March 20, 2024

The best restaurants and bars in Galle

Diverse. Vibrant. Serendipitous. Galle Fort is like the island itself. This 16th-century, UNESCO-listed Fort was once a trading port frequented by Arab merchants. It was later ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British, whose architectural influences are still evident throughout this historical and cultural marvel that seamlessly blends the island’s past and present with elegantly restored colonial-era boutique hotels, century-old residential homes, gem boutiques and places of worship. 

Today, Galle Fort is also perhaps Sri Lanka’s most exciting culinary destination with a host of fine dining venues, quaint cafes and lively taverns tucked away in its narrow cobblestone streets. The Fort’s gastronomic scene is as diverse as its cultural heritage—local produce and native spirits like arrack feature prominently at its newest hangouts while the Fort houses an increasingly evolving, refined international cuisine scene. Here’s our list of handpicked standouts for the best restaurants and bars in Galle. 

 

The Arch

Housed inside a historic Dutch-era edifice, The Arch is quite alluring, with the restaurant’s bright, airy spaces complemented with terracotta-tiled floors, colonial touches, and contemporary monochrome photo walls. Owner and chef Charitha Sham’s commitment to creating a Galle Fort restaurant with communal dining is evident in their curated menu that includes sharing seafood plates made from the freshest catch of the day. There’s also a raw bar with fresh oysters, while their extensive drinks menu includes rare whiskies from across the world, mixologist-made cocktails and finest wines. If fine dining with charm and character is your thing, don’t miss this incredible restaurant.

01 A Church Cross St, Galle 

@thearchgalle

+94 91 223 8053

 

Ropewalk

Ropewalk only opened in June, 2023, but this speakeasy bar occupying a spot in the historic Galle Fort Hotel is already making waves across the island. It’s always buzzing, particularly on the weekends, and offers a raft of new drinks that shed light on the island’s local brew arrack, a once overlooked spirit now championed by a new sleeve of mixologists across the country. Try their Only Nabeel Likes This. Inspired by the head mixologist Nabeel, it’s a drink that mixes old arrack, palm treacle and masala tea; or their signature GFH Arrack Sour that blends homegrown Rockland arrack, lime, lemongrass and ginger. 

30 Church St, Galle

@ropewalksl

+94 912 232 870

 

Charlie’s

Housed inside the art deco hotel Charleston, Charlie’s does a good job championing regional produce, so expect drinks like Wadamala (meaning, hibiscus in Sinhala) Collins made from hibiscus and curry leaves tincture, foraged from Galle’s local gardens. A noteworthy pick from the menu is their Banana Thingamajig, which is, quite simply, an ode to the island’s many native banana varieties. If you’d like to have dinner, we recommend their Seafood Provincial made with line-caught seafood and river crabs or their mutton ragu. Tip: Take a seat outside on the terrace during sunset for stunning views of the Indian Ocean over the fort’s ramparts. 

78 Lighthouse St, Galle

@charliesbargallefort

+94 70 475 1442

 

Kixi

Locals and tourists flock to this charming little cafe on Lighthouse Street to get work done or catch up with a friend over coffee. Kixi is known for its friendly, welcoming staff, cute decor and oh-so-adorable, Instagramworthy food—must haves include their iced latte served with frozen little teddy bears and coconut sago to beat the heat, paired with a great selection of housemade apple pie and cheesecakes. If you want a proper meal, however, pick from their all-day menu that includes battered tuna and chips or grilled ham panini sandwiches. The rooftop is ideal for sundowners, and Kixi is the sort of cosy cafe you wish you’d had in your neighbourhood. 

3A Lighthouse St, Galle

@kixi.galle

+94 76 046 4227

 

Dumplings Cafe

When Dumplings Cafe opened several years ago, it was a tiny spot serving steamed momos on banana blossom plates. They’ve expanded into a bigger, prettier spot now and it’s always buzzing, and for all the good reasons. For one, the cafe is charming, with tables painted in pastel greens, houseplants, and tropical murals. Food is definitely the highlight. Beef siu mai, bao bans and wonton soups aside, they serve great fried chicken and prawn rice bowls, perfect for lunch. They also do gluten-free dumplings with taro and sweet potato flour. The cafe’s mango coconut sticky rice is quite the unmissable finish.

