The pace with which Indian cuisine has shaken off its ‘flock wallpaper’ image is one of the most dramatic changes to have occurred in food in recent times. The widespread air of confidence – not to mention growing number of Michelin stars – would certainly surprise any gastronome returning home after 50 years on Mars. So too would the molecular approach favoured by leading chefs; the carefully-curated wine lists; the high prices and designer décor – all of which have changed out of all recognition since the dark days of Vesta Curry.
This brings me nicely onto Indian Accent, the latest iconoclast determined to rewrite the rules, while remaining faithful to India’s culinary traditions and regions. The genius behind the outfit is Manish Mehrotra, a stalwart of the superlative Manor Hotel in New Delhi, which is still regarded as one of the finest Indian restaurants on that vast continent. Which, in a country containing over 1 billion people, is no mean feat.
Yet I must concede that the tasting menu presented to us at Indian Accent would probably shock and even horrify fans of the 70s curry house experience – banished are classics such as chicken tikka marsala and lamb madras, rather you should expect potato sphere chaat and baked cod amritsari. It’s as if the owners are determined to shift you outside of your comfort zone at a million miles an hour.
Which isn’t to say that Indian Accent is an avant-garde experience, bar none. It goes for an atmosphere of seriousness and reverent attention to what’s on the plate – expect a serene atmosphere, clean, soft furnishings and an ode to British racing green.
However, the food is absolutely first class. Indian Accent isn’t a place for a casual meal or an afterthought, it’s a temple of gastronomy with an unabashed emphasis on fine dining and first-class cooking, overseen by head chef Mehrotra. A softly spoken, disarmingly modest man, Mehrotra is clearly hoping to attract the attention of the Michelin men, and hopefully succeeding.
You see, his cooking is very reminiscent of another top Indian chef, Sriram Aylur, who oversees the Michelin-starred kitchen at London’s Quilon. And like Aylur, Mehrotra delivers faultless dishes, kicked up a couple levels of creativity and refined for special-occasion dining. We start with an exquisite amuse bouche of pumpkin and coconut soup, paired with a diminutive blue cheese-filled naan. Spices dance and dazzle across our tongues, setting almost dangerously high expectations for the course that follow.
Which, of course, are more than satisfied. Meltingly soft potato sphere chaat is gone far too quickly, while Kashmiri morels with walnut powder and Parmesan papad are texturally perfect and a brave pairing that pays big dividends.
By now it’s clear that Mehrotra boasts a refreshingly balanced touch – there’s real subtlety in the cooking, as well as power. Baked cod amritsari is firm, fresh and not overly spiced, sitting next to mint raita. Meanwhile, meetha achaar ribs, sundried mango and onion seeds transport us to high-class Chinese cooking, the ribs are moreish, rich, decadent and coated with that all-important sweet honey glaze.
The main event – ghee roast lamb paired with roomali roti pancakes – is another ‘cheat,’ a sexy take on Peking Duck with four chutneys in place of hoisin or other sweet bean sauce. The very epitome of classy fusion cooking.
Service is another strength – gracious, attentive and charming to a fault. Moreover, Indian Accent does a decent job of showing the world that you can pair fine wine with Indian cuisine, and pair it well. Our sommelier served a range of wines that complemented the dishes nicely – our experience proved that there are a variety of wines that work with different Indian dishes, albeit you need to do your research. But as long as you seek advice then I’d say go right ahead and drink wine with your Indian meal. The secret is ignoring the myth that one white grape – Riesling or Gewurztraminer – will match all Indian food; one grape variety cannot possibly work with an entire country’s food culture. Instead, seek guidance as Indian Accent’s sommelier is approachable and first rate.
By now, you may be thinking whether there is a downside to London’s latest superlative Indian? Well, the evening tasting menu asks for a fair amount (nine-course tasting menu £80), but Indian Accent does offer a superb value lunch menu at £30.00 per head (3 courses) with space readily available. That might sound more than you expect but the cooking is at Michelin level – which makes this (especially given the location) something of a bargain. And once the Michelin guide wake-up and award Indian Accent its inaugural star, those numbers are going to go up and up.
Indian Accent, 16 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4HW
020 7629 9802