Colonel Saab: London’s India-Inspired Salute to Afternoon Tea

There are few culinary customs more quintessentially British than afternoon tea. Typically consisting of a selection of bite-sized savoury sandwiches, scones, sweets, and bottomless brews (of the leafy variety…as opposed to pints), this gastronomic indulgence dates back nearly 200 years.

In the 1840s, the Duchess of Bedford, one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, got tired of waiting–on her evening meal, that is. To assuage the “sinking feeling” she often got around 5 PM, the Duchess requested some tea, bread, butter, and cake. “What a terrible idea” said no one ever, and thus, the tradition was born.

There have been many clever 21st Century takes on this historic repast, from fashionis-teas to fur-tea-ve dalliances with felines. One especially apt incarnation, given the rise of the U.K.’s first prime minister of Indian descent, Rishi Sunak, is afternoon tea at Colonel Saab.

This modern Indian restaurant from hospitality entrepreneur Roop Partap Choudhary opened in October 2021 in the former Holborn Town Hall in central London. Stepping through the door, you’re transported to a faraway land of OTT luxury—a sort of Mumbai-meets-Versailles aesthetic informed by Choudhary’s travels across the length and breadth of India with his mother, Binny, and father, Colonel Manbeer (aka Colonel Saab).

Why have one or two crystal chandeliers from Firozabad when you can have twenty? Why limit yourself to china place settings on the tables when you can display hundreds, perhaps thousands, of colourfully patterned plates on the walls, too? Why not hang those alongside 17th Century Tanjore paintings and historic photos of Indian figures and rituals, and maybe a pure silver door from a Gujarat temple, while you’re at it.

But you’re not here simply to feast your eyes on the sumptuous decor. You’re here for the food.

With dishes curated by Karen Anand, a renowned Indian food writer and restaurant consultant, Colonel Saab offers all-day dining. In addition to a la carte selections, including all the tikkas, curries, and biryanis you would hope for, there’s also a tasting menu, and, of course, afternoon tea.

Colonel Saab’s salute to afternoon tea includes de rigueur delectations such as raisin scones with clotted cream and jam, fruit cake slices, and coconut and Earl Gray cookies, alongside Indian-inspired elements like dhokla sandwiches (a spongy delicacy from Gujarat) with coriander and mint chutney, and macaroons flavoured with saffron and rose shrikhand (a traditional creamy dessert in Marathi and Gujarati cuisine).

Hot beverages range from the usual suspects, such as English Breakfast and Lemon Verbena, to more exotic drinks, including Turmeric Latte, Persian Pomegranate, and Spiced Chai. As ever, there’s an option to add bubbles if you wish to bathe in the warm glow of a glass of champagne or prosecco.

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