Last Updated on January 5, 2022
Out of India – Colonel Saab arrives in London
There are a wealth of fabulous Indian restaurants in London. We rave about Kahani by Peter Joseph and we love Atul Kohchar’s restaurants – Masalchai, Kanishka and the most recent opening, Mathura. We love the glitz of 1947 and the elegance of Benares (and rate the food too). And, I personally have a soft spot for Trishna in Marylebone. We’ve visited too many to mention and love exploring a complex cuisine with a fascinating heritage. For a ‘Twixmas’ treat, we lucky enough to be invited to a recent new opening, Colonel Saab in Holborn London, for a relaxed lunch.
The new restaurant is set in the listed building, originally Holborn Town Hall. It’s been a restaurant for several years now, previously Shanghai Blues, Burger & Lobster and Gezellig. But, the refurbishment for Colonel Saab is breathtaking and memorable. It feels almost as if you are walking into the private home of an eclectic Indian collector – an Indian Mari Vanna perhaps. From the ceiling hangs a myriad of chandeliers, on the wall portraits of founder Roop Partap Choudhary’s parents, Binny and Manbeer Singh Choudhary – the eponymous Colonel Saab. The walls are covered with collections of china, of army memorabilia and of Indian antiquities. This is the first premium restaurant in Europe from the Hotel Jewel Group, owners of the award-winning Noor Mahal Palace Hotel.
The food is inspired by the family’s travels across India. Not ‘fine dining’ in the conventional sense, but the best dishes you might be served as a senior officer in the Indian Army when you visited the homes of local dignitaries. So, we were offered ‘Sunday Curry’ (not on the menu, but a dish made by the men of the house that might be a bit spicier than the normal offerings) and Memsaab’s Chicken Curry. With Binny and Manbeer Choudray looking down on us, what else could we have picked!
To start though, we shared a portion of Purani Dilli – mini samosas with masala chickpeas, orange zest and pomegranate, laced with yoghurt and coriander and looking far more seasonal than the chef may have intended (my photo is of a half portion). Beneath the ‘snowy’ peak, there’s a tasty samosa that is honestly quite enough for one person as a starter. Colonel Saab features three chaat options and if you are not overly hungry I’d recommend sharing one as we did perhaps as an alternative to a starter.
We were hungry though, so while I sipped on a well-matched glass of Picpoul de Pinet and my companion enjoyed an Indian beer, we munched our way through Jaipur baby aloo (little crispy potato halves that we learned were marinated twice during the cooking process and deep-fried three times much like an Indian version of Heston’s famous chips). And, at the suggestion of the Colonel Saab restaurant manager, we also ordered Paneer Tikka, Bengali style. I tend to avoid Paneer dishes but we both agreed that this one was delicious, with a toasty shell, melting middle and a delicious spicy tomato chutney on the side.
Next up, Memsaab’s Chicken Curry – a delicate and fragrant creamy chicken dish laced I believe with coriander and cardamom. It fitted my own need for a gentle dish and was perfect wintery comfort food. If I have any criticism, it would be that the ratio of sauce to chicken was a little out of balance. But, the portion size meant that there was plenty for me – and enough to give my companion a taste too. Meanwhile, my fellow diner was tucking into a hearty and well-spiced lamb curry dish that was not on the menu but was described as ‘Sunday Curry’.
Now, I am a big fan of Dal Makhani, a rich buttery dal made with black lentils and cooked long and slow with far too much butter and cream. We ordered a portion as a side dish and although it was just as I’d hoped I really couldn’t eat it! We were offered any leftovers to take home and saw other tables doing just that, but with a fridge full of Christmas food, I didn’t dare add to it. Another time!
The raita, meanwhile, was fine – light and creamy it was a good digestive aid for me while my companion used it to soften the heat of his curry.
What of dessert? The menu is a mix of classic (Rose Gulub Jamun) and home style dishes (Doon school rice pudding brulee or Colonel Saab’s Bread and Butter Pudding). I opted for the figs poached in Assam tea, Cognac and star anise in the hopes of a lighter fruit based dessert. Deliciously sticky and moreish I’m not sure I got the lighter option but I certainly picked a winner. My companion had the bread and butter pudding with raisins and almonds – and from the way it disappeared I’m pretty sure he was happy!
We thoroughly enjoyed our leisurely lunch at Colonel Saab and will certainly be back for more. This is a great place to know about, a few minutes from Covent Garden and the West End so perfect for pre-theatre before a night out at the Theatre or Opera. There’s a large private room too – so space for a party.
193-197 High Holborn,
London WC1V 7BD