It is pleasant to be offered a small savoury amuse bouche in a restaurant to savour before your meal arrives. Also, to be offered a post-prandial mint chocolate or small liquor.
Restaurants theme themselves to appear more interesting. The Cricketers out here in Colombo is decorated with bats, balls and stumps. The Slug and Lettuce chain may be themed but I have no intention of finding our as neither are to my taste.
At a Cyprus Restaurant, there is a tame Pelican who wanders around the tables seeking tidbits. Intrigued, I stroked the bird but selfishly kept all my chips for myself. By the end of the meal, I was itching and scratching with flea bites.
Cats can work a Restaurant. As our chicken and curry arrived in one restaurant, Madam felt a kitten rubbing herself against her leg, purring loudly and looking up with large green eyes. Madam let slip a slither of chicken. In a few minutes we had seven cats around our table, the other diners were undisturbed.
With some trepidation, we entered a restaurant in the Sri Lankan Jungle, miles from any town. Above the door was a large Hornets’ nest. Vespa velutina were flying in and out but were not interested in us, they eat insects including bees but their sting is painful. If aroused they can swarm and 1000 stings will kill a man, even one is extremely painful. Lucky for us, they stayed outdoors.
Rather than discuss how to kill hornets, our host told us how he planned to move the nest elsewhere. That’s Buddhism for you.
A waiter found us a table overlooking the lagoon at Bentota just as dusk was falling on a calm warm evening. He switched on the punkah ceiling fan above our table. As it slowly increased in speed, a Geko, snoozing on the fan blade, found that even his super-adhesive feet could not resist the centrifugal force. He was flung off and landed on the back of my neck. He ran down my arm and disappeared, leaving my soup untouched.
At Helga’s Folly, a restaurant of some renown, high above the Kandy Lake, lit by wax encrusted candelabra and whose walls have been decorated by former guests who felt a desire to paint something, we sipped our wine from pewter goblets. Fireflies entered, twinkling in the dark, followed by echolocating bats. It was an enthralling gothic atmosphere made complete by the silent arrival of Helga herself, through a concealed door. How long had she been standing observing us in her white robes and moon-pale face?
She spoke of her family, fascinating and tragic. We knew a number of people in common thanks to our daughter who worked in the fashion world. Helga’s brother, Desmond de Silva, published his biography before he died, Madam, Where are your Mangoes?’. It makes interesting reading.
One uninvited guest at a restaurant caused a big commotion. At the excellent Fortaleza in Galle Fort, we were ordering coffee when the young woman at the next table shrieked and jumped up on her chair. We have all seen cartoons of women jumping onto chairs, gathering their skirts as a little mouse looks up at her. Here is was in real life, it was no mouse but a large black scorpion.
We were dining with the Professor of Neurology in Galle and he is used to treating scorpion stings. He was able to reassure her that, although one of the most painful of stings, the black scorpion does not kill. The white scorpion, however, common up North around Jaffna, can kill a man.
The poor girl was not reassured. She was a New Zealander and they do not even have stinging nettles there.
Meanwhile, a waiter arrived with a dustpan and brush and took the scorpion out into the garden. That’s Buddhism again for you. Thou shalt not kill applies to all species.
A friend tells me that, had this happened in Thailand, they would have cooked it for us.