As Indian Accent hits the mark with Londoners, Roopa GulatiÂ provides a deliciously descriptive account of some of itsÂ outstanding dishes.
Britainâ€™s love affair withÂ Indian food goes backÂ more than two centuries,Â and over the last twoÂ decades, Londoners have had rich pickings with regional specialities, whichÂ include South Indian hoppers, chilli laden pork ribs from tribal Nagaland,Â and Punjabi Sarson ka Saag. Youâ€™re likelyÂ to find all these dishes and more atÂ stylish restaurants in central London.Â Creative Brit-Indian cooking is makingÂ the headlines for all the right reasons.Â The Indian Accent restaurant groupÂ has been at the cutting edge of new waveÂ Indian cooking for almost a decade.Â The recently opened Mayfair branchÂ is the third incarnation, following the launch of the original in Delhi in 2009Â and a New York branch in 2016.
Celebrated restaurateur, RohitÂ Khattar of Old World Hospitality, is theÂ entrepreneur behind the success of the Indian Accent brand, with cooking thatÂ really puts scores on the doors. GroupÂ Head Chef Manish Mehrotra is no stranger to restaurant kitchens and hasÂ worked with Khattar for 18 years, nineÂ of which have been dedicated to IndianÂ Accent. Previous experience at the TajÂ Hotel Groupâ€™s Thai Pavilion in MumbaiÂ shaped an appreciation for the hot, sour,Â sweet and salty flavours which are soÂ evident in dishes at Indian Accent. This restaurant used to be homeÂ to the traditional Indian restaurant,Â Chor Bizarre, which was also ownedÂ by Khattar. Itâ€™s all changed now, andÂ the quirky antiques and bric-a-bracÂ have been replaced with a sleek bar byÂ the entrance, wooden tables across theÂ ground floor and basement, and finelyÂ carved trellis screens. It sets the sceneÂ for a well-heeled clientele of suitedÂ professionals, romancing couples, andÂ fans of innovative Indian cooking.
The menu is self-assured â€“ expectÂ the likes of wagyu beef and foie grasÂ tikka sharing the stage with reinventedÂ dals and upgraded khichdi. A farmerÂ in Bihar might be hard pushed toÂ recognise his daily staple in the sleekÂ environs of this dressy restaurant, butÂ thereâ€™s no denying that Mehrotra shinesÂ a spotlight on lesser-known regionalÂ gems from across India.Â An amuse bouche hit the spot withÂ a buttery bite-sized naan, stuffed withÂ a smidgeon of blue cheese, servedÂ alongside a tiny cup of pumpkinÂ and coconut soup. The good newsÂ continued with tiny hollow pastry globesÂ (gol gappas or puchkas) perched over fiveÂ shot glasses, which had been filled withÂ spiced infusions. Each of the five shotsÂ won us over with a tease of contrastingÂ flavours, textures and vibrant colours.
Our first gulp was a wake-up call ofÂ green chilli and herb water, which wasÂ followed by the classic character ofÂ sour tamarind spiked with black salt.Â Pineapple water, seasoned with toastedÂ cumin, refreshed palates, while spicedÂ pomegranate juice provided a fruityÂ backdrop to the astringent kick of tartÂ yoghurt. There canâ€™t be many dishes thatÂ deliver such big, bold flavours in justÂ five mouthfuls.
Riffs on street food continued withÂ a stylish makeover on chaat â€“ wafer-thinÂ pastry discs, filled with crisp-fried
straw potatoes were cloaked in yoghurtÂ and streaked with tamarind sauce andÂ coriander chutney. A bed of crushedÂ white chickpeas was a touching tributeÂ to its longstanding rustic heritage.Â We loved the explosive flavours ofÂ Moradabadi dal. Although this dal isÂ well known in Uttar Pradesh, it hasnâ€™tÂ been promoted farther afield until now.Â Ginger-infused yellow moong lentilsÂ were cooked overnight and blitzedÂ to velvety smoothness before beingÂ finished with sweet-sour tamarind andÂ a shower of crisp-fried lentils. ChaatÂ masala, tart with mango powder andÂ warming toasted cumin, provided aÂ marvellous foil to creamy lentils andÂ was a nostalgic nod to Indiaâ€™s strongÂ tradition of street food.
