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Restaurant review: Colony, London

7-9 Paddington St, London, W1U 5QH
020 7935 3353
Cuisine: Indian
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Are first impressions all they're cracked up to be? Never ones to judge a book by its cover- or even first chapter- we decide to give Colony Bar & Grill a second chance, following our own so-so dinner and a raft of mixed reviews in the media.
Going on service alone, Colony is a winner. The jovial manager John (pronounced the British way due to the Frenchman's mothers' devotion to JFK) puts us immediately at ease- helpful but never obsequious, opinionated without veering into pushy territory.
There's an a la carte, but I'm happy to go with the Mixed thali- a little taste of many dishes for a greedy little thing like me. My more decisive companion opts for the Vegetarian hotpot, from a menu littered with Anglo-Indian influenced comfort dishes like spiced-up Shepherd's pie and Kedgeree.
We ignore papads with own-made, vinegary apple and tomato chutneys, instead taking a gander at the decor. It's modern and understated- the kind of well-judged design that you almost don't notice, despite touches of flash. The food takes its own sweet time, and I'm glad- this gives us a chance for a good old gossip, and (hopefully) indicates the dishes are prepared to order.

This certainly seems the case with my thali- practically and stylishly presented in a bento box, everything's well-cooked. By contrast, the hotpot seems to have seen better days- as though it's been held on a hotplate. It's certainly edible and, packed with savoury soy mince, a hearty eat for veggies- but it's also oversalted and rather one-dimentional. A topping of paper-thin potato slices is a nice touch, though- serving to retain both heat and aroma.
To commiserate, I invite my companion to delve into my not insubstantial thali. This isn't the light option for ladies who lunch, although it satisfies without stuffing. There's a grilled lamb skewer, over-rich raita, and serviceable bread; a succulent and aromatic prawn rice, and decent tandoori chicken Caesar salad. I like the interplay between the two pulse-based dishes best- a crunchy mix of sprouted beans with their characteristic leguminous taste is the perfect contrast to creamy, umami-rich black lentil tarka dahl- the spiciest and most delectable dish on the platter. Grilled vanilla pineapple with berries is given a cursory nibble, but it's fairly unremarkable. I'd rather have doubled-up on the dahl.
After all that, we shouldn't have had pud. But we did- three between the two of us at that. A kulfi trio is served slightly warmer than ice cream, rendering the flavours more pronounced- not such a good thing in the case of the over-floral pistachio (think air-freshener), but great for both mango and lychee versions. To drink, an Austrian muscat isto imbibe liquid turkish delight. Yum.
 A rich chocolate brownie-type affair is slightly underwhelming, despite all it's squidgy posturing. I'm more than happy to scrape up every last drop of the accompanying raspberry sorbet, though- and to sup on the super-jammy Maury Grenache Noir.
We agree that caramelly brandy snaps filled with an unctuous mango curd is our favourite dessert- and its tangy yogurt sorbet could have taught the creamy raita from my thali a thing or two. I'm not mad about the combination with a smoky, sherry-cask-aged Rivesaltes Ambre, but nevertheless, it drinks very well on its own.
Following a feast of Lucullan proportions, we're desperate to plead satiety. Scrabbling for the words amongst our A-level French vocabulary, we turn to John for assistance. Not only does he supply the fitting 'repu', but even provides us with a printout of the Googled definition- intuitively knowing we'll need it for future reference.
We're glad we went back. The food won't move the earth, but nor does it contrive to. There's always a place for a friendly, smart venue that delivers- with the odd wobble- a solid menu of well-executed, tasty dishes. We learnt that Colony are constantly evolving the menu, and feel that the restaurant truly values the input and feedback of its diners.
In pursuit of the adventurous, the new, the modish, we seem to have lost both the appreciation and the desire for a simple, honest dining experience that leaves you 'repu' from both the food and the feeling of warm conviviality afforded by top-notch service. For me, this appreciation made a welcome return that lunchtime at Colony. And to think we might have missed out. Next time, do yourself a favour- skip the blurb and make up your own mind.





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18 April 2010
By: Zoe Perrett
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