In conversation with Roop Partap Choudhary

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Roop Partap Choudhary
Image credit Colonel Saab

The team at City Matters sat down with Roop Partap Choudhary to discuss the concept behind the restaurant, Colonel Saab, the inspiration behind the décor and his advice for other budding entrepreneurs in the City. Read on to find out more.

Q. Please share with us the story behind Colonel Saab?

A. I created Colonel Saab as a “love letter” to my family and India. The restaurants are a homage to my travels across India with my mother, Mrs Binny Choudhary and father, Colonel Manbeer, who was given the honorific name ‘Colonel Saab’ – shared by the restaurants – while serving in the Indian Army. The postings across India enabled us to experience the continent’s rich diversity of food from traditional local lunches in the tents of Rajasthan to British-inspired Indian breakfasts in the Officer’s Mess and banquets hosted by Indian nobility and Maharajas and I wanted to bring this diverse culinary and art heritage to London with Colonel Saab.

Q. Dining at Colonel Saab is both a fantastic feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. Please can you share where the inspiration came from for the decor and artefacts.

A. Both restaurants feature a treasure trove of eclectic Indian art and artefacts collected by me and my family on our travels, lovingly brought to the space under challenging conditions.

The Trafalgar Square destination’s rare and precious art and artefacts tell the story of India’s rich history and cultures, and include vibrant 16th century Tanjore art on wood; handmade wooden doors from temples of Gujarat and Nepal; fine porcelain plates from the 18th century; Warli paintings in a form dating back to 2500 BCE; three Bakhtiari and Kilim rugs decorating the walls; miniature paintings; detailed, antique Phulkari floral embroidery; a precious Rabab lute; heavily adorned, gilt Kimkhwab embroidery; a Mughal Zardosi Embroidered Fan. There are also personal items, including my grandparents’ Wedding Almirah and paintings and photographs of my family.

The Colonel Saab staff bring the decadent surroundings to life, happily regaling diners with the rich stories and histories of the sumptuous artworks.

Q. Talk us through some of the challenges you’ve faced as a City business and how did you overcome them?

A. Navigating the competitive landscape of London’s dining scene has been our biggest challenge. We’ve focused on creating a unique dining experience that stands out, from our menu’s authenticity to our art and artefacts, which makes the experience double as a fascinating museum and gallery to India. Adapting to the ever-changing tastes of our clientele while staying true to our roots has been key to our success.

Q. You’ve recently opened another branch in Trafalgar Square. Tell us about the concept came about.

A. Opening in Trafalgar Square was a strategic move to bring our culinary vision to a broader audience. This location allows us to cater to both Londoners and international visitors, showcasing our interpretation of Indian cuisine in a landmark setting. The concept blends our signature style with the historical and cultural significance of Trafalgar Square.

Q. What is your biggest achievement?

A. Colonel Saab has been named the UK’s Best Asian Restaurant at the Asian Curry Awards (the Oscars of the curry world), Best Newcomer at British Curry Awards, Best Restaurant in Feed the Lion awards and was awarded Harden’s Certificate of Achievement. It welcomes stars including Jonathan Ross and David Baddiel, Malala Yousafzai, Hollywood legend John Lithgow, Ranvir Singh, Rachel Stevens, Big Zuu as well as royals and political leaders. Although our biggest achievement has been creating a space where the stories of India’s diverse culture are told through every bite – we take the greatest pride in the reviews from our customers and the enjoyment we see from them, experiencing the restaurants.

Q. Where do you take inspiration for the menu?

A. I spent a year retracing my father’s footsteps across India by train, bus and car to curate contemporary twists on dishes passed down through the generations of people we met, with many regional specialities appearing for the first time on a London menu. Colonel Saab was born out of a deep passion for sharing the rich tapestry of Indian flavours and culture. It was inspired by my dad’s travels across India and his military background, to create a unique dining experience that tells a story with every dish with an emphasis on family values and heritage.

Q. What’s your favourite dish on the menu?

A. Choosing a favourite is challenging, but the Lamb Rogan Josh holds a special place in our hearts. It’s a classic dish that embodies the depth of flavour and complexity that Indian cuisine is known for, prepared with a unique blend of spices that are roasted and ground in-house.

Q. Which other London Indian Restaurants are you particularly fond of?

A. While there are many outstanding Indian restaurants in London, Benaras is a personal favourite, thanks to its unique approach to Indian cuisine, focusing on game and seasonal dishes. Its commitment to creating an immersive dining experience resonates deeply with our own values. However London’s Indian dining scene is incredibly vibrant, we also have great respect for the work of Dishoom, Gymkhana, and many others in the City. Each contributes uniquely to the rich tapestry of London’s Indian dining scene, showcasing the depth, diversity, and innovation that Indian cuisine has to offer.

Q. What do you love about having a restaurant in the City?

A. London’s dynamic energy and diverse population make it an ideal place for a restaurant like Colonel Saab. The city’s openness to different cultures and cuisines allows us to share our love for Indian food with a wide audience, creating a melting pot of flavours and experiences.

Q. What is your advice to any other aspiring business owners in the City?

A. To aspiring restaurateurs, we say: understand your vision deeply and remain true to it. London is a city that appreciates authenticity and innovation. Focus on creating a unique dining experience that tells a story, be prepared to adapt, and always strive for excellence in every aspect of your business.

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