COLONY: A LIMITED OFFERING
I received a few harsh e-mails and twitter comments after yesterday’s post about a dispiriting meal at Guerilla Burgers. The reason? I had the temerity to suggest that, if a restaurant was open and charging punters full price, they should be judged no differently than if they had been open for weeks.
Words like “bedding in” “teething problems” and “find their feet” were used suggesting that the restaurant would need time to find their natural rhythm and flow before it would be right to judge them. That might all sound reasonable enough, but seems less than fair to the punters, like my companion and I, who came in expecting that, as we were paying full whack and the doors are open, the restaurant is suggesting it is operating at full capacity.
For a restaurant to know that they are not offering the best of themselves but still to take the same amount of money borders, to my mind, on the fraudulent. To be fair Guerilla Burgers them selves did not offer up this as an excuse and posted a constructive response on Twitter. Good for them, but it is still leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
Which brings us to today’s post, another lunch at a newly opened place, Colony. So new, in fact, that they were still painting the outside when I arrived to meet my companion, Nikki. My choice today was more driven by location than a desire to try somewhere new, so while I am sure I will receive the same shrieks and squawks from the restaurant sympathisers club, the fact that they were not offering a soft opening discount means that they too should come under the same scrutiny as they will receive from the critics in a few weeks time.
The menu at Colony is overseen by Atul Kochar, Michelin starred Chef of the recently refurbished Benares and is predicated on that all too familiar and scary concept “small plates to share” which normally allows you and your companions to construct a bill of dazzling proportions while still remaining hungry. Our server asked if we “understood the concept of the menu” to which if I had not been in polite company I might have replied “we order, you bring, we eat, you clear, we pay, we leave, right?”
Instead, I nodded that we did and he left us to our own devices as we chose. Just as well as I heard the menu being described to the next table by him as “Anglo-Indian inspired tapas”, which assumes that The Colony Club assumes most of their guests will never have experienced the Nashtas, or snacks on which the menu is supposedly based.
They also assume that most of their guests will be frightened off by any native descriptions on the menu, deeming only a few instantly recogniseable curry house words like “Tikka Masala” (not Indian anyway, guys) “Vindaloo” and “Biryani” as safe to include, the rest being given the full Anglo treatment. Not that it mattered as we were told that nearly 50% of the main dishes were not available for this opening day because, and here are those words again, there were “teething problems”
Teething problems, really? Was the opening date a surprise to you? We’ve known about it for ages. The odd dish here and there because of a missed delivery is acceptable. Half the menu is not. Particularly not when you are charging full price and a hefty price per dish at that. If only I had the gumption at the end of the meal I would have said “Sorry, my credit card is only working at 50%, so just charge me half”
That too left a nasty taste in the mouth, which is a shame, because as soon as I took my first bite of a small amuse of “chaat”, it was apparent that there is patently some ability in the kitchen. This was confirmed when the rest of our meal was brought out and we both agreed that some of the dishes were packed with far more flavour than their apologetic and polite descriptions on the menu gave credit for.
There were misfires of course. Two pieces of monkfish were mushy and overcooked, but rescued by fresh and excellent crab vermicelli. Proper Biryani should come with goat, but if Indian names are too scary for the punters I am guessing using Billy meat is right out of the window. Instead it came with lamb and rice that did not taste as if they had been cooked together the latter being spongy and the former slightly chewy.
Spiced Tiger prawns were excellent, for £15.50 for two they damn well should have been, but the cooking and ingredients were spot on. That Glaswegian classic, Chicken Tikka Masala was not bad at all, if totally alien to any Indian street vendor who has ever drawn breath and a side dish of aubergine was deliciously smokey.
Without dessert, all this lot brought the bill to £81 including a service charge, which was well deserved by the young staff who were, here it comes, finding their feet. It is a whacking amount to pay especially when you consider that they were offering such a limited menu. But, my main criticism has nothing to do with how new the restaurant is handling its early stages, but with the concept itself, which shoehorns this potentially glorious cuisine into an unsympathetic format by sucking all the spirit from it and making it as inoffensive as possible. That is not to say that you cannot serve Indian cuisine in a smart and attractive way (see below for the recent meal at Indian Zing, for a perfect example of how it can be done) but few restaurants achieve it and Colony on this showing is not going to be one of them.
I don’t think that will change, however long they are open.