Coi By Vichalya
Reviewed and Written By Chef S. Surene
Nishikigoi Koi a Japanese word for affection and love.
A restaurant A place where people pay to sit and eat meals that are cooked and served on the premises (Oxford dictionary)
I ate, I stayed and I paid.
What makes it different? The part where I wrote “I stayed” because I loved it.
It was a world apart. New to the restaurant scene (three months since its opening) this place initially called a restaurant will be summed up into more than what the dictionary defines it to be.
A daring enterprise that moves away from what the majority want a place to be. Psychology calls this being a deviant (departing from usual or accepted standards d ictionary.com) .
The location is where you would want any restaurant to be. The heart of Colombo. In the mix and hassle of the elite. Found around it are some of the finest fast food eateries around from a shop that sells internationally renowned ice cream to flat round bread with ingredients on top that was derived from an ancient culture that created the gladiators.
Just below a well known couples retreat called Clique (a description of which I cannot provide as their requirements to enter cannot not be met by yours truly)You will find yourself in a little long room.
In perfect white with colors and paint strokes taken from a centuries old culture of the land of the rising sun. Not just a copy and paste of an ancient art. The beautiful swirls of colors of pink, yellow, green, blue and a mixture of each paint out a story from wall to ceiling about an adventure, as I was told, of a few Coi. The flow from pond to the land of peacocks and Kathakali dancers to the swallows of the sky and to the land of the teardrop pearl which is depicted by a nicely drawn elephant and that of a partial Yaka Mask. This adventure is what they intend to take you on and they very much succeeded at it.
The eyes are then taken to the semichrome hanging round lights that are in a perfect row that reflects the paintings before allowing you to focus on the tables that it lights up just under it. Plenty of lighting, very much away from the normally seen restaurants that use dim lights, for they want want you to take in every detail that the decor offers.
The table set up is a new touch. A paper place mat alternating with color and black and white just so it breaks the line by not making it over colorful to the extent of a children’s playroom.
The white high backed chairs with the gold cane weave work and the white tables just took us away from the chaotic world outside and really calmed the senses. White is a very powerful color and depending on how it’s used can relax a person or intimidate them. Away from the glass they moved and used a black and white vertical striped ceramic mug. A different touch. Not in the usual sense of any restaurant. A pale wasabi green bowl placed in the center with a single butter knife on a neatly folded black napkin. A pair of black polished chopsticks on an equally black chopstick rest.The moving between the loud vibrant colors of the decor and the black of the table setup really contrasted allowing such a pleasing sensation to permit itself to the diner.
Then came the menu. Handed over by waiters looking smart and confident. This provided us with the idea that they knew their job, were proud of the place they work and was looking forward to providing an experience in serving. The menu was large, flat and neatly columned with wordings that were really not detailedly written. It was beautifully laid out in front of us giving us yet another glance of the decor that they used.
The dishes were non confusing informing us of what exactly will be found in any dish and if you want anything more to know, just look up to your left or right and ask away from your courteous waiter. They know the menu and is delighted to talk you through the dish when your mind has settled into what you would fancy for that evening.
We took an easy way out for us but added pressure on to the server. Asked him to recommend our evening’s tune all the way through. It’s like going to a cinema and watching a movie. They ought to know what they’re doing to make the movie a top watcher.
A selection of three starters were described to us and I really liked the sound of it except of green chili in a sushi roll. I was assured that it was flavorful and not at all “fire brigade to the mouth” bringing.
While waiting for our order to come around, a lovely bread platter was placed on our table. Perfectly sized and rolled and they made sure not to let the diners fight over who gets the last roll (a endeavor seen at most places because servers just throw the rolls into a basket)
The wood that it was served on took our minds back to the fact that the Cois are still out on their adventure. The bread was neatly arranged and varied and what was really interesting was that there was no butter. It was only two little jam jars, one filled with the green of a kochchi coconut sambol and the other with a red sweet chili jam that was heavenly on the tongue. Warms it up which gives the ill using that the bread too stays warm over the time it is on your table.
The first of the three started arrived.
What was presented was beauty on a black long plate, again highlighting the colors just like the decor all around.
