I may as well start this review by addressing the elephant in the room.
Does London need another Indian restaurant this year?
2017 has already seen a gallimaufry of new openings – from iconic pop-ups putting down permanent roots (Kricket and Darjeeling Express) to vaunted establishments procreating spin-offs with a convincingly-themed appeal (Bombay Bustle and Dishoom’s theatrical new outpost in Kensington, most recently). Moreover, the latest newcomer happens to be situated right across from the Michelin-starred stalwart Gymkhana, on Mayfair’s Albemarle Street.
Of course, if you’re familiar with Chef Manish Mehrotra’s clever twist on classic Indian cuisine, the question is a redundant one as Indian Accent is nothing if not exhilaratingly unique. Speaking as someone who’s made dedicated trips to Delhi just for the pleasure of dining at the original (listed in the World’s 100 Best), Indian Accent London is in fact the restaurant opening which I’ve been most looking forward to this year…
The London launch comes hot on the heels of a successful outpost in New York, bringing with it Chef Manish’s inimitable brand of East-meets-West cuisine. His execution sees modern techniques and global influences tempered with an Indian accent, delivering a dining experience which is nostalgic yet avant-garde.
In an unconventional move, the sharing concept characteristic of Indian and most “on-trend” restaurants of today, is gently dissuaded by offering diners a choice between a 9-course tasting menu (£80) or 3 or 4-course prix fixe menus (£55 or £65) for the dinner service. There’s an à la carte menu available at lunch-time from Monday through to Saturday, although most would end up choosing between a 2 or 3 course menu (£25 or £30), or a 6-course tasting menu (£45).
There’s a captivating cocktail list on offer too, featuring the likes of an Indian 75 – a take on the French 75 with champagne, sherry (substituting for the gin) and cinnamon. It’s a rich drink that I happily swill on this chilly December evening, as we set upon the experiential evening.
Similarly to at the original and NYC outposts, our amuse bouche is a pillowy piece of blue cheese naan, piping hot from the tandoor. While similarly-stuffed naans are now ubiquitous across fusion-focused eateries, Indian Accent is synonymous with this iconic dish – having created the recipe at the start of their journey to redefine the vocabulary of Indian cuisine.
It’s accompanied by a pumpkin and coconut shorba, recklessly spiced with a kick of garam masala. My dinner companion can’t help but buck all etiquette to request for another soul-warming shot of this tropical winter-warmer!
We initially opt for the three-course menu, but find ourselves trying a bit of everything courtesy of Chef Manish’ unparalleled hospitality. He makes regular appearances between courses, greeting diners and checking in on how his dishes have been received. It’s a humble move for someone of his celebrated stature, but one which has been his hallmark since the early days of Indian Accent Delhi.
Speaking of which, several signature dishes appear in their unfettered glory (including the dal moradabadi), while there are quite a few new creations adapted to London’s cosmopolitan context. Here are the high-level highlights from an unabashedly indulgent meal…
Puchkas and five waters sees impossibly tiny puchkas (hollow shells made with wheat and semolina), sitting snugly atop flavoured liquids such as pineapple and pomegranate juices and yogurt. The line-up creates an explosion of flavours spanning the spectrum from spicy and sour, to tangy, sweet and tart!
Stuffed Kashmiri morels are another textural thrill, championing the best of Indian produce. Distinguished by their honeycomb appearance, the dried fungi are imported from Kashmir and rehydrated, before being skilfully stuffed with a mushroom confit. The result is astonishing in its tender meatiness.
Soy keema offers an innovative riff on Bombay’s cult classic, with minced soy substituting for lamb and a delicate quail egg adding a rich depth to this intriguing curry. It’s accompanied by diminutive bites of buttery pao, subtly seasoned with lime leaves.
It also transpires that beets and peanut butter make a marvellous match, softly cosseted within a deep-fried vadai. The crunchy fritter-esque snacks are served on a bed of pounded goats cheese, which sharply cuts through its sweet and nutty flavours!
Other dishes are the essence of emotional, comfort-inducing cuisine.
Made with a humble household-staple moong daal (split yellow lentils), dal moradabadi is almost chaat-like in texture, inspired by a local speciality from North India. The lentils are slow-cooked and tempered with oodles of ghee (unclarified butter) and garnishes (including fried moong daal). It all makes for a gratifyingly thick and pasty dish, accompanied by “cauliflower chur chur” – crumbled paratha (an Indian flat bread) stuffed with cauli.
Subtle touches and surprise elements are nostalgia-inducing too.
A tiny piece of popcorn sitting jauntily on top of the winter vegetables, sarson ka saag & fenugreek tart is evocative of makki di roti – a flatbread made with cornmeal, which is traditionally eaten with “sarson ka saag” (mustard greens) during the harsh winters of Punjab. The tart itself is a revelation, with the crisp pastry sheathing a heart-warming curry, singing with just the right hint of spices.
Of course, it stands to reason that not every dish will hold a unanimous appeal. For instance, the earthy medley of mushrooms and water chestnuts enfolded within a paper-thin roast dosa (fermented rice pancake) is a combination which puzzles the pal dining with me, despite his usual willingness to experiment with unique pairings. I find it oddly fascinating, but concede that it’s not one which I might readily repeat.
The stuffed naans on the other hand are a sheer delight to devour, featuring stuffings such as paneer makhani and mushrooms. Non-vegetarian options include butter chicken; smoked bacon and black pudding… They’re billed as accompaniments, with this small sub-section also including the creamiest black “dairy” dal I’ve encountered yet. It’s so decadent in fact, that you’re served just a little pot of it – not that this will stop you from spooning out every last drop, in the hopes that the effusively-kind staff offer a refill!
We finish with a doda barfi treacle tart – one of the most popular desserts at Indian Accent, tracing its origins back to England.
Inspired by a Sainsbury’s treacle tart encountered by Chef Manish during his time living in London (back in 2007), the dessert combines the sticky sweetness of this quintessential British pudding with the fudgey texture of doda barfi (an Indian sweet typically distributed during Diwali). Topped off with high-grade vanilla bean ice cream, it’s a real triumph of a treat!
By the way. My apologies, if you’re wondering about the uncharacteristically grainy pictures in this post. As I mention earlier, I’m here for dinner and the moodily-lit ambience is not one which favours my camera eating first. And to be honest, the experience is one to be entirely savoured in the moment without peripheral distractions. From the perspective of a perennial Instagrammer, this is likely the highest compliment I could offer!
Indian Accent, 16 Albemarle St, Mayfair, London W1S 4HW
More on London’s new and noteworthy restaurants from 2017, here.
And more on the best Indian restaurants in London, here.