Lemongrass receives seal of approval for Thai Cuisine from Thai Select

Friday, 16 August 2013 06:50 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Cheranka Mendis For as long as she remembers, Awanthi Wijethilake wanted to set up her own Indian restaurant. She wanted a special dining option for guests to sit and munch on crispy rotti’s dipped in red paneer curries while personal stewards waited on them; a unique establishment creating an exotic atmosphere for dining. Three years ago, when Awanthi along with her husband Indika Wijethilake embarked on a venture to realise this dream, she had no idea that by the time she completed the restaurant’s infrastructure, her dreams would have had to be improved upon; make it bigger and different, yet retain the hope of opening a restaurant that will be known for its high quality of food and service. This was the beginning of Lemongrass a unique Indian and Thai food restaurant down Sri Jayewardenepura Road, in front of the Diyawanna Lake. Three years ago, the owners of Lemongrass, the Wijethilake’s were ready to wage war against the large number of restaurants with a clean and wholesome product that exuberates delicious and quality food in a friendly atmosphere. Today they reap the benefit of maintaining the highest standards as a recipient of a prestigious seal of approval for Thai cuisine from Thai Select, an award given exclusively by the Thai government to selected restaurants outside the country that serve Thai cuisine in recognition of high standards of quality in food and services. Lemongrass is also an ‘A’ grade restaurant approved by Sri Lanka Tourist Board. “We are elated about the award,” Awanthi said. “This is an honour that we hope to maintain over the next few years as we have done from the beginning.” It has been noted that the award has only been given to less than a handful of restaurants in Sri Lanka by an independent panel who visited each restaurant without prior notice. “From day one, my target has been to serve good food for customers,” she said. A quality-conscious consumer herself, there have been many a times when she has pulled up managers for low level of service and low quality of food presented at restaurants. “Having done that, I have advised my staff to always uphold the superiority of what we present here, even if we won’t maintain a profit margin.” Her love for food and cooking, in particular Indian food, was what propelled her to establish the restaurant. All was set, with Indian chefs, necessary ingredients stocked up and a kitchen waiting to get busy making various curries. However, as fate would have it just two weeks before the designated opening, a friend introduced the husband-wife duo to a Thai chef, who was known to whip up delicious dishes with whatever was presented. After tasting some of her specialities, the duo decided to take her on board, turning the Indian food restaurant to an Indian and Thai food restaurant. “Our initial costs were higher than we expected,” Awanthi explained. “We realised that if we were to continue with my plan of serving a maximum of 20 guests with designated stewards, we would not have been able to run the business for an extended period. The building itself was bigger than what I had in mind.” The kitchen area in particular was a sizable room and splitting it in to an Indian and Thai kitchen was an easy task. “When we were introduced to our Thai chef it was a blessing in disguise. After contemplating on the mix of the food, we decided to go ahead despite Sri Lanka not having one restaurant that exclusively caters to just Thai and Indian cuisine.” Today, their extensive menu offers over 200 Thai dishes and another 200 Indian dishes. Even if a particular favourite of a customer is not on the menu, upon request and the chef’s confidence, anything can be served, she said. The menu is revised every three months. Some of the most popular dishes of Lemongrass include the seafood Thai rice and the Garupa. The portions served are also quite sizable, and when one orders a meat dish, the meat is actually more than the garnish; something that you don’t always see in many restaurants.  “Only a very few restaurants in Sri Lanka can guarantee that what they serve has no MSG and that everything is fresh off the basket,” Awanthi said, “but we can.” The flavours are brought out with the use of various herbs that are mostly found in rural villages in the outskirts of Colombo. Owing to the heavy demand for these herbs, Awanthi has recently started growing these in a plot of land in Battaramulla. “Sometimes the demand is so much that we cannot find it. When this happen, we have to temporarily take off those dishes from the menu. To avoid disappointing our customers we have our own herb garden now, even though most are still brought in from Rathnapura, etc.” The restaurant also has no freezer stored food, ready to be sent to the table after a few tosses in the pan. A picky eater, she doesn’t like eating leftovers, even at home. Thanks to this, customers are invited to come check their kitchens any time they want as they do not freeze any food, even the sauces. “Everything is made then and there. This is one of the key aspects we are proud of here.” With the kitchen busy and running, Awanthi has managed to open a smaller scale restaurant in the Diyatha Uyana leisure area since of recent. Business is thriving there, with the restaurant offering lunch and dinner for those who come to enjoy the breeze of the lake. However, her plans don’t end there. Next step is to open a fine dining restaurant with the same combination in the near future. “What I want next is a bigger and better dining space.” Lemongrass has a seating capacity of 150 persons and is open for lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and for dinner from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Pix by Sameera Wijesinghe