Monday, 18 October 2021

Colonel Saab, Holborn

Although you wouldn't know it from reading this blog, about two months ago I decided to end the Covid-era moratorium on bad reviews. Since then, every meal of any significance I've eaten has somehow conspired to be rather good, to the extent that I briefly considered writing up a couple of mediocre experiences from between the lockdowns in 2020 to just add a bit of variety to the archive. In the end, I decided not to do that, partly because any restaurant open between the lockdowns in 2020 was having a pretty horrible time of it, and also well, it seems a bit mean doesn't it. Although on that point, if anyone wants to know where to avoid in the city for a game dinner, message me privately and I'll be happy to clarify.

So yes, here's another lovely meal I had, at the brand new and lavishly appointed (just look at those chandeliers) Colonel Saab in Holborn. When you've been writing a blog as long as I have (nearly 15 years... Christ) you find yourself revisiting the same site a number of times under different guises. Colonel Saab was previously Gezellig (lovely by all accounts but I never managed to organise a visit before it closed), Burger & Lobster (great of course, as ever, but it seems they could never make the numbers work) and before that a strange place doing live jazz and dim sum called Shanghai Blues which was actually rather good if you could avoid the jazz element.

Colonel Saab is high-end Indian, a field less crowded than it used to be thanks to the closure of the very sadly missed Indian Accent but which still includes Jamavar, Bombay Bustle, Kutir, Gymkhana, Trishna and the brand new Manthan I reviewed last week, all of which charge serious (though by no means unreasonable) prices for serious, intelligent Indian food. Now, spoiler alert - Colonel Saab isn't quite up there with the very best of them, but it's still more than worth your time, starting with their grown-up cocktail list. This is a "Turmeric", a Meyer lemon cordial with kombucha and turmeric-infused vodka.

Snacks (poppadums and puffed wheat things) came with two interesting chutneys - one chilli & tomato based, one pineapple. I was a teensy bit disappointed they didn't offer coriander chutney (I can eat that stuff by the bucketful), or some kind of mixed pickle (ditto), but this was still a decent start.

I can't tell you exactly what these were as they arrived as an unannounced little extra, but I think they were baked kale (or spinach) in an earthy spice mix, and remained nicely dry and crunchy to the last bite.

I rarely, if ever, order soup in an Indian restaurant, largely because I'm rarely, if ever, offered it. So I couldn't resist seeing how "Creamy almond soup" manifested itself. It turned out to be a smooth and comforting broth studded with chunks of smoked duck, salty and stupidly moreish, and though perhaps you'd struggle to place it geographically (at least, I would) it was definitely worth an order.

I can't help feeling that if you want to run a good restaurant, your over-arching philosophy should be to examine the way they go about things at grotesque billionaire-baiting PR exercise Nusr Et steakhouse, and then do the absolute opposite. This includes decorating anything (anything savoury at least) with gold leaf. Ignoring that pointless bit of bling, the paneer was lovely, charred from the grill on the outside and with a nice soft texture inside.

"Gutti Vankaya" were baby aubergine, also nicely charred and soft and sweet inside, in another tamarind sauce which went down well.

The Colonel Saab Daal Makhani was a supreme example of its kind, with a deep buttery flavour and those intense, almost chocolately notes added by the slow-cooked lentils. Very glad indeed we ordered this.

Naans were also very good - so good in fact that once we realised how much sauce we had left over in the paneer and aubergine dishes and the daal, we ordered another one. You'd expect somewhere like this to get the bread offering right, but I can tell you from experience it's by no means a given.

I'm going to have to leave on a bit of a down note though - lamb chops were over-salty, anaemic tasting and (weirdly, although it doesn't look like this from my photo) boasting very little char or crunch from the grill. Perhaps I'm a bit demanding when it comes to lamb chops, but this is only thanks to being served impeccable versions at other restaurants. I'm afraid these didn't compare at all.

But overall, there was plenty else to enjoy about Colonel Saab. You could almost certainly, if you avoided the lamb chops (or maybe if you were just luckier than me and they turned up in a slightly less sorry state), construct yourself an extremely pleasant meal in this gorgeous space, and that's something very much to admire. True, it's not quite A-tier alongside the very best high-end Indians in town, despite what their prices may suggest, but there's still some thoughtful, skilled cooking going on that's more than worth a look-in. Whether they settle in and push themselves to the top tier or I'm back reviewing the same space under different management in a year or two, only time will tell - but I genuinely hope it's the former.


I was invited to Colonel Saab and didn't see a bill. I think a reasonable amount to spend would be about £70/head.

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