Colonel Saab (Indian) – Holborn Town Hall, London
While it’s always exciting to visit a new restaurant, this particular one had the added fascination of being launched by a family member of an award-winning resort in India.
The fact that Indian restaurant Colonel Saab is housed in the old public library of the former Holborn Town Hall – a listed heritage building that was constructed in 1894 in the French Renaissance style – just added to the allure.
We were also looking forward to meeting the man behind this venture, Roop Partap Choudhary, under whose leadership the family-run hotel, Noor Mahal, won the Indian Hospitality Awards’ best upcoming 5-star resort in north India.
If first impressions are anything to go by, then it’s safe to say that we were absolutely taken aback by the sheer elegance and grandeur of this 150-cover venue.
While the Corinthian-style pillars flanking the restaurant’s arched entrance set the initial tone, it was the regality of the main dining hall, complete with a staggering 29 ornately crafted chandeliers uniquely procured from only one region of India, which epitomised the attention to detail put into the interior design.
With large portraits of Roop’s parents – retired Indian army officer Colonel Manbeer Choudhary and mother Binny – taking centre stage, the entire restaurant could easily pass for a museum of eclectic paintings, sculptures and artefacts.
Following in the footsteps of his mother, who was an avid collector of art and historical antiques, Roop decided to carefully ship over a small sample of his family’s personal collection as decor for his first UK enterprise, thereby giving the place a more personal touch.
As such, you’ll be able to marvel over exquisite art and vintage pieces ranging from handwoven Persian silk carpets and Tanjore paintings, to a magnificent, 240-year-old set of temple doors from Gujarat.
As for the four dining areas, then not only are they situated entirely separately from the large alcohol bar located immediately upon entry, but actually include a mezzanine, in addition to two private dining rooms.
With their menu having been designed by top Indian food personality Karen Anand, not only does it contain a combination of her signature dishes and those of Head Chef Sohan Bhandari, but also “many regional Indian specialities which appear for the first time on an Indian restaurant menu in London”.
Ever had a coriander based drink? Neither had we. With a gentle zesty undertone, we were left stunned by the clarity with which the distinct taste of the coriander actually came through. What an absolute revelation!
We’ve had a number of mocktails that have made clever use of the non-alcoholic gin called Seedlip. In the case of the Strawberry Mojito, not only did it deliver on the freshness of the fruit and refreshing hit of the mint, but the concluding sharp kick delivered by the gin helped to enhance the drink’s overall flavours.
As for the Tamarind Mocktail, then this was the weakest of the bunch, with barely any hint of its familiar sourness materialising.
KABABS & TIKKASRECOMMENDED
Whatever the case, the chicken tikka pieces themselves were dreamily tender, with the tandoor-singed exterior providing the optimum level of smokiness.
But the joy of this dish was the way in which the salty-tanginess of the yoghurt based marinade was blissfully countered by the mint sauce, which itself, ensured some required heat.
Be sure to make good use of the accompanying wedge of lime to add that sour edge to this plate’s already sophisticated flavours.
A LA CARTERECOMMENDED
And this must be one of those “many regional Indian specialities which appear for the first time on an Indian restaurant menu in London”.
Presented on a giant, leaf-shaped plate was a Nizami Murg which, as anyone will know who’s been following us, we’ve never encountered before at any Indian restaurant.
There was certainly an element of fun to this show-stopping dish, with a hefty pair of scissors required to carefully cut through a glisteningly thick, golden brown pastry shell (peculiarly decorated with spike-like protrusions) to reveal a package wrapped in banana leaves.
What was nestled therein was a piping hot, whole spring chicken, attractively based in a mouthwatering, semi-dry marination, which simply said: eat me!
This chicken was, as can be imagined given the cooking process, as close to buttery-soft as you’ll ever want, with a marination turning out surprisingly mild enough to allow for the uber flavourful chicken to speak for itself.
But that’s not all, for there was also the very clever addition of a chicken-based sauce, which helped augment the quality of the poultry.
Note, however, that that pastry encasing isn’t just for functional and aesthetical purposes. It can actually be enjoyed as a well-seasoned hard bread, which you’ll no doubt be using at the end to scoop up all that finger-licking residue collected at the bottom.
