41 Buckingham Gate, St James’s Park, SW1E 6AF
Nearest tube: St James’s Park
Is “posh Indian” food a viable concept? There are quite a few well established posh curry restaurants in London: Cinnamon Club, Benares and Tamarind, as well as Quilon which has held a Michelin star since 2008. I think in general sub-continental food should be simple and inexpensive, not fancy and convoluted. However, I was very interested to try the food at Quilon to see how Michelin-starred Indian food works in practice. It claims to be a “southwest coastal” Indian and has a focus on seafood. The interior was completely redesigned last year and it now has a chic, understated cool. They offer a lunch deal of 3 courses for £24 including tea or coffee.
For starter, I was tempted by the pepper shrimps but I was worried by the “spicy” flag on the menu (although one of my friends had these and they weren’t spicy at all), so I went for the safe but potentially boring coconut chicken. It turned out to be a very good choice: the chicken was absolutely perfectly cooked – it was only just warmed through and had not been cooked for one second too long, it must have been cooked by a very confident chef. The chicken had been marinated in coconut cream lending a nice sweetness which contrasted the subtle cumin spicing. The dish was very simple but it was one of the best chicken dishes I have ever eaten.
The palette refresher was of an equally high standard – it was a warm tomato and lentil broth spiked with curry leaves and dried spices. However, the quality of the food went downhill from there – my Quilon fish curry consisted of halibut pieces in a coconut cream sauce (the menu claimed the sauce also contained mango and chilli but I could detect neither). The fish was of good quality but had been overdone – it seemed like it had been cooked separately then plonked in the sauce (for too long) a bit later. There was lashings of sauce but it was really, really thin – it tasted like a can of coconut cream that had been mixed with dried spices. Overall, a very disappointing main course.
The dessert menu at Quilon is not very exciting – it has a lot of yoghurt based dishes, and in general the offerings are similar to those in traditional high street curry houses. I opted for Bibinca and Dodhol which is a Goan speciality – as you can see it did not look very innovative: it was essentially a lukewarm triple sandwich of pancakes filled with chocolate. The texture of the pancakes was very soft and creamy, and the chocolate sauce had a nice richness. But the vanilla ice cream it came with had a slightly grainy texture and lots of ice crystals – it was certainly not of a Michelin standard.
I had a mixed experience at Quilon – my starter was really exceptional but my fish curry was poor and the ice cream served with dessert was not well executed. It also loses marks for the quality of service, which was very relaxed but rather slack.
Also see: Emyr Thomas and snacksandsuch.