The Runcible Spoon,
The Owl and The Pussycat,
Thalp, Galle, Sri Lanka
Well, what else do you call the restaurant at a hotel named The Owl and The Pussycat? While it’s unclear if Sri Lanka is the land where the bong tree grows, and mince and quince are notable for their absence, this charming, tiny hotel – there are just 17 rooms and suites – is a beautifully relaxing, tropically-coloured delight.
You can pretend the bright shades are festive if you want, but you’ve probably come here to get away from all things red, green and tinselly. That inevitable annual search for the faulty fairy light should be the last thing on your mind as you take in the view of the Indian Ocean, savour the breeze on your face, and listen to the waves crashing below. And, probably, pick up the odd waft of deliciousness from this compact restaurant that packs a culinary punch well above its weight.
Lunches and dinners are both terrific but it’s the Sri Lankan breakfasts that are, for this traveller’s money, the thing of true cult gastronomic beauty. There is plenty for the non-spice lover to enjoy and, predictably, given how much produce you can see on trees in the region, fruit plays a major part.
Yoghurt, granola, muesli and regular eggs all make an appearance too – ditto sausage and bacon, should you wish to make a piggy-wig joke – but it’s the local fare that’s the real joy, because the day doesn’t exist that hoppers and sambol can’t improve.
Pol roti – flat, flaky, coconut bread with assorted sambols and spicy scrambled eggs – are a firm favourite, ditto the hoppers – served with or without egg, but quite why you’d go without is a mystery.
If you really want to eat like a local, it’s the kola kenda you want. Texture wise, it sits somewhere between porridge and soup, with rice, onion, garlic and a “pesto of therapeutic tree leaves”, then finished with fresh coconut. It’s way better than it sounds and Sri Lankans swear by its health and nutritional benefits.
Follow the local custom, tear up the breads and pancakes and dive in with your hands. You’ll never look back, and you certainly won’t miss the mince pies.
Churchgate, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Gaylord’s London outpost is revered, but the original Mumbai location is impressive, mixing European and Indian dishes – making it a great place for an ex-pat sort of Christmas. The Indian side of the menu is where you want to head but we’ll allow you to go traditional with the (delicious) plum cake with marzipan, from the adjacent Gaylord Bake Shop.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
For a true antidote to Christmas the Maldives are blissfully far away from sales crowds, festering family rows and forced jollity. One dining option involves a nightly lobster and champagne beach barbecue. Crystal clear waters, that sand, Ruinart on tap and fresh seafood tick more boxes. Should all that pall, there’s Ithaa, the only all-glass underwater restaurant in the world.