Started off with the salmon shake sashimi
Pieces of salmon that is pre marinated. A little slippery on the chopsticks but the mouth feel of it makes all worthwhile. It’s like a plunge into a different world. The salmon just melted in your mouth. It was fresh. This gave the one muscle in your mouth, that tastes everything and feels everything, to enjoy it selfishly by not allowing the teeth to take the glory away. The sweetness of the white radish along with the haunting and electric flavor of the wasabi made this first dish a must have.
Thought that everything else will be just as good? It was better.
What came next was the green chili crab roll.
The perfectly cooked and flavored rice rolled around a nori sheet stuffed with tender crab meat, wasabi and green chili. Sounds overpowering but the chef made it all blend so nicely that it felt like every taste bud was screaming in ecstasy and with want for more. Topped with diced tomatoes to sweeten and subtly moistening it and caviar giving that elegance that an olive leaf wreath brings along with the hint of the flavor of the sea.
Just had to go easy on the pickled ginger or else the whole roll would be compromised. This was a step up from the previous dish and there was yet another starter to go.
And the final starter came through. So far, speed of service was truly on point. The kitchen team knew their movements around a kitchen not defaulting on flavor and presentation at all.
The prawn roll rolled out next and even though it didn’t have the flavorgasm the crabs provided, it made up in texture and flavor.
The creaminess of the avocado slices covering the roll with the crispness of the battered prawns inside and the popping of the heavily placed caviar on top was astounding. The Karashi mayonnaise highlighted it all so well. This had to be dipped in soy sauce to give that salty fermented taste it required to allow that wow in every bite. Something which the crab roll never needed.
The stepping up of flavors and textures of the three plates showed me that the servers at Coi knew what they were recommending.
We decided to throw in one last starter before we get the ball tossed out of the starter grounds and into the main grounds.
One order of the lobster had to be obtained.
Raw lobster in orange juice marinade and served with slices of oranges was interesting. The orange juice made the oiliness that one feels at the back of the throat reduce to a mere gelatinous stimulation of the senses.
All they had to do was then ask me what I would like for our main.
It was a tough choice between the pork belly and the salmon but my weakness for the salmon made that decision come quick to order.
The salmon, a large chunk of fillet, was marinated in green tea and pickled. It gave an interesting softened texture whilst having that light steamed green tea flavor, which was not at the forefront. I would have preferred if the salmon had more of a definite shape to it although this would only affect the presentation on the dish and nothing else. It was confusing at first and then the confusion increased with every bite but it was a fun confusion. Something I have not had with salmon before. The pickled guava pieces served with it added a sweetness to the dish which perfected it.
Keep in mind, that the dish offers a new experience and going in with a fork while keeping your past experiences away is what is required here.
The coconut cream drizzle around it and the chili jam back in action made every bite a controlled one. Though one thing that has to be mentioned, the guava pieces make the salmon so much better and would have preferred having more of it. The sprig of cilantro on top added to a flavor that the local palette is used to. The fusion of the south east and the Far East worked extremely well here and the use of the banana leaf,the crunching sounds that it offered allowed my sense of hearing to be involved in this pleasant yet exciting experience.
The food was not filling to the point of forgetting everything that was eaten.
The flavors were all so perfectly blended and no one ingredient pushed any other out of the way.
The fusion brings in unique and interesting ideas to the table and that is what an adventure is all about. To move away from what you know and cherish just for an evening and allow the masters to take over and guide you on an experience. Why go on your hands and knees covering under fire when you can run right through the battlefield like we do when we play first person shooter games.
A highly recommended place. Worry not the prices it offers for this is an entrepreneur who knows what he’s doing.
Just like how you’ve been waiting for much awaited movie. Or how you’ve been dying to go on that three day trip with your friends that you started organizing 3 months ago. Or how you can’t wait till you are twenty one to get into a bar and try out for the first time a drink as a legal, the very same enthusiasm one can find in food when they go to the right places that loves food as much as life itself.
Reviewed and Written By Chef S. Surene
Culinary & Hospitality Trainer,
Colombo Academy of Hospitality Management @ SLIIT