Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CASA COLOMBO – REVIEW

Colombo's funkiest hotel - for the in crowd and anyone who likes to have fun
Casa Colombo is a dazzling tribute to the creative talents of owner Lalin Jinasena. Not only has he restored this colonial mansion to its former glory, but he has also custom designed everything inside it - cutlery and crockery, furniture and fabrics - and done so with stunning innovation, using craftsmen and materials only from Sri Lanka.

The hotel's 12 unique suites, which range from 45 to 90 sq.m. are quite possibly the largest in the city, and are decked out with super-kingsize beds and all the latest gizmos you could want.

With no reception desk, your own Casa Domo (think personal butler) looks after you during your entire stay; he will take care of any needs that may arise, from getting you a poolside drink to taking you on a city tour or sending an important business fax. Casa Colombo is a boutique hotel through and through: different, a bit cheeky, and extremely stylish, occasionally over the top. There is nothing like it in Colombo, or even in the rest of Sri Lanka.

Rooms
Each of the 12 suites is different, with its own distinct colour scheme, layout and character. But there are some common features: polished concrete walls, hand-woven silver and black bed linen, and red mood lighting and copper bathtubs.

All are well decked out with the latest mod cons, including 29-inch LCD TV, high fidelity sound system and movies on an apple iPod, as well as WiFi, an eclectic selection of loungy in-room tunes and an intelligent bedside panel that allows you to control the lighting from either side of your super-kingsize bed.

The 8 corporate suites have their own work desk, complete with apple laptop and printer / fax / photocopying machine - useful if you're here on business, but not worth the extra $80 otherwise.

Hairdryers and bathrobes and a wide selection of custom made toiletries are provided, as well as his and hers vanity kits.

Eating
The hotel's 3 restaurants and one bar attract the trendy crowd in Colombo, thanks to New York chef Alex Stanich’s interesting and quirky cuisine, as well as the funky décor.

The grand hall of the mansion is the HVN restaurant, with a gold carved ceiling, an 18ft antique fan and a fresco of rishis (sages) meditating in the clouds. Expect fine cuisine with Asian ingredients and flavours. We got our taste buds going with ‘Dragon Roll’ jumbo prawns on coriander remoulade, and orange spiced yellowfin tuna over romaine and coconut garbanzos; then tucked into spice-crusted beef tenderloin with arrack cream, batana savoyarde and braised baby bok choi, while my husband feasted on coconut water and cinnamon veal osso bucco with spinach and tapioca pearls.

For a more relaxed dining experience with fusion style tapas, book a table at Zaza, an outdoor restaurant surrounded by water and overlooking the front façade of the mansion. Its blend of Spanish style canapés with Asian flavours and ingredients are perfect for sharing. Try fried crab wontons with pineapple-chili puree, merguez sausages with mint-coconut raitha, sesame chicken lollipops, or a bruschetta trio of lentil and asian pear, roasted tomato and anchovy with dambulla sambal ... each as delicious as the next.

The T Republic, on the front lawn of the mansion, is a wonderful place to experience colonial style high tea and sample some of the wide selection of Sri Lankan loose leaf teas. You can also choose from a small menu of salads, snacks and some scrumptious cakes and desserts.

Breakfast (included in the room price) is served wherever you like – in your room, outside by the pool, in the T Republic garden or in the Zaza or HVN restaurant. It is a choice of Salmon eggs benedict, French toast, two eggs any style or full Sri Lankan spread, all served with a tropical fruit platter, a pastry basket, freshly squeezed juice and coffee or tea.

At night, the ICE3 bar comes into its own. Created to resemble a huge cube of ice, this is a chilled out lounge bar where you will not have to freeze!

Although the hotel does not have its liquor licence yet, they seem to be able to get around it, for now at least, and can serve a restricted range of alcohol to residents - but don't expect a vast cocktail menu.

Activities
• Relax, listen to music, chill out with a book, sunbathe on one of the daybeds or glass sun loungers by the pool
• Make use of the hotel’s white tuk-tuk to do a shopping tour of Colombo: Odel, Gandhara, Barefoot and Hermitage are fabulous for clothes, carved wooden artefacts and ceramics
• Visit Gangaramya Temple, one of the country’s key Buddhist temples. The February Perahera is a spectacle not to be missed. Further afield, the Jami Ul Alfar mosque in the Pettah area is also stunning.
• Head to Galle Face Green for a stroll along the seafront promenade, then reward yourself with afternoon tea at the Galle Face Hotel - the city’s most historic colonial hotel
• The Royal Colombo Golf Club has one of the best greens in Asia, with clubs/irons available for hire; further afield is the Water’s Edge Golf Club in Battaramulla
• Visit Viharamahadevi Park, with its famous Buddha and statues
• Pettah, near the main Fort railway and the CBD, is a maze of noisy street markets – not for the faint-hearted, but great for Chinese trinkets, Indian stainless steel, cheap clothes, Ayurvedic spices and other serendipitous discoveries!
• Have an in-room massage or try the nearby Angsana Spa (Crescat Boulevard, Galle Rd) for some Sri Lankan Ayurvedic treatments
• The National Museum and the Dutch Period Museum are both a short tuk-tuk or taxi ride away

