In 1930, on a quiet, leafy street in the loveliest neighborhood of Colombo, Dr. Lucien de Zilwa christened his new house Tintagel. It was the height of British colonial rule in Sri Lanka, but de Zilwa didn't choose the name that of King Arthur's legendary birthplace in Cornwall out of any attachment to empire. He was a fashionable man, living in the most fashionable part of the city, and it was the vogue at the time among the local élite to give wistful English names to their villas.
His idyll would last only about a decade. The British military took over the house during World War II and used it as a barracks. After the soldiers left, de Zilwa sold the wrecked property to the prominent Bandaranaike family. From then on, it was always their house, a political house where Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was shot on the veranda in 1959, and where his wife and successor, Sirimavo, would raise a son and two daughters, the younger of which, Chandrika, became the country's first elected female President.
That cosmopolitan history has been maintained in the house's present rebirth as Paradise Road Tintagel Colombo, www.tintagelcolombo.com a luxury hotel and restaurant opened in 2007 by Colombo designer and homeware retailer Udayshanth Fernando. "I'm a very close friend of Sunethra Bandaranaike," says Fernando, referring to the elder daughter, who had planned to sell off the furniture and rent the house to a foreign embassy. "I said: 'Why don't you rent it to me?' She spoke to her brother and sister and there we went."
In creating the hotel, Fernando has preserved the colonial exterior, but as soon as you walk through the grand pillared entrance, it's clear that he has no imperial infatuation. There are no cane-backed chairs or lovingly frayed Oriental rugs. Instead you'll find understated, masculine spaces that typify Fernando's personal style. There are high-backed upholstered sofas from Spain, a chandelier from the Netherlands, Chinese wedding cabinets, black-lacquer tabletops from Vietnam and Burmese art. In place of the pinks and reds so common in the subcontinent, there is a palette of avocado and chocolate, indigo, ebony, mud and ivory.
The stylish restaurant has become a favorite among the city's affluent diners, who visit for the oxtail-and-marrow risotto, the yellowfin tuna enveloped in white radish or the prawn salsa that spices up the chilled soups. Unhappily though, demand for the rooms has been slack. Even though bombings and sporadic outbreaks of fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers rarely affect tourists directly, they have understandably dampened tourism, forcing Fernando to offer his 10 suites at discounted prices, beginning at $200 per night. But he is optimistic that peace will eventually come, and the guests soon after. "Everything takes time," he says, "and I have patience."
Next Fish Are Jumpin'