I’m finally back from a three-month hiatus and can’t wait to sink my teeth (literally!) into the epicurean delights involved in checking out a new restaurant.
All I know about Colonial is that it is located on Walton Road; and that it’s run by Ajit Saldanha, whose unflinchingly honest (and therefore not-pleasing-to-the-powers-that-be) food column once graced the pages of the Times of India. I assume from the name that Colonial dishes out some kind of Raj-inspired fare.
Colonial is a haven of elegance amidst the city chaos. The courtyard seating downstairs is discreetly screened by bamboo plants. Glancing up, I am captivated by a multitude of suspended bamboo pipes – inspired by traditional pan pipes, I’m told. The roof over this area will be crafted of glass, so as to retain the view of the trees.
A dark wood staircase leads to the indoor seating area. We enter a long, carpeted foyer (try and figure out what’s written on the carpet!) lined with works of art by contemporary Indian artists. I am pleased by the fact that these paintings are left leaning against the wood paneling, either at or below eye-level. It makes them seem so much more accessible. We linger for a while, admiring the art, and then I spy Ajit near the piano that marks the foyer’s end. We have met before, but were both having too good a time to remember the details.
The first thing I notice about Colonial is that the tables are well-spaced, making it one of the few restaurants where you can have a conversation without half the room hearing what – or whom – you are talking about. Crisp linen; pleasing accent colors; unobtrusive yet intelligent music; and a general air of elegant unhurriedness set the tone for an afternoon that can best be described as, well, “colonial.”
A Travelogue of Food
Contrary to my expectations, the restaurant serves “food from the colonies, with a contemporary twist.” Colonial bases itself on the premise that any region that has been colonized by another gives birth to a unique cuisine comprising elements from both culinary cultures. This makes for an eclectic menu, featuring Afrikaaner, Peranakan, Burmese, Vietnamese, Australian, and yes, Anglo Indian fare, all served up with a side of panache.
Our repast begins with a bowl of Mulligatawny Soup – mullaga tanni to the uninitiated – available in the original lentil version as well as a lamb-based avatar. I opt for the latter. It is a hearty soup, and has simmered for so long that it has absorbed the delicate flavor of bone marrow. I finish every drop. Ajit tells us that the recipe originates from one of the many Tamil Christians forced to flee to India from Burma on foot in 1942.
Meanwhile, my dining companion has ordered a “bone dry” martini – for once, that’s exactly what he gets. There’s no grumbling about how the vermouth is actually white wine and the proportions are wrong. I bask in the satisfied glow of a man who’s been served a perfect martini – sadly, a rare occurrence in Bangalore. I myself am imbibing Chardonnay. A quick glance at Colonial’s wine list reveals that many of the wines, too, come from the colonies. Although I enjoy wine immensely, I can never seem to taste the hints of peach and blackberry that connoisseurs do. All I can say is that the wine complements the food well.
Next, we try the Baked Crab. If you’re expecting the standard velouté-based, cheese-topped preparation, Colonial will open your taste buds to new possibilities. The attractively presented crab arrives sans any roux-based sauce. Just plain crabmeat – no “filler” – seasoned with stock, a hint of sautéed onion, and a soupçon of chilli… no, pepper… no, chilli… who cares, it’s delicious. My only grouse – there’s not enough of it. Perhaps that’s because this is a tasting portion; otherwise, at Rs. 375, me wanna more crab! Other first course options include house salad, a seafood tasting platter, vegetarian and non vegetarian sushi rolls, and lotus stems marinated in Shiraz and fried.
Back for Seconds
On to the entrées.
Lamb Shanks Dumba, the restaurant’s specialty, is redolent with the aromas of slow-cooked meat. A single lamb shank is resplendent on a bed of saffron rice; alongside it lies a lamb chop coated in crisp breadcrumbs, and a small pitcher of gravy for you to add at your discretion. The portions are sumptuous. They should be; Ajit makes reference to the royal origins of this dish, but I am forbidden from disclosing the details.
I like the Twin Set too, grilled rockfish served with a bed of rice, a topping of greens, a very light three-pepper soy-based sauce, and a jug of very serious-looking lemon butter. Although this dish is tasty, it is overshadowed by some of the other dishes the restaurant serves. If you like things simple, this one’s for you.
Three’s Company, a medley of mushrooms, sings on the palate. Wood ear mushrooms, field mushrooms, and button mushrooms vie for attention without being pushy. They are served on a bed of rice noodles, in pan juices that contain a substantial kick of pepper. Perfect for a vegetarian with the babycorn-cauliflower-potato blahs. I’d also recommend Green and Lean, an herb-flavored stir fry of greens, served with spicy flat noodles and a sprinkling of toasted almonds.
Sandra From Bandra (Ajit certainly shows imagination in naming his chef’s creations!) can be described in one word: fun. Think stiff upper lip roast chicken and gravy sitting side by side with apna home style chicken on a paratha with some very flavorful steamed veggies on the side. Whoever came up with that one deserves a medal!
Desserts are divine. Although the blood orange sorbet is refreshingly different, the chocolate mousse served with vanilla gelato and fresh fruit steals the show. Don’t think of it as a mousse, because it isn’t one. Far too rich and thick and yummy to be just a “mousse.”
I will be back at Colonial: good food and a relaxed, classy ambiance are always an irresistible combination.