Lunch at Indian Accent, New Delhi
Indian Accent is in the Manor Hotel, a boutique lodging with just 14 rooms nestled in a tony suburb of New Delhi. Its distinct, sleek modern architecture with clean rectangular lines and almost floor to ceiling glass is remarkable in Delhi. It has been rated among the 10 best hotels in India and the 100 best in the world.
The restaurant and its Chef Manish Mehrotra, have kept pace with the hotel in awards: the restaurant was rated the best in India and among the 50 best in Asia in 2015 by San Pelligrino; and American Express considers the Chef Mehrotra the best in India. It’s intimidating to review a restaurant with such a pedigree.
It has three cozy, simply decorated, but well-appointed dining rooms. I sat in the largest with about six well-spaced tables, mine facing three large photographs of India’s monuments on the wall.
Chef Manish Mehrotra was busy opening a branch of Indian Accent in New York at Le Parker Meridien. His Executive Chef, Shantanu Mehrotra (not a relative), said the cuisine’s theme is to maintain the integrity of Indian food, its ingredients and textures, modernize it, and introduce some international flavors.
Before my appetizer arrived, I was served two small donut shaped naans stuffed with Italian blue cheese and sprinkled with roasted cashew nuts and coconut flakes that made for an unusual combination of flavors, surprising my palate.
As an amuse-bouche, a thimble of corn soup followed, just sweet enough to pleasantly wash away the taste of blue cheese.
My starter was a Papdi Pizza, basically chaat served on a flat round papdi. It had the traditional ingredients, but presented as a pizza instead of small stuffed papdi pockets or biscuits. Boiled potatoes, chick peas, pomegranate seeds were neatly crisscrossed with lines of tamarind and mint sauces and yogurt and sprinkled on top with watercress sprigs and chopped coriander. The crust was crisp and the ingredients fresh. After the first bite, when the complex aroma the of spices enlivened the taste buds, the lingering sensation was tingling from their sharpness, however.
I needed the palate cleanser to cool my mouth. It was a small sorbet cone made of pomegranates and churan (a mixture of cumin seed, dry mango powder, black pepper and salt, sugar and ginger, generally eaten as a digestive) served in a miniature pressure cooker. As I had not tasted churan in a very long time, its flavors revived memories. While it reduced the heat, it also introduced another layer of complex flavors.
I looked forward to the main dish, normally a simple Punjabi peasant preparation of mustard and spinach greens with a corn roti. Instead, the chef had baked the greens in a corn crust, sprinkled it with fresh ricotta, watercress and a few pieces of popcorn for fun and surrounded it in a sea of butter curry. The baked pie crust kept the greens warm to the last bite, but once again, after the initial inviting taste, the lingering sensation was spiciness. The naan I ordered as an accompaniment was thin and crisp, just how I like it.
I talked to the Chef about my reaction to his creations, imaginative, but too strong for a foreign palate. He acknowledged my comment and responded by offering me a dessert, a Custard Apple Cream. Although I felt sated, I could not resist tasting one of my favorite fruits that is not widely available in the US. The thick, sweet, gooey spoonfuls were a delicious offset to the spicy meal.
But my lunch was not done. Out came a miniature charpai, a simple village cot, with tidbits on it including tamarind balls, dried mango squares, jaggery, and aniseed covered with spices.
While each dish was creative and its presentation elegant, my palate felt overwhelmed by so many complex dishes.
Although I did not order any wine, the list was eclectic and intriguing.
The service was impeccable, knowledgeable, gracious and attentive, definitely reached Michelin Star levels. The serving dishes were unique and seemingly matched the heritage of the dishes, domestic or international, modern or traditional.
The Manor is at 77 Friends Colony (West), New Delhi 110065. Telephone: 91-11-4323-5151; website: http://themanordelhi.com. Street parking is available.