By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Having opened way back in 1999, it would seem that, once upon a time, Quilon was actually quite brilliant. Again, they’ve managed to wow Michelin this year, for the seventh year running, so it’s a real shame that our recent visit didn’t quite manage to live up to high expectations. Owned by the Taj Hotel Group, Quilon is perched upon the corner St. James Court Hotel just a stone’s throw from Parliament and Victoria Station, which may explain some of the restaurant’s huge popularity. Inside, there’s a desk that’s overflowing with discordant welcoming staff, none of which are able to find our reservation with us having to repeat the booking details at least four times. Eventually we’re escorted into the L-shaped dining room with ceilings so low that one ends up feeling trapped by the dark, windowless interiors. It wasn’t too long ago that Quilon undertook a grand refurbishment, famed for its frightfully gauche décor juxtaposed to its food. Indeed, nowadays the sleek interior is a move in the right direction, but its still not quite as appealing as its bright, airy little sister restaurant – Bombay Brasserie.
In fairness, Quilon is most definitely not awful. Chef Sriram Aylur’s South-West Indian food is, for the most part, quite good, there’s an extensive Wine list available for London’s Wine fans, and the overall ambience is generally more casual than the majority of London’s premiere Indian restaurants. The service, however, is much to be desired. Although not at all hostile, there’s absolutely no sense of urgency and it’s almost impossible to grasp the attention of our waiter in order to request the dessert menu or to order another drink. On to the food, there’s a strong South-West Indian stamp all across the menu that’s deeply rooted in Seafood. There’s also a vast selection of slightly contemporary dishes as well as healthier dishes that are created with a strong focus on sharing. As we tuck in to our ‘Fisherman’s Catch’, a boat shaped platter that features one Pepper Shrimp (almost perfect), a well-made Crab Cake, a small tranche of Tilapia, and a well-cooked yet under-seasoned Grilled Scallop, we notice Head Chef Sriram Aylur floating about the dining room and greeting other customers. His Chef’s Whites are so pristine, however, that they suggest he’s not actually ventured into the kitchen at all during the absolute peak of dinner service. Overall, the Fisherman’s Catch is very good, albeit far from plentiful enough to share, as was suggested.
Following the starter we’re treated to an inter-course palate cleanser: a Wine glass filled with what resembles Tomato Soup, is absolutely delicious. Both warming, well spiced and incredibly flavoursome, the glass is filled with traditional Rasam Soup, generally made using Tamarind, and is reminiscent of a non-alcoholic, warm Bloody Mary. It’s a shame that this dish is the highlight of both our entire meal, and what’s more, it’s the only course that doesn’t incur a charge. As for the mains, a bowl of Seafood Moilee features cubes of Curried Halibut, Prawns and Potato, all poached in a Moilee sauce. The taste is not unpleasant, but a little bland and heavy on Garlic. It’s also a shame for a Fish as delicate and expensive to be included where another would have sufficed. Elsewhere, Quilon’s take on Black Cod, a delicious Japanese dish, uses Spices and Molasses instead of traditional Miso Paste, in order to make the dish. The Fish is cooked wonderfully, although the sweetness of the rub packs a cloying aftertaste that’s disappointing, considering. Thankfully, a basket of delicious Paratha Bread and a bowl of interesting Lemon Rice join the table in order to accompany our chosen dishes. When the dessert menu does finally arrive, our desired choice is unavailable but we take the waiter’s recommendation of Tropical Fruit Salad. There’s no real culinary finesse showcased here, but at least the vibrant flavours do manage to cleanse the palate and cut through the sickly-sweetness of the Black Cod.
Let’s hope, for the restaurant’s sake, that our recent visit was during an off night. However, having held on to their prestigious Michelin Star for seven consecutive years, by now a restaurant of this calibre should be able to deliver a certain standard that lives up to their almost legendary status, night-in-night-out. Although the restaurant’s website header claims that Quilon is, in fact, “London’s best Indian Restaurant”, we’re still unconvinced. Especially when compared to local spots such as Zaika, Benares and Bombay Brasserie.
Quilon can be found at 41 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6AF.