"Up there, good view, beautiful, good place to think."
Srimal gestures up the rickety wooden ladder at his tiny restaurant in the sky, explaining where it got its name. And suddenly, Think Club makes perfect sense.
That morning, we'd skipped out of the tangle of traffic and shops and overexcited billboards nailed into the side of every building that is the southern seaside town of Tangalle. And, taking full advantage of the fact we were brave or stupid enough to rent a car in Sri Lanka, we hit the winding roads along the coast until our bellies rumbled and we found our turning. There are restaurants dotted all along the main drag, but we wanted something quieter, something better. And we got it.
Clambering down the long flight of stairs, we crossed our fingers we'd like the place, as we were in no hurry to climb back up in the steamy midday heat. And as we got to the bottom, our hearts sank. It was everything we'd hoped for. Except it was closed. Nestled into a tiny bay of white sand, framed by crashing waves and hulking rocks, Think Club was made up of a miniscule kitchen topped with a kind of dining platform containing two tables and some lopsided wooden chairs. A few wooden loungers and straw umbrellas dotted the sand. A cabana stood empty, along with some simple tables under a palm shelter. And there, on the wall, was the hand-painted sign that made us want to stay: a phone number accompanied by four perfect words "FATHER FISHES - SON COOKS."
Obviously, we did the only reasonable thing and called the number. And luckily for us, Srimal not only answered but told us he'd be there in ten. And so he was, chatting away and scaling fresh fish on the rocks in front of us. His father Dayananda, a builder, had built the entire structure himself, he told us. And every day, he goes out on his boat, catching the fish for his son to work his magic on. There was no menu for us that day. Just a brief discussion about what he had, what Olivia could handle and what we wanted to drink.
Srimal and a few friends/relatives/colleagues/whatever set to work in the kitchen. Sandy flip flops were left at the door. Bare feet padded over mud floor. Spices and garlic cloves were pounded in a old wooden pestle and mortar. Incense smoked its way through the barred windows, shortly to be outdone by the scent of the sauce coming together in the pan.
The food was simple, and brilliant. As we braved the ladder, Olivia stretching from rung to rung and River peering out of his sling, wondering where on earth we'd taken him now, our meal followed us up. A whole fish, in a mild but distinctive curry sauce. A plate of perfect chips. Some fluffy rice. Two ice-cold beers. It was father and daughter now, Olivia and Lori taking the fish apart together, scooping out the prized cheeks, their hands dripping with sauce and bone.
Tangalle is a strange place. It's genuine, natural, beautiful in a not-so-obvious way. Far from the hippy chic of Unawatuna or the established surfer cool of Arugam Bay, Tangalle was almost obliterated by the 2004 tsunami and has been trying to get back on its feet ever since. But if it keeps turning out gems like Think Club, it won't be long before it's remembered for an altogether more positive reason.
Think Club is a family business in more ways than one. Though Srimal started it with his father, he's clearly doing it for his kids. They swing by after school, the little one clinging to his father, and his eldest, a girl, immediately dragging Olivia off to catch crabs and creatures in her pink plastic bucket. These kids live up the road. They go to school nearby. They run on this pristine, wild beach every day. They have a pretty good life. We left, completely charmed and wondering how we could build our own place to think one day.
Tangalle Rd, 82200, Sri Lanka
Phone: +94 77 364 1739