Features
• The Mahout Club offers a range of tours and excursions around Colombo and its environs, including historic sites, shopping, even golf
• The private pink pool is just for hotel guests' use: 8 glass sun beds and 3 large canopied day beds, complete with 2 music selectors and a telephone each, are perfect for relaxing after a long day in the city
• In-room massages, facials, manicures and pedicure treatments are available; guests wanting fuller spa treatments are taken to the Angsana Spa a few blocks away
• Your own Casa Domo or private butler, who can meet you at the airport in one of the hotel’s vintage cars with a glass of bubbly, and will be your contact person for anything you could possibly need during your stay at the hotel
• We especially liked the innovative décor - lampshades on the verandah walls made from antique monks’ umbrellas, fluorescent butterflies in the upstairs corridor.

Getting there
Location:

Located in Bambalapiyiya in Colombo 4, Casa Colombo is in the heart of the city’s business district, just off the busy Galle Road.

By Air:
Bandaranaike International Airport (26km)
The only non-stop European service from London Heathrow to Colombo is with SriLankan Airlines. Flight time is approx 10 hours. Other airlines such as Emirates and Gulf Air go via the Middle East.

From the Airport
The hotel can organise a car to collect you from Colombo airport; the journey time is between 45 to 90 minutes depending on traffic. Alternatively a helicopter will take 10 minutes.

By Car:
If you want to hire a car, bear in mind that Sri Lanka’s roads are in bad condition and speed limits are low, so even short distances take a long time. It can take up to 3 hours to cross Colombo at rush hour! However, we recommend hiring a driver and car if you’re planning to travel around Sri Lanka. Rates are approximately $30 a day, per day. Mal-key Rent-a-car, the country’s largest firm (58 Pamankada Rd, Off Havelock Rd, Colombo 6), are excellent.

MEETING / FUNCTION FACILITIES
Various spaces available for product launches, fashion shows and press conferences: around the pink pool, on the T Republic's patio, or the magnificent veranda.

LANGUAGES
English, German, French, Japanese, Chinese

HIGHS
• A 200-year-old architectural mansion retaining many original features, including flooring and wedding-cake facade
• A stylishly different renovation, with designer glass deck chairs around a pink-tiled swimming pool, copper lined bathtubs, a larger-than-life mural of Hindu goddesses covering an entire wall, and a host of other zippy features
• Excellent personal service from your own 'casa domo'

LOWS
• Located down an alley just off busy Galle Road, Casa Colombo is tucked between fairly high buildings on two sides - some of which are old and decrepit, others newly built; tall bamboo screens have been erected to grab as much privacy as possible
• The in-room gizmos may feel a bit daunting if you are not into all that high tech stuff
• If you plan to frequent their cocktail bar, check the latest news of their liquor licence

Reviews
"This stunning 200-year-old Moorish mansion has been totally refurbished, offering 12 outlandish suites that push the concept of retro-chic into a new dimension. Just walking into the hotel creates something of an altered state, like being on the set of a psychedelic Austin Powers movie. Everything - from the 18ft fan blades in the restaurant to the pink-tiled pool and copper-plated bathtubs - has been designed by the 30-year-old proprietor, Lalin Jinasena. Innovation runs throughout, from the gazpacho martinis to the spectacular mural of meditating rishis seated on clouds in the main restaurant.

The rooms are all vast, all contain individual features and come complete with the full array of hi-tech toys: plasma screens, fully loaded iPods, Nakamichi sound systems, wifi and Apple Mac laptops. The place would be an anomaly in Vegas, or South Beach Miami, let alone Colombo."
The Guardian, 13 October 2007

"Casa Colombo, one of the most remarkable contemporary hotels was entirely reinterpreted by a talented Sri Lankan designer Lalin Jinasena… I think that Geoffrey Bawa has a worthy successor who knows how to draw his inspiration from the teacher’s genius, to renew the Singhalese creation and architecture. A name that will rank, I am sure, amongst the greatest names of the international scene!”
Sandra Rude, Chief Editor of the lifestyle TV series l'émission "Hotels", Films Concept Associés, France

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