RICE & BIRYANISRECOMMENDED
Last week, we excitedly remarked that the chicken biryani enjoyed at Michelin chef Atul Kochhar’s newly opened Masalchi was “currently the forerunner when it comes to biryanis reviewed this year”. That was until now!
To put things into perspective, when it comes to the familiar use of ingredients that ultimately define a biryani from said region of India, there really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary here. Everything that was required in successfully delivering the heady aroma and tantalising fragrance of a full bodied biryani seemed to be accounted for here. So what was it then that probably made this the best chicken biryani we’ve EVER reviewed? It appears to simply be this: the combination of spices and sundry here were so masterfully balanced, that not only did we experience spicious waves of ecstatic pleasure with every given bite, but the harmony of flavours was unlike anything we’ve had anywhere else before. And it was this balance and harmonisation that made for such an unforgettably memorable Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani.
As for the raita, then as Chef Sohan pointed out, his biryanis won’t require the masking quality of any raita; they’re that good!
With streaks of masala decorating a crispy, wafer thin, lion-sized pancake, we opted for the Vegetarian, which came as bowls of Aloo Methi (potato and fenugreek) and a Coconut Veg Stew, as well as a Chettinad Chicken, and a Prawn Moilee.
Colourfully contrastive, and each one looking as appetising as the next, the best of the quartet was definitely the outstandingly good Chettinad Chicken, which was strong in its spices without being overly so. While a touch of the sour came courtesy of the pickle-based curry, there was also enough heat to linger pleasantly upon the palate.
It was difficult to separate the Prawn Moilee from the Aloo Methi. Nevertheless, although the former had zinginess to it, with mellow heat and a creamy body, the latter was beautifully fragrant, with the potatoes being soft and wholesome.
As for the white-textured Coconut Veg Stew, then whilst the taste of the coconut was indiscernible, the dominant flavour here was the aromatic mustard seeds therein.
Presented in a branded, 3-tiered, brass tiffin box – dabba as it’s known in India – was Butter Chicken coupled with Keema Matar with rice (for review purposes, we were allowed to combine the two dishes, which would otherwise be served separately – the former coming with jeera aloo and the latter a dal Moradabadi).
This Butter Chicken was rich and velvety in texture, thanks to the use of plenty of traditional butter (ghee). With heat coming through gently, the chicken segments were as close to melt-in-your-mouth as you’d want. Superb dish and plenty of it too.
Regarding the lamb mince and peas, then despite its reminiscent homeliness, the peas failed to add that garden freshness, which might have helped cut through the bold, spicious nature of what was otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable dish.
The cacophony of flavours in this bowl comprised of thin slices of earthy radish alongside the lighter peppery notes of the salad leaves.
But it was the chunks of juicy, sweet’n’sour pineapple, which provided enough lubrication to enjoy extended bouts of mastication of the deeply smoked bird, which itself was drizzled in a mildly sweet mango mayo.
Please note that the Prawn and Pineapple salad currently on the menu contains rum (alcohol).
This Mishti Doi Cheesecake was phenomenal; and unlike any flavour-profile in a cheesecake we’ve ever had before.
Moving past how delicately sweet and softly set the top half was, this was a cardamom-infused dessert, with a hint of the sour as an aftertaste, presumably delivered by the Bengal lime.
This was Colonel Saab’s take on a classic Bread & Butter Pudding, with plenty of freshly whipped cream to boot.
The pudding itself was beautifully saturated, turning out soft and well sweetened, with a trace of the cardamom meandering in the background. Comfort dessert.
- YES/ NO
- DISABLED FACILITIES
- CHILD SEATING
Once recovered from our initial bout of astonishment over the grandeur of this impressive looking establishment, the high expectations of the menu that would necessary follow weren't so much met as surpassed. How often is it the case where restaurants fail to criminally invest as much attention towards the menu as they do the aesthetical side of things.
While it's true that the menu here may have been mostly conceived by food personality Karen Anand, we believe that a very talented chef has newly arrived in London. Colonel Saab's Head Chef, Sohan Bhandari, served us some exceptionally memorable dishes, some of which you simply will not find anywhere else in the capital or, dare we say, the UK.
And here's your chance to try the menu, as we've teamed up with Roop Partap to offer you a generous 25% off the entire menu (valid until Tuesday 23rd November 2021).
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