Variety

Quilon, Crowne Plaza Hotel Review

| Updated on: Apr 24, 2012
SBTB25_QUILON1

SBTB25_QUILON1

SBTB25_QUILON2

SBTB25_QUILON2

SBTB25_QUILON3

SBTB25_QUILON3

SBTB25_QUILON4

SBTB25_QUILON4

SBTB25_QUILON5

SBTB25_QUILON5

SBTB25_QUILON6

SBTB25_QUILON6

It's been a good many years since a London resident's cravings for top-notch Indian food would have left them with just a handful of options. Indian cuisine has been at the forefront of the city's explosion of amazing global cuisine in character-filled locations over the past decade or so. There are five Michelin-starred Indian restaurants (Amaya, Rasoi, Tamarind, Benares and Quilon) – well up there with other international cuisines. And places such as Trishna, the stylish, whitewash-walled sister of the Mumbai legend and Roots at N1, a sleekly-done-over former pub in North London, are among the others that have helped extract Indian dining from the somewhat clichéd reputation they'd once had of heavy, intricate décor and a zillion variants of tikka masala. Quilon, the restaurant of The Taj Group's Crowne Plaza Hotel, just down the road from Buckingham Palace and St James Park, has held its Michelin star since 2008 – perhaps not surprisingly given that it was set up and still is in the hands of one of the Taj's best known names, Sriram Aylur. But while its food, focused on coastal cuisine from South Western India, has always been spectacular and creative, I've long felt that its décor and ambience had let it down, being more run-of-the-mill hotel restaurant than haute cuisine – a real put-off for many Londoners I know. So in January designLSM, a Brighton-based firm, was brought in to give the place a real overhaul, closing it down for a whole two months. It reopened in March, soon after which I visited to review it for Smartbuy.

Décor done right

While the restaurant doesn't look very different from the outside, the interior is a big improvement, bringing the décor in line with the modern Indian-with-a-twist restaurant that it is. There's soft lighting and the flicker from row after row of tea lights decking the wall. They've brought in a lounge bar at the front (a big improvement to the waiting area-esque bar section they had before) and a semi-private dining area. Wave-like ash-wood panels line the ceiling, a subtle reminder of its coastal links. The slightly clunky artwork that once lined the walls is no longer present and softer alternatives such as patchworks of simply-engraved tiles give the place a nice, airy feel. Bits and pieces from across the South West are scattered across the restaurant, including dark wooden jaalis. Chef Aylur – a soft-spoken man with a gentle sense of humour, and none of the pomposity that many of the city's top chefs are imbued with - is particularly excited about an old wooden boat sourced from Kerala that forms the centre piece of the restaurant's basement, and perhaps most spectacular section – the 18-seater private dining room. It's got a trendily kitted-out kitchen and a well stocked bar that opens into the area that one could really imagine suiting London's well-heeled Mayfair types. All in all, the restaurant interior feels like a much better match for its eclectic clientele who range from business people working around the Westminster area to London foodies, home-sick Indians and tourists.

The food has never really been in need of tweaking but with the redesign, Chef Aylur decided to change about half the menu: the opening up of two months with no restaurant to run was too good an opportunity to pass up on, he jokes.  

Indian flavours

One of the things I've always liked about Quilon is that it manages to strike a balance between traditional and modern styles of cooking, as well as Indian and other influences. I found that it was a balance it has maintained with the change in its menu.

The coconut marinated chicken fillet starter may not seem like the most adventurous but hits the spot with its perfectly tender consistency and right level of spicing, while the curry leaf and lentil crusted fish gets a lovely kick from the ultra-fresh nutty coconut chutney that accompanies it. However, it was the main course that really stood out. Chef Aylur's baked black cod with jaggery and tamarind has always been one of the dishes that the restaurant is best known for and certainly didn't disappoint. It was cooked perfectly to a melt-in-the-mouth consistency and even my fish-averse partner gave it the thumbs up. The roasted stuffed quail legs – with a kick of mustard sauce – was one of those dishes that creeps up on you: a bite in and you are wondering what all the fuss is about but a couple of bites later, you are clearly reminded that there is a reason why Quilon has the reputation it does. Among the new dishes is a delicious kothu lamb, cooked on a hot griddle with an explosion of flavour and spices. A bean and split pea masala was another lovely mix of Western and Indian ingredients. I was less impressed with the mango curry – though the mangoes themselves had a nice tangy kick to them, the dish as a whole could have done with more of an injection of flavour. Accompanying the meal were Malabar parathas – hot, fresh and flakey, just like they are meant to be.

For dessert, the payasam-esque lentil cappuccino was certainly tasty enough, though for me, I'd say it lacked the wow factor and subtlety of the previous two courses. Having said that, the trio of baked yoghurts was delicious, creamy and bursting with the flavour of the fruits they were infused with, particularly the one with caramalised orange. London diners can be a hard-to-please bunch - excellent food is only the first of the long list of criteria from location to ambience that must be met to get them in and, more importantly, to keep them visiting. Quilon's food has always matched up, and with the revamp and shedding of its hotel-y feel it should be able to attract more of the clientele it richly deserves.

  What: South West Coastal Indian Cuisine

Where: 41 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6AF

How much: £45 to 50 per person for dinner, £24 per person for a 3-course lunch

Published on April 24, 2012

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

COMMENTS
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

You May Also Like

Recommended for you