TABÉ

May 09 2024.

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Tucked away in one of Colombo’s busiest areas, is a cosy new Japanese spot hidden away in the treetops – it’s got great ratings online and the reviews rave about the place.

Standing at the start of Maitland Crescent, we alternate between the busy sports club CR & FC on one side and the centre of the city’s nightlife with karaoke bar Sopranos and club Industrii on the other, before focusing on a hidden gem sandwiched between the two.

A small board lights up the words “Tabé” amidst lush greenery and a friendly security personnel directs us to follow a narrow stairway up to the restaurant.  Upstairs, we continue to follow an even narrower pathway – brightly lit in neon red - before we arrive at  Tabé – an informal Japanese eatery smack in the middle of a bustling entertainment hub. 

THE CHEF & THE TEAM

Offering a contemporary take on traditional Japanese techniques, Tabé (meaning ‘eat’ in Japanese) is the newest concept from chef-partner Wishmalak Perera.  

Formerly the executive chef at Botanik, Wishmalak has been in the industry since he was 19, working in kitchens at hotels and restaurants from all over the world including the Middle East and Australia. Having helped set up and manage restaurants for other brands and hotel chains, Tabé is his very own venture, co-owned and run by him.   

At Tabé, you’ll find Wishmalak in his element – friendly and refreshingly informal.  He’s running a no feathers-no frills operation over there and it’s probably the most relaxing ambience we’ve ever had a meal at. The open-style kitchen in the small space allows him to chat with his customers while he preps the orders and he has no qualms about letting guests hop across the counter to chat over the kitchen pass-through window while he’s at task – in fact, he loves it. 
His small team: second-in-command Lakmal, Pasindu and Uncle Gamini helm the kitchen while Ahmed is at the front ensuring everyone feels right at home. 

Talking to us about what drove him to open Tabé, he shared that it’s not really about the food for him, “it’s about the hero. I love the Japanese food culture where one element is the hero and everything else on the plate is just there to elevate it.” That being said, he shares that Tabé is not about traditional Japanese either, nor is it fusion (“fusion is confusion” he adds) but rather Japanese food in a Sri Lankan context – “it’s what would happen if a Japanese person came to Sri Lanka, went to our markets and made do with what’s available”, advocating for using mostly local ingredients given Sri Lanka’s fantastic export-quality seafood that’s at the heart of Japanese cuisine. 

THE FOOD 

There’s no fixed menu at Tabé – though there are a few consistent items, the menu is mostly made up of what’s available on the day.  Seafood dominates a majority of the menu in various styles - some raw, some fried, some grilled. They also have karage, cold noodles, teriyaki and gyoza as well as a few off-the-menu dishes like yakitori and Okage.  

Here’s what we tried on our visit: 

Nama Tuna – 5/5  - LKR 2300

Nama, meaning ‘raw’ or ‘fresh’ in Japanese is a tuna sashimi dish served with a ponzu sauce.  What sets the sashimi apart is that the tuna is dry-aged for about 7 days before it’s served. Fresh fish can often be too tender, whereas dry ageing the fish firms up the flesh and intensifies the flavour, allowing it to concentrate, resulting in a more buttery, rich taste when eaten raw. A generous portion of sashimi was served with thampala leaf garnish, wasabi and a sweet and salty ponzu (a citrusy sauce) made in-house with narang, green orange and dashi.  

What we loved about this dish was that the technique in which the tuna was cut gave us layers in each slice that just melted on our tongue, and the buttery flavour of aged tuna together with the ponzu that had a real zing factor was a treat. Plus, the portion size was worth the price. 

Angry Octopus – 4.5/5 - LKR 2300

This dish is raw baby octopus, cleaned and gutted, diced into bite-size pieces served with a fermented hot sauce and garnished with garlic and radish.  We got to watch this dish get prepared and saw first-hand how diligently Uncle Gamini cleaned and prepared the octopus for us (he’s an absolute pro – he made a rubbery mess of tentacles and an organised feast in barely any time).  With the octopus as the ‘hero’ of the dish, the fermented hot sauce was the ‘angry’ part of it. Though not so spicy as to deserve the title ‘angry’ – the sauce definitely had a kick to it and paired well with the octopus. 


Chicken Gyoza – 4/5 - LKR 2850 

We love a good gyoza and Tabé does chicken, veg and beef gyozas. We got the chicken gyoza with a delicate wrapper and meaty filling. What we liked about it was the dipping sauce made with miso, chilli oil, ginger and scallion. 


OVERALL 

We are excited about Tabé – they demonstrated a lot of things we love about Japanese food but also showed us how they make it their own. The homemade sauces, broths and dips go a long way in changing how you enjoy a dish and we liked that they walked the talk and elevated the star of the dish without overpowering it with other ingredients. We also thought the portions were very generous and the dishes decently priced. Beyond the food – ambience and service were also big plus points as the informal style really made us feel at home. It’s only been a few months since Tabé opened (they opened in February of this year) and we are keen to see where this restaurant will go. 

 


WHERE: 29/1/2 Maitland Cres, Colombo 07
HOURS: Tues-Sunday 3-10pm
RESERVATIONS: Recommended 
CONTACT: 076 614 9710
INSTAGRAM: @tabe.me 

Pictures by Nisal Baduge 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Panchali Illankoon

Law Graduate, food and travel enthusiast and full time dog mom..


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