Ashleigh Hays takes fresh food menu to new heights

Newy chef Ashleigh Hays wows ‘em in Sri Lanka Cooking and travelling: Ashleigh Hays in Hikkaduwa, on Sri Lanka’s south coast. The food shots were styled by Hays for the new menu. Pictures: Tavish Gunasena

On the menu: Soft tortillas with the panko-crumbed seer fish.

Fresh is best: The Isso bowl, featuring fresh, crispy chilli prawns.

TweetFacebookI came back to Sri Lanka with little expectations so that I wouldn’t be surprised by anything that might get thrown my way.

Ash Hays

“The seafood here is awesome so I’ve really gotten into experimenting with raw or just cooked fish dishes like sashimi, tataki, ceviche, etc. and they all go so perfectly with the fresh produce here, a lot of which we can find in our garden, such as papayas, biling, peppercorns, jackfruit, bananas (of which I can use the fruit, leaves and blossoms), and, of course, coconuts.”

Read more:A life of adventure: Ashleigh Hays’ story

Pressed on the nature and source of seafood, Hays added more explanation: “I mainly buy yellowfin tuna for our Malu Bowl, where it is served raw with a miso and sesame dressing, on top of warm red rice and accompanied by fresh pineapple, avocado, cucumber, radish, green beans, crispy nori, gotukola slaw (gotukola is a local green similar to spinach), wasabi aioli and pickled ginger. (We do all our pickles and sauces in house too.)

“We use a local fish called Seer fish (also known as Spanish mackerel) for our tacos (Soft tortillas with the panko-crumbed seer fish, gotukola slaw, pickled onion, guacamole, radish, coriander, aioli and chilli flakes) and prawns for the Isso bowl (miso dressed mung bean noodles, pickled carrot, cucumber, gotukola slaw, radish, crispy nori, pickled ginger, wasabi aioli, roasted sesame seeds and the crispy chilli prawns, so yummy).”

Of course, it’s not perfect.

“It’s not all beautiful and lovely all the time,” she says. “I’ve had to grow a very good patience back bone in realising that nothing goes the way you want or need it to. It just becomes a part of life here. No water, no electricity, no gas, no avocados!!! These things happen regularly.”

The wife of one of the kitchen handsmakes dosa for the restaurant, which Hays serves withpoached eggs, smoked salmon, pickled beetroot, herbed buffalo curd cheese and radish.

But one thing remains constant for Hays: more adventure. She is leaving Salty Swami’s for a new post as the chef at Aloita Resort, a surfing lodge in the Mentawais in Indonesia.