 58 Pedlar Street, Galle

@dumplingscafelk

+94 76 624 4832

 

1710 by The Merchant

Located on the busy Pedlar’s Street, 1710 by The Merchant always draws in large crowds of both locals and tourists, particularly on the weekends with their soulful live music sessions. Sit inside for cosy intimate dinners with soft lighting and rattan lampshades or reserve a table outside on the corridor or the charming, frangipani-shaded courtyard. 1710’s menu pays homage to its Galle Fort and Southern Sri Lankan roots, with dishes like the Merchant Biryani derived from the Fort’s Moors, who are descendants of the Arab traders, or the creamy coconut prawn curry. Don’t skip their village buffalo curd served with kithul palm treacle for a sweet treat. 

64A Pedlar St, Galle

@themer.chant

 

Aqua Forte

Aqua Forte is the fine dining venture of the Italian head chef Roberto Vicario, who’s also behind the street food & bakery Aqua Forno and pizzeria Aqua Pizza, all housed inside the UNESCO-listed Galle Fort. The restaurant sources their ingredients all the way from Italy to maintain authenticity, with homemade bread and handmade ravioli on offer. Menu highlights include pan-fried octopus, Australian beef striplion, and low-temperature-cooked Australian lamb rack paired with an extensive list of premium Italian wines. The dessert list is impeccable with illy espresso tiramisu, Sicilian cannoli, homemade sorbets and Italian ice cream on offer. 

62 Leyn Baan St

@aquaforte.galle

+94 912 231 725

 

Coconut Sambol

This always-packed, decidedly casual rice & curry joint is perhaps the only Galle Fort spot for a satisfying local style lunch. It’s housed in a tiny, narrow strip—you’ll surely miss this little gem if not for the restaurant’s large signpost. It’s delicious, no-frills, homely island fare, like the food your grandma cooks for you—the everyday lunchtime rice & curry buffet offers 4-6 curry dishes and condiments like coconut sambol made with grated coconut, dried red chilli, and lime. The curry dishes change every day, but they tend to pop up again and again. Go early, and dig in with a glass of refreshing homemade ginger beer. 

68 Church Street Fort

@coconutsamboll

+94 77 797 1199

 

The Pasta Factory 

The Pasta Factory is quite the unfuzzy, easy-breezy spot in Galle Fort for delicious, authentic Italian pasta. Tucked away in a secluded place in Leyn Baan, this casual dining venue is cute enough with its vibrant yellow roof, teal blue tones and terracotta-tiled floors housing Italian memorabilia, but the food here is often the highlight. The menu is indulgent and amazingly fresh, with homemade pesto gnocchi, tagliatelle, and ravioli on offer. Don’t pass up on the alla carbonara; ice mocha; or the hot chocolate. Their tiramisu and chocolate crepes are so good that they have, quite literally, built a cult following.  

Leyn Baan, Cross Street, Galle

@thepastafactorygalle

+94 77 714 7736

 

The Bungalow Galle Fort

Galle Fort is not short of world-class dining spots, but The Bungalow is a world apart from its intimate, leafy garden ambience, rustic interiors, and outstanding Sri Lankan fusion fare. Grab their innovative cocktails like the Jungle Folly which blends white rum, dark rum, smooth vodka, crisp gin and coconutty malibu with a hint of cinnamon, or the Drunken Lankan made with arrack, coconut and grapefruit juice. Now, for food: Start with their prawn tempura served with papaya salad and sweet chilli dip; or the refreshing watermelon feta salad. Mains include classics like the butter chicken and Sri Lankan crab curry. 

3 Church Cross St, Galle 

@thebungalowgallefort

+94 77 068 0267

 

Written by Zinara Rathnayake