Settled in the Grade II-listed Holborn Town Hall, Central London, Colonel Saab is an exciting new restaurant paying tribute to India; to family, art, culture and authentic home-cooking.
The story behind it is one to capture the imagination. The father of restaurateur Roop Chaudhary was a colonel in the Indian Army, stationed in various locations, taking root and experiencing each place as he travelled. The diverse cuisines and stories of homemakers who made them, were passed down to Chaudhary. In 2015 he began planting the seeds of his own venture, one that was to celebrate the breadth of culinary styles one would find in the subcontinent. Together with Indian food expert Karen Anand, he spent a year travelling in his father’s footsteps, sampling the dishes of the regions that Colonel Saab stayed in, taking notes to bring back to the UK.
Upon their return, the pair devised a menu that would honour and celebrate all those places, from the Maharaja’s mahals to the street food vendors, featuring dishes that actual Indians would eat.
And so the restaurant came to life. Chaudhary's parents - now hoteliers themselves - were collectors of Indian art and throughout their lives amassed an extraordinary number of pieces, many of which are housed in the restaurant today. It was quite overwhelming to be surrounded by so many genuine artefacts, the kind of which you might find in old palaces, temples or museums. Seeing the walls filled with real family photos of generations gone by was moving; they weren’t props, but authentic family treasures, the bones of the restaurant steeped in memories and feelings.
Our culinary journey began with a drink. I opted for ‘Mr Puri’, one of renowned mixologist Anthony Bertin’s special curations for the bar, a jasmine-inspired version of a pisco sour. It had a fragrant, smooth, creamy surface, but was potent underneath like an Indian siren in a sari, to be savoured very slowly. Mumbai street food followed, with classic plates like Purani dilli - somewhat of a pimped-up samosa, laden with crunchy sev, pomegranate, orange zest, and a delicious yoghurt-based sauce. It came with The Khumbani aloo tikki chaat, potato slices topped with dried apricot and three different sauces - a sweet-sour-spicy flavour explosion.
We also opted for the Kataifi prawns, head chef Sohan Bhandari’s signature dish - imagine full-length prawns wrapped in fine filigree noodles, served with a mango chutney - as well as the Cauliflower 65.
The ‘65’ is a dish I have never seen outside of India. It’s usually made with chicken, but it was refreshing to see a vegetarian variation - soft, melt-in-the-mouth cauliflower deep fried with a tasty, tandoori-red, spicy coating. It really worked.
For the main course, we ordered a classic Sunday lamb curry which proved dark, gutsy and deep in flavour. I was relieved that no concessions for the Western palette had been made here, and it was not far off my dad’s home version. The Nadan fish curry was perfectly cooked in a creamy, tomato-based masala; a staple from the south of India. The Pakeezah made paneer the star of the dish; four delicious slices of grilled cottage cheese adorned with gold leaf and bathed in a light, creamy cashew sauce. All were consumed with basmati rice and garlic naan, light and buttery and straight from the tandoor. I felt like a Maharani indulging in such variety in one sitting.
We left the wine choice to the restaurant, and they delivered the wonderful Le Bosq, a ripe, fruity, French sauvignon blend called. It was lively and worked beautifully with the highs and lows of the curries.
I’m not one for desserts but, encouraged by Chaudhary, went for the rice pudding, which he explained to be a nostalgic remnant from his school days in Shimla. It was creamy, not too rich and unbelievably moreish. Suddenly all that was left were the crunchy pistachios and, in another heartbeat, and they were gone too - perhaps I am a dessert person, after all. My dining partner tried the dark chocolate cake, complete with fluffy candy floss and a vanilla bean ice cream. It was beautifully presented. He then washed it down with a smoky shot of Talisker single malt scotch, and the smell reminded me of the ‘uncles’ at parties, as whisky is the men’s drink of choice in the subcontinent.
It’s very rare that I go to Indian restaurants. Being an Indian myself and accustomed to the very best of home cooking (as most Indian’s will attest) inevitably, I find eating out mostly disappointing.
I am delighted to say the flavours at Colonel Saab were extremely close to what I’m used to, and it was refreshing to see such varied regional dishes replicated on a British menu. ‘Maybe I could bring my family here?’ I thought and, looking around at my fellow diners and noting that almost half were Indian too, clearly I was not alone in my thinking.
Dinner for two around £120, including drinks.
About the Author
Sushma Sagar is a writer specialising in lifestyle, culture, and wellness. Her first book, Find Your Flow, was published in December 2020 by Penguin Ebury. She also is a master healer and founder of The Calmery, an energy medicine clinic in London’s Harley Street. She is passionate about food, the arts, spirituality, and living mindfully. sushmasagar.com @syshma