When Indian Summer opened its doors in Colombo five years ago, they took the city by storm, savouring instantaneous success and accumulating a legion of loyal diners. The food was top notch and consistently so, their ambience distinctive, and the longstanding industry experience of the parent company that owned Indian Summer and its diverse team inspired confidence. That is until recent newspaper headlines brought it all crashing down.
Public Health Inspectors conducted a spate of raids on a large number of eateries, and the more prominent restaurants such as Indian Summer attracted significant media coverage and consequently endured a social media witch hunt. I am a strong believer that all establishments - especially those in the food industry - must be held to high standards. But I also believe that we must allow an establishment that has faltered an opportunity to rectify its shortcomings and grow.
Hoping to uncover the scenario pertaining to the incident, I recently dropped by Indian Summer during lunch hour. Unlike its glory days when we had to make reservations just to get a seat, few diners were inside, enjoying their lunch. For a restaurant capable of seating 200, the sight was heart-wrenching. I sat down for a chat with one of the Directors, Khushru Mistry. We wasted no time in getting straight to the point. “So basically, what happened was that they found an overripe Papaya” Mistry stated, launching into an explanation of the inner workings to help me better understand the situation. According to Mistry, it is general practise to have opening and closing checklists that staff adhere to in restaurant operations. This is done daily, and everything from chiller temperatures to food hygiene and wastage reports are looked into.
With over 30 years in the industry, Mistry knows the restaurant business like the back of his hands, constantly striving to uphold the highest standards at all his restaurants.
“We maintain very high standards of hygiene and standard operating procedures and we are also an ISO certified company”.
Mistry isn’t defiant or arrogant as he explains. Nor does he attempt to deflect blame at any point.
“We really try and do our 100% to make sure things are perfect, but sometimes, this is an operation, things happen”.
Referencing the issue of the overripe papaya, Mistry adds
“Even in a chiller temperature of 14-15 degrees, there could be some fruits, for example, which can be overripe”.
Normally, the overripe papaya would have been discovered and disposed of by the staff during the opening checklist reviews. However, Mistry explained, the PHI team were at the restaurant even before the staff had arrived, thus leaving the staff no opportunity to conduct a review of the opening checklist.
Nevertheless, I ask to see their kitchen, to which they instantly agree. In fact, ever since the incident, they have welcomed diners into their kitchen, should the diner so wish. As I walked around, I could see the meticulous attention to detail - food in the chillers were labelled and extensively detailed, wastage reports etc indicated that food was monitored way before the PHI inspection, and the kitchen was clean. Satisfied with what I saw, I ordered my lunch.
For starters, I had the Chicken Lollipop and Shanghai Roll with chicken and veggies. Indian Summer has always served a fusion menu that comprises Indian, Indo-Chinese, Chinese and even Thai cuisine, paving the way for an, especially large appetiser menu.
The lollipop was absolutely yummy, with a perfectly crisp batter and succulent meat.
The Shanghai Roll held its own against the lollipop, standing toe to toe in terms of texture and flavour; the latter accentuated thanks to the homemade schezwan sauce.
For mains, I tried the Garlic Cheese Naan, Chicken Biryani, Butter Chicken and Shrimp Bhuna. While checking out the kitchen, I saw that the for any order that was made, apart from the mise en place, the order is prepared fresh, a fact that was very evident in the taste of the dishes I tried. The quality of the food I sampled was exceptional, reminding me why Indian Summer was such a favourite among locals.
The Garlic Cheese Naan was light and crispy, with the garlic and cheese flavours complementing each other perfectly. Even when eaten with the rich and flavourful butter chicken, the cheese and garlic was clearly discernible, which I loved.
Speaking of the butter chicken, it was absolutely divine. The light smokiness in flavour, the rich gravy and the succulent chicken make this curry one I will certainly go back for!
The Shrimp Bhuna was the spicier of the two curries I had. And by spicy, I mean very spicy, which made me understand why the chef asked me if I was okay with spicy food.
The chicken biriyani was also flavorful, with the right spices being highlighted without overwhelming the flavour of the biryani.
Considering I loved the food so far, I was skeptical if the desserts would deliver, and was happy to note that it did. And then some. The chef presented me with a platter featuring a variety of desserts he had prepared such as 3 varieties of kulfi - malai, cinnamon and pistachio, carrot halwa, rasmalai, gulab jamun as well as a baked Yoghurt.
The kulfis were yummy and I loved all three varieties equally. The carrot halwa was just the right amount of sweet, the rasmalai was rich, the gulab jamun was warm and delightful and the baked yoghurt was fantastic.
Indian Summer certainly impressed me overall, from the painstaking efforts made to ensure the standards in the kitchen are upheld, the produce constantly checked and that excellent food is served. Despite the setback, I am confident they will bounce back because of this. I'm glad I gave them a chance and I hope you do too!
Pics: Pradeep Dilrukshana