In theory, Colonel Saab has all the ingredients to become the next talk of the town. Taking over the former Holborn Town Hall, the restaurant has the interiors to impress, a colonial Indian grandeur with almost a regal vibe to it to sweep you away from London. Clusters of chandeliers adorned the ceiling of the main dining hall, edging between the fine line of being aesthetically pleasing versus overcrowded. Food-wise, it runs in the direction of fine-dining contemporary Indian, with the promise of bold unique flavours and creations. By paper, it really has it. But does it actually?
The Story of Colonel Saab London
Colonel Saab is the newest venture by Indian entrepreneur and hotelier, Roop Partap Choudhary, and his first outside of India. As a kid, Roop has had the privilege of travelling across sub-continent India with his parents due to his father’s occupation in the Army. Colonel Saab is what his father was called in the army and this restaurant is a culmination of flavours & inspiration from his journeys and a lovely homage to his parents. Unmissable large portraits of them are proudly hung on the walls of the main dining hall and more photo collages between them all over the walls between the stairways – even the stairways to the loo. In a way, it’s almost like a palace dedicated to them.
In addition to the main dining hall, its elegant private dining rooms are set to impress as well, with vintage artefacts on display that may even deem museum-worthy. The mezzanine above might just be our favourite view, the canopy booth seat especially, to overlook the main dining hall through the sparkles of the chandeliers.
The Food: What We Ordered
Curated by Karen Anand, one of India’s top food personalities, and Colonel Saab’s head chef Sohan Bhandar, the menu aims to offer a ‘modern twist on the flavours and textures of India’. Its dinner menu features traditional Indian dishes as well as regional specialities with a contemporary twist. All meats served are halal. No pork but alcohol is served at the restaurant.
*We were invited to review the restaurant. Our meal was complimentary but all views are our own.
Papadums & Chutney (£3.95) and Passionfruit Mocktail
We first ordered drinks and were kindly offered some papadums & chutney to munch on while we decide on what to order. The chutneys were a great accompaniment to the papadums. Though the papadums themselves could benefit from an extra touch of seasoning. Nonetheless, we munched through the entire basket while we scanned through the menu. The passionfruit mocktail was fairly standard – decent but nothing particularly special.
Noor Mahal Chicken Tikka (£15.95)
Finally, we managed to decide on the starters. First up was the Noor Mahal Chicken Tikka – Noor Mahal as in Roop’s luxury palace hotel in India. Was the chicken tikka as impressive as the five-star hotel? It’s not as much of a showstopper compared to it, but the dish was decent. The chicken was generally tender to bite, reasonably marinated and spiced, served with green chutney on the side that allowed the flavours to pop just a little bit more. It’s not an ace because we feel it was still missing a piquant oomph and sharpness of flavours to really open up the palate.
Kolhapuri Lamb Chops (£23.95)
Sitting at the top spots of my list of best lamb chops in London has been from fine-dining Indian restaurants so I had rather high expectations for this one. Whilst it’s not bad, it somewhat did fail to impress. The spice rub was missing a touch of robustness that’s meant to make the palate sing. The absence of a charred crust didn’t help either. It was a bit overcooked in my opinion, missing that juicy succulence to win us over the line. We did enjoy the chutney that came with the lamb chops though.
Kataifi Prawns (£22.95)
If you’re expecting a whole king prawn, you’re not really going to get it. Instead, it’s prawns blended into a paste, reshaped into a log and reconnected with the tail before being drenched in shredded kataifi dough to fry to golden crispiness. These prawns shared striking similarities to fried prawn balls at Cantonese banquets – a dish that I munched far too many back in the days as a kid. As such, the prawn paste did give me a tingle of nostalgia and we enjoyed the crispy kataifi, which paired well with the sweet chutney drizzled on top. However, the prawns themselves didn’t taste much and could use an extra touch of seasoning. It’s an intriguing try but, overall, an easily forgettable dish.
Colonel Saab’s “Tooni” Smoked Lamb Shank (£26.95)
Moving onto the mains, we went with the smoked lamb shank which came in a rich thick gravy. The meat was generally tender, falling easily off the bone but some parts of the meat remained a bit chunky to bite. There’s a slight tang to the gravy, though rather subtle and not enough impact to cut through the richness of the gravy. Smokiness? Not so much detectable from our taste buds. Once again, it’s an alright dish but lacks depth and umami to take it to the next level.
Memsaab’s Chicken Curry (£18.95)
Essentially a white chicken korma, the chicken curry comes in a creamy white gravy that, unfortunately, was rather mild in flavours and somewhat resembles a stew more than a curry. The lack of spices was the main downfall of the dish. It just wasn’t a dish one would expect to have come out of a fine-dining restaurant. The plus side is that the portion wasn’t too stingy. It’s a shame that the dish was a lacklustre one.
Cumin Potatoes (£5.95)
Here’s a dish that we both truly enjoyed. These cumin potatoes make a delicious side dish – perfectly soft, seasoned just right, and wholesomely satisfying. They were great on their own and we happily finished the whole plate very quickly.
Bread Basket (£11.95)
To go with our mains, we were also recommended to get the breadbasket, which got a bit of everything in there including the roasted onion kulcha, missi/tandoori roti, and naan. The bread selection was okay – just regular bread and nothing outstanding. Perhaps it was missing an aromatic touch, and/or missing a touch of seasonings and flavourings to it. Essentially, with the fine-dining tag, we expected more even if it’s something as simple as bread.
Rose Gulab Jamun (£7.95)
After the underwhelming mains, we decided to move on to desserts. We had the Rose Gulab Jamun – a classic that could do no wrong. I could totally munch a few more down should my stomach have allowed. They were perfectly syrupy, with just the right amount of sweetness, and got the perfect spongy texture to bite.
Ras Malai Milk Cake (£10.95)
Then we had the Ras Malai Milk Cake, which I was particularly into last year with the surge of home baking businesses. Topped with cardamom cream, the milk cake was lusciously creamy & milky. There’s an interesting mild cheesy touch that was aimed to replicate the flavours of ras malai. I couldn’t quite pinpoint whether I like that extra touch or not. But all in all, while I’m not head over heels for it, it’s a decently solid one that I enjoyed. Wouldn’t mind if they can add a touch of pistachios and rose though in my opinion.
Its interiors have made it a place to impress but the food at Colonel Saab needed much refining to stand out against some very fine competition in the market. The promise of bold flavours failed to come through, unfortunately. The price tag doesn’t come cheap either and we found it hard to justify the bill. London is not new to fine-dining contemporary Indian restaurants and it’s going to be a very steep competition with some outstanding names in Mayfair. There is potential there but a pretty venue alone won’t be enough to succeed.
Looking for fine-dining Indian restaurants in London? Here are a few you might want to check out:
All meats served are halal. Alcohol is served at the restaurant.
Nearest station: Holborn