Quilon (London)


My American friends are sick and tired of hearing me moan about the state of Indian food in the US. Thankfully, there’s far less cause for moaning on this score in London. On my visit last summer I ate at a few of London’s better reviewed Indian/South Asian restaurants and liked them all a lot: from the Michelin starred Trishna to the ever-popular Dishoom to the far more informal Hoppers. It is our plan during our current, much longer stay in London to explore the Indian/South Asian food scene far more thoroughly across different parts of the price spectrum. I know from past experience that even curry houses in London are a world apart from most of their counterparts in the US. Our first outing, however, was not to a curry house but to Quilon, the posh restaurant at the Taj hotel on Buckingham Gate in Westminster. 

This was not our first visit to Quilon. We had eaten lunch there on a brief trip to London in 2009 and had enjoyed it a lot. I was not surprised to see that it continues to hold the Michelin star it had then recently earned—for the food was as good as it was on our previous visit—but I was pleasantly surprised by the refurbished dining room. In 2009 it was an uninspired, very brightly lit room, looking very much like a chain hotel’s coffee shop. Now it features darker wood and furnishings and is far more elegant and the walls feature specially commissioned paintings by Paresh Maity. The restaurant’s focus is as it always was:on the food of coastal southwestern India. Chef Sriram Aylur is still in charge and he has the kitchen firing on all cylinders, putting out refined takes on the cuisines they feature dishes from.

(What do I mean by “refined takes”? I don’t literally mean that they improve the cuisines through their approach but that the heat levels of some dishes are certainly toned down and that their emphasis is closer to the subtle rather than robust end of the spectrum. Yet the depth of flavour and the overall flavour profiles of everything we ate was very much as it should be—in no case did we feel like we were eating something that was missing something essential.)

We were there for lunch on a Sunday—the day after our arrival in London, actually—and were joined by a friend from back in our small town in Minnesota who happened to be passing through town. We also had the kids with us. At lunch there are three menu options: you can choose to go a la carte (the most expensive option), a set menu of a couple of courses (the least expensive option at about £30 per head) and a tasting menu (in the middle at £36 per head). We opted for the tasting menu for all the adults. We were stumped a bit about what to get for the kids, as the reliable north Indian dishes that they will happily eat—naans, rumali rotis, tandoori chicken etc.—are not on offer here. Our server said that the kitchen would be more than happy to make them special orders of egg parathas and we jumped at it as egg parathas are among their favourite things to eat.

Herewith the food:

Mini pappadums were laid out as we sat down with a range of chutneys and pickles that were really rather good. The coconut chutney in particular tasted like the coconut had been ground very recently, which was probably true. I’d also single out the green chilly and garlic pickle for praise.

First course

  • Broccoli chop with plum sauce. The menu said “artichoke chop” but it was a broccoli chop that showed up. A very fluffy chop, perfectly fried. The plum sauce was excellent.
  • Lemon sole cafreal. Coated with a spicy green paste of chillies and coriander/mint and pan-fried this was superior to the similar dish I’d had at Trishna in the summer. And a good example of how a dish can be made more subtle without losing its essential flavour profile.

In between the first and second course they also brought out a very nice tomato rasam, served in wine glasses. (Add vodka, chill and sell it by the gallon as Desi Bloody Mary at Sunday brunch.)

Second Course

  • Almond chicken. Cubes of chicken coated with an almond-chilli paste and cooked on the griddle. Perhaps the least of the savoury courses but still very good.
  • Kothu lamb. Spiced lamb, chop-cooked on a hot griddle with onions and tomatoes and formed into a cylinder. Wonderful depth of flavour. This was sans the bread/paratha that is often chopped in with the meat in traditional kothu preparations.

Third Course

  • Coconut with asparagus and snow peas. Asparagus and snow pea poriyal, basically and very well done.
  • Mango curry. Green mango cooked in a sauce that was essentially yogurt whipped to a froth and spiced with turmeric. Sweet, sour and just excellent.

Sides

  • Malabar paratha. Smaller than your normal Malabar paratha but otherwise exactly as you’d expect them to be.
  • Lemon rice. This was just perfect.

Dessert

Tropical fruit salad. It looked lovely and tasted very good but felt like a bit of a letdown. I was hoping for a repeat of the excellent bibinca and dodhol we got in 2009 but alas.

The fruit salad was followed by rose and cardamom infused chocolates that were quite good.

I should note that while I’ve listed the food as coming out in courses this wasn’t entirely a coursed meal per se. The mango curry and asparagus-snow pea dish were set out alongside while we were still working on the lamb and chicken and were put out to be shared and self-served, rather than in individual plated portions. Ditto for the lemon rice and parathas.

Here now are the pictures.

Service was excellent: friendly, professional and knowledgeable. The offer of the off-menu egg parathas for the boys was a lovely touch—and the egg parathas themselves were excellent—and they only charged us £6 for them (and didn’t blink when the boys asked for ketchup to go with them). They also gave the boys big scoops of vanilla ice cream on the house for dessert.

An excellent meal, on the whole. The portions, by the way, were quite large: I’d say it’s a pretty good value. All of this plus some bottled water and a few beers came to about £49 per adult—leave off the beer and stick to tap water and you’d come in at £36 all-in. If the tasting menu turns over before we leave London we may well go back and eat there again. Next up, however, will be a report on another coastal, southwestern Indian restaurant at a different price and reputation point!

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