Chef Sriram Aylur: Bringing aromas of Indian West Coast in London, with a Michelin star

Sriram was born in a family that is “genetically engineered to cook”
Sriram Aylur, chef at Quilon, London
Sriram Aylur, chef at Quilon, London

Twenty-five years as a gourmet chef and a Michelin star later, Sriram Aylur says people come back to a restaurant for the dishes they love.

Sriram Aylur is the executive chef at Quilon, the only south Indian restaurant to be Michelin-starred.

Although the restaurant specializes in south-west Indian cuisine and is located in London, Sriram finds that there’s no dearth of appreciation for good food. “The city is the melting pot of the world and everything is taken with excitement. People are adventurous and welcome and understand the importance of flavours.

Quilon, the restaurant in London. Trivia: Quilon is another name for Kollam a city in coastal Kerala, India.

If you ask Sriram to name the best dishes on the menu, he would cut you off and say – “Everything we have is good. We have retained 65 percent of our menu, which shows that people like the food.”

Sriram has been with Quilon since 1999, and believes in what he calls progressive cooking – he thinks food should evolve constantly to become platform relevant and that it can’t be done haphazardly.

But when Quilon tried to change the menu some years ago, what happened left him surprised. “One thing that taught me that change can’t be forced is when I decided to remove Mangalore Chicken curry, which they have had for the last 11 years. In a few months people started complaining and I had to put it back on the menu. In the mature gourmet market, people come back to the same dish in a restaurant.”

Born in Palakkad and brought up in Mumbai, Sriram developed a passion for food at a very young age when he stepped into his father’s kitchen. His family, he says, is “genetically engineered to cook”.

One of the things that shaped the cook in him was the ‘Sunday feast ritual’. “When I was young, every Sunday we would have a lunch ‘tamasha’ (in Hindi). Family and friends would all drop by and people used to look forward to this great celebration of food,” he says.

A Quilon salad. Presentation is one of the important aspects to focus on when it comes to food.

Even though he always loved cooking, Sriram says there was a time when he wanted to pursue a career in law. “But when that did not materialise, my father encouraged me to take up hotel management,” says Sriram.

His education eventually took him to the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces, where he launched a restaurant called Karavali in 1990. “It was not a great success so to say, but there was definitely a lot of learning. It stood the test of time and showed us what and when we were doing things right.” Today, Sriram also oversees Bombay Brasserie, started in 1982 and was the restaurant in London to serve authentic Indian food at that time.

But 52-year-old Sriram’s personal expertise is seafood. “The world is ready for ethnic cuisine done properly. When we introduce a new dish at Quilon, we make sure the soul of the south-west coastal India cuisine is retained. It needs to have a certain bonding character with the cuisine in focus because that is what people come to the restaurant for,” he says.

The ingredients to create the authentic flavours and aromas of the west Indian coast – from Goa to Kerala – are mostly available in London, and when they’re not, they are imported.

It appears Sriram has found a balance between retaining the culinary soul of the west coast while being progressive. “For instance, our dish Black cod is an inspiration from a similar Japanese dish Miso black cod. The difference is that we use fenugreek, tamarind and chilli to give it our identity.”

A quick look inside Quilon

He said the cuisine of the west coast was an "excellent choice” for people who are health-conscious as it is low on fat and does not need much oil. "The advantage for a customer at a seafood restaurant is that he or she walk away healthier than when they walk in."

Quilon has been given the star for seven years since 2008, but Sriram says that it was not consciously sought. “I am fortunate to have a dedicated team, whom I consider more as a family now, which thrives for perfection in terms of flavour, texture, appeal and everything that brings harmony. Even if one has worked on a dish a thousand times, it is still risky. While cooking a dish, every single physical and emotional string of a human being is stressed upon.”

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute