personalise. Even the customer who walks in feels at home here.”
Even the menu is kept simple with the dishes being rotated every three to four days. What she wants is to surprise the customer. “Instead of knowing what you want to order, I want them to come, see and ask us what’s on the menu today.” And so far this has worked well. “We are not competing with mainstream coffee shops or restaurants. We don’t want it to be too commercial.”
There are daily specials written on a blackboard beside the counter. However, there are also few baked items and juices that have found a steady home on the menu. There are two smoothies – California Smoothie (orange and strawberry) and Citrus Smoothie – as well as virgin pina coladas, Shirley Temples and minty avocado to be chosen from; along with hot chocolate, iced Milo, espresso, mocha latte and cappuccinos. The coffee, sourced from Dubai, is nothing short of excellent.
For dining, the dishes that have so far been rotated are beef kofta with couscous, roast beef sandwich, pork ribs with mash, tuna shrimp quiche with garlic toast, mushroom swiss, and honey pork salad. A chicken salad will soon be introduced as well, she said. There are carrot cakes and brownies and cookies too.
Having tried out four of the six dishes on the menu, we can guarantee that the food here is fantastic. We recommend the succulent pork ribs with possibly one of the best mash tasted so far, the mushroom swiss which but a scrumptious almost meaty taste and the honey pork salad in which we managed to gobble down all the greens as well because it was that good!
Commenting on the secret behind the taste, she said: “A lot of our suppliers are friends and family. My mother does most of the meats and the best dishes of our friends and extended family are sold here. We do simple dishes that people like and what we can make in no time.”
Shivanthi manages the cafe with just one staffer and her sister helps out part time.
She recalled a previous interview with the Weekend FT in February when she launched her furnishing shop, where she mentioned she wouldn’t mind having a cafe alongside the shop due to popular demand. “It wasn’t a set plan then,” she explained.
What’s next? A quaint little bed-and-breakfast perhaps, Shivanthi reflected. “If I were to take it forward, that is what I would love to do. A small bed-and-breakfast with a cafe on the side that is hip and comfortable.”
Only a few weeks since it opened, establishing a cafe and working there has been fun, she said. “It is nicer because everyone is involved. Some may say that this is the recipe for disaster but for me, getting everyone involved means making things very personal, which gives a warm, happy feeling, and this is reflected in our cafe.”
Cocoon Cafe is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and is definitely worth a visit.
Pix by Sameera Wijesinghe