In shadowy warrens by the palace of the queen lie enchanting cobbled mews that beg to be discovered. Contained within the Victorian-Edwardian façade of 51 Buckingham gate, we found a secret garden that transforms every Friday into a Michelin star inspired gateway to cuisine from South India’s beautiful backwaters.
A leafy home to a cherub’s fountain bath and kitchen grill, the courtyard is encircled by a terracotta frieze of Shakespearean casts, scenes from tragedies and comedies frozen in time that bear witness to the magic of Quilon’s master chef Sriram Aylur. Entering his Eden, we rejuvenated our spirits with Grand Marnier cocktails of elderflower and summer fruit, savouring the serenity of this little cocoon while eagerly waiting to taste some of his finest creations. As we took the last sips of our sundowners, we were pleased to meet an ensemble of spicy wild prawn byadgi, perfectly marinated Mapla chicken and finally, curry leaf lentil crusted fish reminiscent of days spent travelling along the west coast of India. As superb as the starters were, the height of nostalgia came in the form of the vegetarian mains, the most beautifully soft potato and cauliflower with fresh fenugreek leaves, delicately flavoured by original spices from the sub-continent. Sriram and his team at the Taj take great effort to source and import the ingredients they use as soon as they make it to market, bringing flavours from pasture to plate in just a day and a flight through a starry night. As the last embers died, tulip snifters of cognac and fine cigars were on hand to accompany those that lingered in late night corners of the enclave, making a charming conclusion to a wonderful evening.
For four dates in July and August, a special balcony will open as this Arabian sea green harbour plays host to operatic performances by the Covent Garden Strings Company. Dinner and a show are likely to cost about £ 60 per person and will feature sautéed tiger prawns with garlic and tomatoes followed by whole baked sea bass with almond chermoula. For those that enjoy variety, there is the a la carte menu with classic Turkish, Lebanese and Moroccan fare (£ 8 to £ 12) to choose from. We highly recommend a visit when the weather is warm.
The courtyard at 51 Buckingham gate is open from noon until late evening, from early June until the end of September. It is located at SW1E 6AF and can be found online at www.51-buckinghamgate.com/courtyard_51. The special Quilon grill is on Fridays only. The opera is scheduled for the 30th, 31st of July and the 20th, 21st of August.
Written by Nikhil Kalanjee