The swimming pool is surrounded by palm trees and has reflections of the trees in the water. It is sunset and there are a few clouds in the sky

Owl And The Pussycat Hotel, Sri Lanka: hotel review

Check out our review of Owl and the Pussycat hotel, a cool, laid-back hotel near Sri Lanka's downtown Galle

Looking for places to stay in Sri Lanka? Want a cool hotel in Thalpe? Read our review of Owl and the Pussycat hotel in Sri Lanka.

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Owl and the Pussycat Hotel in a nutshell 

A cool hotel with a warm soul.


The vibe

A rainbow-hued, Instagram-ready 17-room hotel in Thalpe, just 15 minutes by tuk-tuk from the buzz of downtown Galle, there’s a laid-back Ibiza vibe at its waterside bar and restaurant but a homely feel in the bedrooms; owner Reita Gadkhari’s carefully chosen textiles are everywhere, from cotton throws to kimono-style bathrobes (so much more sensible in the sticky Sri Lankan climate than waffle ones) and there are DIY tea and coffee-making facilities on each landing so you can make your morning cuppa just as you like it.

Join a pre-breakfast yoga class on the lawn, work off lunch with a few laps of the sleek saltwater pool or book a massage in the waterside pavilion, and drowsily peep out at the stilt fishermen trying to catch mackerel just offshore.

Palm tree reflections over the swimming pool at sunset
Palm tree reflections over the swimming pool at sunset

Which room should I book?

Larger two-bedroom suites can be cleverly connected or disconnected to accommodate either couples, families or larger groups (each have small kitchens and living areas as well as en-suite bedrooms) but we liked the standard double rooms best. Plenty big enough without being map-necessitatingly enormous, try to get a top-floor room for the best sea views (all rooms have them, as well as either balconies or terraces).

The basics are all covered well (good quality mattresses, powerful showers, reliable wifi) while the add-ons are brilliantly idiosyncratic (TVs are only available on request but natural mosquito repellent – with those sea breezes we didn’t get a single bite – and natural Sri Lankan-made toiletries are provided in all rooms, as are woven baskets for the beach and umbrellas for those tropical downpours).


The food and drink

Guests are greeted on arrival with a king coconut mojito, chunks of fresh young coconut floating refreshingly amid the muddled mint leaves – a taste of the imaginative attention to detail that characterises all dining and drinking at the hotel’s breezy waterside restaurant and bar, The Runcible Spoon (as with the hotel in general, the name of the restaurant is a nod to Edward Lear, of whose playful poems owner Reita is a fan). Everything here is made from scratch, from the breakfast hoppers to the pickles and chutneys that accompany most meals.

There are sofas and chairs shaded by palm trees outside the hotel's waterside bar and restaurant
Coconut trees act as a shade at The Runcible Spoon restaurant and bar

Western beach classics are available, from mango and avocado salads to falafel wraps and burgers, but the Sri Lankan dishes are the standouts.

Go easy on a starter of samosas with tamarind and date chuntey; fill up too soon on these pillows of crunchy pastry and their softly spiced vegetable or chicken insides and you won’t have room for the hotel’s signature dish, the railway thali. Named after your typical rail traveller’s assemblage of curry, rice and sides, the make-up varies each day according to what’s fresh but typical components include creamy, coconut fish curries made with flaky white para fish and turmeric, puffs of homemade poppadum, richly fragrant dals dotted with mustard seeds and sides such as chilli-flecked okra, baby jackfruit (pleasantly stringy, in a chicken-like way), warm beetroot-matchstick salads, crunchy green winged beans, thinly sliced and rolled in coconut, plus mango chutney, moju (caramelised aubergine pickle) and coconut sambol.

A wooden table is topped with a round slate plate. On top of the plate is a fish curry, rice and poppadums. To the side are three pots filled with sambol and colourful chutneys
Curries, rice, dals and sides as part of the railway thali

If you’ve got space for it, end the meal with the kitchen’s homemade coconut ice cream. You won’t find a more delicious dessert this side of Colombo.


Breakfast

Take a seat at the water’s edge and order a pot of golden Sri Lankan tea before taking your pick from a small breakfast buffet (top picks include homemade buffalo milk yoghurt with kitul palm syrup, platters of tropical fruit and a daily changing array of pressed juices – mango and soursop, perhaps, or pear-like wood apple).

Topical fruit platters for breakfast
Topical fruit platters for breakfast

Hot dishes are made to order and shouldn’t be missed. Especially not the hoppers, almost transparently thin little golden bowls of batter holding a perfectly cooked egg and served with gorgeous fresh, chilli-spiked coconut sambol.

A grey table is topped with a white plate. On top of the plate is a hopper with a fried egg. To the side there are two pots filled with chilli-spiked coconut sambol
Hoppers, almost transparently thin little golden bowls of batter holding a perfectly cooked egg and served with fresh, chilli-spiked coconut sambol

What else can foodies do?

Sign up for a cooking class with one of the chefs and learn how to recreate a simple yet show-stopping prawn curry back home (or an authentic, treacly brinjal moju). Or, head out on a market tour and see a less touristy side to Galle (and have your chef-guide not just dig out the city’s best spice stalls but do the pesky haggling for you).

If you’re interested in tea, excursions to Handunugoda Tea Estate, one of the few plantations in the south of the island, can be arranged. Finally, don’t miss a cycle around the paddyfields and villages beyond Thalpe with Idle Bikes.

A wooden table is laid with colourful dishes from the cooking class including a prawn curry
Sign up for a cooking class with one of the chefs and learn how to recreate simple yet show-stopping dishes back home

Is it family friendly?

It’s over-12s only at this restful, romantic retreat but the two-bedroom suites are great for families with older children and staff do their best to accommodate younger palates, and to offer tips on family-friendly activities.


olive tip

If this is your first or last stop in Sri Lanka, ask to book a stopover in the hotel’s Colombo guesthouse. Only available to OTP hotel guests as an add-on, it’s like staying in a friend’s chic tropical city pad, with staff on hand to look after you, and is a godsend after a long flight, or before an early check-in. It also makes a blissfully peaceful base to venture into Colombo from.


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Written by Rhiannon Batten, February 2019