Refined regal flavours followed:Â we were seriously impressed by plumpÂ morel mushrooms (a favourite in
Kashmiri palace kitchens), whichÂ had been filled with softened fresh mushrooms and surrounded by a
delectable moat of buttery sauce, richÂ with umami flavour.Â A roll call of star players includedÂ seared langoustines, matched with sagoÂ (sabudana) papad and saucy KeralanÂ moilee, spiced with mustard seeds,Â ginger and citrusy curry leaves. OtherÂ fish and seafood dishes were stunning,Â notably juicy semolina-coated friedÂ prawns served with sweet-sour kokumÂ fish tamarind) sauce and a splendidÂ fruity-tasting pickled ginger flower.
If thereâ€™s one dish to challengeÂ perceptions about ingredients designed to taste like meat, itâ€™s Mehrotra’s masala
for soy keema. Spiced in the same wayÂ as for dhaba-style Punjabi lamb mince,Â the fried onion, garlic, ginger and chilliÂ seasoning elevates this meat substituteÂ into something that could win overÂ carnivores. Served in a dinky clay pot,Â it betrayed none of the expected soy likeÂ chewiness and was topped with aÂ just-cooked quailâ€™s egg, which workedÂ wonders in softening and enrichingÂ the robust spicing.
Even their bread is glorious â€“Â naans, chappatis, dosas and kulchasÂ come into their own with a range ofÂ innovative fillings, such as offal-richÂ black pudding, truffled mushroomsÂ and shredded butter chicken. TheyÂ come matched with an equallyÂ adventurous helping of fabulousÂ wasabi raita. Who knew that thisÂ international meeting of ingredientsÂ could work so spectacularly?
In a meal of highlights, two dishesÂ won our gold stars. First, baby porkÂ ribs, simmered in the broth before being
draped in a sticky, achari glaze seasonedÂ with nutty-tasting fenugreek and nigellaÂ seeds, sweetened with fennel seeds.Â Topped with chilli-dusted pickledÂ mooli (radish) and sweet shreddedÂ mango am papad (similar to sun-driedÂ fruit leather), this dish was a glisteningÂ triumph and our overall favourite.
Save space too for the makhan malaiÂ (also known as Nimesh). The originsÂ of this sweet treat go back hundreds
of years. It can be compared to a lightÂ and delicate mousse, subtly spiced withÂ sweet saffron, cardamom and rose.Â Sweetened creamy milk is whipped andÂ the froth skimmed off as edible treasure.Â Here, itâ€™s served encrusted with shardsÂ of caramel, flaked almonds and roseÂ petals. Sink your spoon into it quicklyÂ before it deflates. Itâ€™s still possible toÂ find this classic dessert in Lucknow,Â Kanpur and Old Delhi. And now, itâ€™sÂ available in Londonâ€™s Mayfair!
Cocktails, whisky selections, andÂ a serious wine list complement theÂ creative menu. The cocktails are givenÂ a stylish Asian twist. Our green chilliÂ sour, delivered a high-spirited kick ofÂ chilli-infused tequila, lemon oil and
Mexican Mezcal. It was the closestÂ we came to experiencing the joys ofÂ sunshine flavours on a bitterly cold
winterâ€™s day.Â The wine list was selected toÂ highlight the foodâ€™s diversity withÂ grapes and wines that you wouldnâ€™tÂ normally associate with Indian food.Â â€œBeing in the London market, I haveÂ been able to tap into the wealth ofÂ wines available here, with a specialÂ focus on Italy, Austria and France,â€Â says Wine & Beverage Director, DanielÂ Beedle. â€œThere are such a great numberÂ of different wine styles that we haveÂ found successful in terms of pairings.â€
The service doesnâ€™t miss a beat either friendly, warm and exceptionallyÂ knowledgeable â€“ the mainly European
front of house team is across theÂ intricacies of their menus.Â London is a challenging marketÂ and there are already restaurants suchÂ as Gymkhana, Chutney Mary, Amaya,Â Gunpowder and Kricket, which alsoÂ serve imaginative dishes. But MehrotraÂ is a leading creative force to be reckonedÂ with and Indian Accent is firmly onÂ Londonâ€™s culinary map.
16 Albermarle Street, London
Lunch: Noon-2pm. 2/3 courses
Â£25/Â£30. 6-course tasting menu Â£45.
Â£55/Â£65 for 3/4 courses; 9-course
tasting menu Â£80