Yesterday I went to high tea at Galle Face Hotel in Colombo. Some say this venerable Sri Lankan hotel, opened in 1864, is the oldest this side of the Suez, standing as it does at the edge of the Galle Face Green, overlooking the Indian Ocean.
The Verandah was already filling up, mostly with Sri Lankans, as I arrived just after 4 pm. I was surprised, as High Tea, a probable hangover from colonial days, never took root in the country. However, the hundred odd places for the GFH High Tea are snapped up daily. The slanting sun penetrated the line of coconut trees on the shore and the bamboo screens to make the Verandah hot and humid despite wall fans. Buffet tables laden with snacks covered the length of the Verandah. There were pastries, sandwiches, sausages, pizzas, pasta, cakes, scones and a variety of sweet things in little glasses – some good and others pretty ordinary. Men, women and wide-eyed children were returning to their tables from the buffet with brimming plates and wide grins. A single vocalist with a guitar screamed in to a microphone making conversation impossible. A waiter in a white sarong and tunic placed plates of battered jumbo prawns with wedges of fresh lime on my table. And later returned with pots of coffee and tea. I ate a prawn and sipped iced tea.
As dusk fell and most of the food had been eaten, they started to clear the tables and got the Verandah ready for dinner. Outside, the Green was buzzing. Kids were flying kites and the row of kiosks along the promenade were grilling chicken, filling the air with the acrid smell of burning flesh. Galle Face Hotel at the edge of the Green, pink and floodlit, looked majestic.