Over the years, I’ve collected some rather tasty memories at Quilon – the Michelin-starred restaurant specialising in the coastal cuisine of South West India.
It’s where my family and I celebrated my momentous milestones back in my school days. Quilon also catered my best friend’s wedding breakfast a couple of years ago – and as I recall, there was a slight lapse in my bridesmaid duties as I snuck off to snaffle a few of the idi-cupcakes making their rounds.
Most recently though, my cuz and I rediscovered that they serve up the best dosas in London-town (amongst other exemplary dishes), over an indulgent and leisurely lunch here…
The monochrome palette – peppered with subtle bursts of colour – is a theme which extended throughout the restaurant, with its sedate interiors featuring traditional latticed ‘jaali screens‘ and an entire wall alluringly filled with flickering tea lights… While the impressive collection of artworks, specially commissioned from the prolific artist Paresh Maity, offered an animated respite.
Although Quilon is best-known for specialising in the coastal cuisines of Goa and Kerala, our lunch reconfirmed that it does remarkably well by other South Indian specialties too, specifically that forever-favourite of mine… dosas.
Here they were presented in a miniature-size, as elegantly-folded tents which had the perfect paper-thin texture, neither too-soft, nor too-thin. As someone who’s had more than their fair share of these fermented savoury rice pancakes (dosas are a Sunday ritual for me when I’m home in Bombay), I can vouch that this is a consistency surprisingly hard to get right! The mildly-spiced potatoes and earthy sambar (a lentil-based stew) traditionally served as accompaniments, were faultless too.
We also tucked into a selection of other well-executed starters, including a sublimely deep-fried vada of sorts, tinged with a kick of tamarind…
A spicy but comforting shot of rasam (a tamarind-based soup) punctuated our meal, before we moved onto mains.
Although seafood is at the core of the menu, we found plenty of attractive vegetarian options to suit our fancy. The mango curry was the best thing we’d never heard of before – fresh and ripe chunks of mango cooked in a yogurt-based curry and lightly seasoned with green chillies, mustard seeds and curry leaves. It was a lively blend of sweet, savoury and tart flavours, which we really relished!
This simple but effective combination of seasonings added a sharp burst of flavour to our otherwise-restrained veggie sides too, including the “spinach poriyal” (finely-shredded spinach) and lightly-sautéed asparagus and snow peas. Both were tossed in fresh grated coconut, which imparted an exotic touch!
In the capable hands of Chef Sriram Aylur, the thinly-sliced crispy okra was an outstanding dish as well… its golden auburn hues, a telling indication of its impeccably batter-fried state before we’d even had our first crunchy bite. What we really loved was the okra’s surprising lightness, a distinctive feature of much of what else we ate too, given the restaurant’s implicitly healthy style of cooking.
A basket of delightfully-flaky Malabar parathas (a layered flat bread) completed the very tasty picture!
We really drew out our lunch, savouring the finesse with which each of the dishes had been prepared… And so it was verging on my usual chai-time, once the last of our plates had been cleared.
A pistachio cake was the perfect tea-time treat to accompany it, offering a nuttier and lightly-moist take on a classic sponge cake, artfully laced with with a melted black sesame fondant.
Even though we were the last ones left in the restaurant by this point, the affable staff never once rushed us – instead encouraging us to stay on for longer if we needed to, until the rains outside had calmed down.
In fact, as the restaurant is part of the Taj group of hotels, we’d felt a certain sense of comfort as soon we’d walked in. At a recent event at the iconic Taj Palace in Mumbai (more details on which, soon!), I discovered the nature of this feeling – Tajness.
It’s a concept which manifests itself in many forms, such as in the utmost care taken by hospitable staff (who often go over and above their call of duty) and the inherent celebration of local Indian cultures, including through food that reflects a certain authenticity and comfort.
I’ve experienced this Tajness on countless occassions now… At a royal afternoon in the majestic Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. Over a pretty-in-pink afternoon tea at the Taj Dubai. Or those many deliciously satisfying evenings in Mumbai… and most recently, at a Jungle-Book inspired private dining experience at St James Court London (aimed at raising awareness of tiger conservation work in India).
In a world filled with constant change, it’s heartening to know that there are some things that you can always count on.
Have you experienced Tajness before?
Quilon, 41 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6AF, United Kingdom
I was a guest of Quilon on this most recent visit, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone.