As Indian Accent hits the mark with Londoners, Roopa Gulati provides a deliciously descriptive account of some of its outstanding dishes.
Britain’s love affair with Indian food goes back more than two centuries, and over the last two decades, Londoners have had rich pickings with regional specialities, which include South Indian hoppers, chilli laden pork ribs from tribal Nagaland, and Punjabi Sarson ka Saag. You’re likely to find all these dishes and more at stylish restaurants in central London. Creative Brit-Indian cooking is making the headlines for all the right reasons. The Indian Accent restaurant group has been at the cutting edge of new wave Indian cooking for almost a decade. The recently opened Mayfair branch is the third incarnation, following the launch of the original in Delhi in 2009 and a New York branch in 2016.
Celebrated restaurateur, Rohit Khattar of Old World Hospitality, is the entrepreneur behind the success of the Indian Accent brand, with cooking that really puts scores on the doors. Group Head Chef Manish Mehrotra is no stranger to restaurant kitchens and has worked with Khattar for 18 years, nine of which have been dedicated to Indian Accent. Previous experience at the Taj Hotel Group’s Thai Pavilion in Mumbai shaped an appreciation for the hot, sour, sweet and salty flavours which are so evident in dishes at Indian Accent. This restaurant used to be home to the traditional Indian restaurant, Chor Bizarre, which was also owned by Khattar. It’s all changed now, and the quirky antiques and bric-a-brac have been replaced with a sleek bar by the entrance, wooden tables across the ground floor and basement, and finely carved trellis screens. It sets the scene for a well-heeled clientele of suited professionals, romancing couples, and fans of innovative Indian cooking.
The menu is self-assured – expect the likes of wagyu beef and foie gras tikka sharing the stage with reinvented dals and upgraded khichdi. A farmer in Bihar might be hard pushed to recognise his daily staple in the sleek environs of this dressy restaurant, but there’s no denying that Mehrotra shines a spotlight on lesser-known regional gems from across India. An amuse bouche hit the spot with a buttery bite-sized naan, stuffed with a smidgeon of blue cheese, served alongside a tiny cup of pumpkin and coconut soup. The good news continued with tiny hollow pastry globes (gol gappas or puchkas) perched over five shot glasses, which had been filled with spiced infusions. Each of the five shots won us over with a tease of contrasting flavours, textures and vibrant colours.
Our first gulp was a wake-up call of green chilli and herb water, which was followed by the classic character of sour tamarind spiked with black salt. Pineapple water, seasoned with toasted cumin, refreshed palates, while spiced pomegranate juice provided a fruity backdrop to the astringent kick of tart yoghurt. There can’t be many dishes that deliver such big, bold flavours in just five mouthfuls.
Riffs on street food continued with a stylish makeover on chaat – wafer-thin pastry discs, filled with crisp-fried
straw potatoes were cloaked in yoghurt and streaked with tamarind sauce and coriander chutney. A bed of crushed white chickpeas was a touching tribute to its longstanding rustic heritage. We loved the explosive flavours of Moradabadi dal. Although this dal is well known in Uttar Pradesh, it hasn’t been promoted farther afield until now. Ginger-infused yellow moong lentils were cooked overnight and blitzed to velvety smoothness before being finished with sweet-sour tamarind and a shower of crisp-fried lentils. Chaat masala, tart with mango powder and warming toasted cumin, provided a marvellous foil to creamy lentils and was a nostalgic nod to India’s strong tradition of street food.
Refined regal flavours followed: we were seriously impressed by plump morel mushrooms (a favourite in
Kashmiri palace kitchens), which had been filled with softened fresh mushrooms and surrounded by a
delectable moat of buttery sauce, rich with umami flavour. A roll call of star players included seared langoustines, matched with sago (sabudana) papad and saucy Keralan moilee, spiced with mustard seeds, ginger and citrusy curry leaves. Other fish and seafood dishes were stunning, notably juicy semolina-coated fried prawns served with sweet-sour kokum fish tamarind) sauce and a splendid fruity-tasting pickled ginger flower.
If there’s one dish to challenge perceptions about ingredients designed to taste like meat, it’s Mehrotra’s masala
for soy keema. Spiced in the same way as for dhaba-style Punjabi lamb mince, the fried onion, garlic, ginger and chilli seasoning elevates this meat substitute into something that could win over carnivores. Served in a dinky clay pot, it betrayed none of the expected soy like chewiness and was topped with a just-cooked quail’s egg, which worked wonders in softening and enriching the robust spicing.
Even their bread is glorious – naans, chappatis, dosas and kulchas come into their own with a range of innovative fillings, such as offal-rich black pudding, truffled mushrooms and shredded butter chicken. They come matched with an equally adventurous helping of fabulous wasabi raita. Who knew that this international meeting of ingredients could work so spectacularly?
In a meal of highlights, two dishes won our gold stars. First, baby pork ribs, simmered in the broth before being
draped in a sticky, achari glaze seasoned with nutty-tasting fenugreek and nigella seeds, sweetened with fennel seeds. Topped with chilli-dusted pickled mooli (radish) and sweet shredded mango am papad (similar to sun-dried fruit leather), this dish was a glistening triumph and our overall favourite.
Save space too for the makhan malai (also known as Nimesh). The origins of this sweet treat go back hundreds
of years. It can be compared to a light and delicate mousse, subtly spiced with sweet saffron, cardamom and rose. Sweetened creamy milk is whipped and the froth skimmed off as edible treasure. Here, it’s served encrusted with shards of caramel, flaked almonds and rose petals. Sink your spoon into it quickly before it deflates. It’s still possible to find this classic dessert in Lucknow, Kanpur and Old Delhi. And now, it’s available in London’s Mayfair!
Cocktails, whisky selections, and a serious wine list complement the creative menu. The cocktails are given a stylish Asian twist. Our green chilli sour, delivered a high-spirited kick of chilli-infused tequila, lemon oil and
Mexican Mezcal. It was the closest we came to experiencing the joys of sunshine flavours on a bitterly cold
winter’s day. The wine list was selected to highlight the food’s diversity with grapes and wines that you wouldn’t normally associate with Indian food. “Being in the London market, I have been able to tap into the wealth of wines available here, with a special focus on Italy, Austria and France,” says Wine & Beverage Director, Daniel Beedle. “There are such a great number of different wine styles that we have found successful in terms of pairings.”
The service doesn’t miss a beat either friendly, warm and exceptionally knowledgeable – the mainly European
front of house team is across the intricacies of their menus. London is a challenging market and there are already restaurants such as Gymkhana, Chutney Mary, Amaya, Gunpowder and Kricket, which also serve imaginative dishes. But Mehrotra is a leading creative force to be reckoned with and Indian Accent is firmly on London’s culinary map.
16 Albermarle Street, London
Lunch: Noon-2pm. 2/3 courses
£25/£30. 6-course tasting menu £45.
£55/£65 for 3/4 courses; 9-course
tasting menu £80