Indian Accent has established a strong reputation in Delhi since its 2009 opening. It is currently the only restaurant in India to currently appear in the “Top 50” list (which is really a top 100 list) of global restaurants. Indian Accent opened a first overseas branch in New York in 2016 and has now arrived in London. The restaurant is based in the old Chor Bizarre premises in Mayfair, its first service having been on December 14th 2017. Chef/owner Manish Mehrotra has taken a modern approach to Indian food at each of his establishments, serving such exotica as blue cheese naan, so this is definitely not a traditional Indian restaurant. The dining room here is over two floors and has been completely revamped, the décor tasteful and noise levels moderate. At the London branch the head chef is Parminder Singh, who has worked with Manish Mehrotra for many years in Delhi.
There was a nine-course tasting menu at £90, as well as a full a la carte offering. At lunch you could have three courses for £30, or starters at £9, main courses £16, side dishes £4 and desserts £5. At dinner, three courses were pricier at £55. The wine list featured labels such as Truchard Chardonnay 2015 at a pretty fair £40 given that its high street price was £27. Eric Texier Brezeme Roussanne 2015 was at £60 compared to its retail price of £19, and Herve Souhat Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet St Joseph Les Cessieux 2015 was £90 for a bottle that will set you back £39 in a shop. For those wishing to indulge, there was Tondonia Gran Reserva 1980 at £250 compared to its retail price of £190, and Lynch Bages 2008 at £350 for a wine that will set you back £125 in a shop.
Our meal began with the signature miniature blue cheese naan and a little cup of pumpkin and coconut shorba (soup). The shorba was dazzlingly good, the pumpkin avoiding over-sweetness and its flavour marrying beautifully with the coconut. The blue cheese naan sounds an odd idea but somehow works brilliantly. It is made with mozzarella as well as blue cheese, these being crumbled into the centre of the dough with onion seeds and chopped coriander before being cooked in the tandoor. This was a terrific start to the meal (16/20).
Kashmiri morels with walnut powder and Parmesan popadoms is a familiar dish from the Delhi restaurant. Here it was every bit as good, the large morel having superb flavour, being stuffed with further chopped morels. This is baked and tossed in walnut powder, bringing an intriguing extra flavour note, while the delicate Parmesan crisp would have graced a high-end French kitchen (17/20).
Potato sphere chaat with white pea mash was unusual for a chaat in that it was a crunchy sphere rather than just an assembly of elements. Instead of a potato patty, which is usually what you see in a chaat on the streets of Delhi, here a crisp potato sphere is topped with spicy chutneys and yoghurt. The filling has white peas that are soaked in water for a few hours and then boiled before being cooked with tomatoes, green chillies, onion, coriander, lime juice and chaat masasla. The potatoes are made in moulds, using potato with little sugar content such as Russet Burbank, to avoid it burning. The overall effect is an unusual and interesting take on the classic street food dish, the sweetness of the tamarind chutney combining well with the other elements (15/20). On the side we had a little set of pani puris (aka puchka), hollow crisps that are filled with flavoured water before eating in a single bite. The puris here are made with chickpeas coriander and cumin. The various flavoured waters used were mint, tamarind, pineapple, pomegranate and yoghurt.
The next course was dal Moradabadi with crispy lentils and cauliflower chur chur, a type of bread. The dhal is made from moong beans and originates from the city of Morabadab in Uttar Pradesh, which is the hometown of the executive chef’s mother. The dal is made with turmeric, cumin seeds, ginger, chilli and cloves amongst other spices. The overall effect is quite different from the more traditional black or yellow dhals that we usually see in London. I was particularly taken by the cauliflower bread, which had excellent texture (easily 14/20).
I tried langoustines with moilee, a spicy coconut sauce originating in Kerala. It is very unusual to see langoustines paired with spices. Here the shellfish were curled up and lghtly cooked, their inherent slightly sweet flavour not overwhelmed by the spices. The coconut worked nicely with the shellfish, and the flavours were reasonably subtle. I enjoyed the dish very much, but the langoustines, while good, were not the absolute best quality that you can find; it would be intriguing to see this dish prepared using top notch, live langoustines (15/20).
Soy keema with quail egg was an impressive take on a Bombay street snack, usually made with minced lamb and served with pau or pav (a small white bread roll brought to India by the Portugeuse). Here the traditional meat for the keema was replaced with soy curd, topped with a quail egg, and the pau bread served as a garnish, flavoured with lime leaf. This was a comforting and most enjoyable dish, the spicing lively and the touch of acidity from the lime just enough to cut through the richness of the dish (16/20).
Seared scallops and rava (a form of semolina) prawns came with a ginger flower garnish on a bed of Malvani (a region on the west coast of India) dried shrimp rice. The scallops were carefully cooked and were of quite good quality, the prawns also nicely tender. The spiced rice complemented the seafood well (14/20).
For my main course I tried chicken kofta with Punjabi kadhi (a gravy based on chickpeas and sour yoghurt) and onion pakora. This was perhaps the most conventional dish of the night, the minced chicken enlivened by spices, the vegetable fritters comforting (15/20). Alongside I had one of the great creations of Indian Accent, bacon kulcha. The mildly leavened flatbread is enjoyable enough on its own, but the addition of smoked bacon takes the kulcha to an entirely higher plane of pleasure. I tried this dish just a couple of weeks earlier in Delhi and the version here was every bit as good, the supple bread packed with bacon flavour (18/20).
For dessert, barfi treacle tart was served with vanilla bean ice cream. This is a festive sweet from Punjab usually prepared for the Diwali festival. It traditionally is made from jaggery, ghee and a dairy product called mawa, which is essentially solidified evaporated milk. This variation involves a pastry base with a filling involving golden syrup, crumbled chocolate sponge cake, cream, eggs and crumbled barfi. As can be discerned, it is not a low calorie affair, but it avoided any cloying sweetness, and was actually lighter than I was expecting. The vanilla ice cream was high quality and did its best to provide a lighter complement to the tart (15/20). Coffee was good, with the supplier currently a company called Catalyst but about to be switched to the excellent Square Mile coffee.
Service, led by an experienced manager (Zak) who used to work at Chancery, was remarkably slick given that it was literally the first day of operations. Wine was topped up, the staff were friendly and attentive, and our Russian waitress seemed to know the menu very well.
At a second meal, this time at lunch, the blue cheese naan and shorba were once again the initial course, and were just as good as a few days earlier (16/20). Kashmiri morels were also on top form again (17/20), as was the genuinely impressive dish of soy keema pau with quail egg (easily 16/20). We also tried some different dishes.
A roast dosa cone contained mushrooms and water chestnuts laced with spices. This was a pretty dish but the key to its success was the complexity and balance of the vibrant spicing for the mushrooms and water chestnuts, which elevated them out of the ordinary (15/20). Roast lamb came with a selection of chutneys and miniature romali roti breads, which were suitably thin and delicate. The chutney selection comprised green chilli, tamarind and hoi sin, pickled garlic and finally mint and coriander. The lamb was tender and nicely spiced, and barely needed the addition of the chutneys (15/20). As well as the fabulous bacon kulcha, the butter chicken kulcha was a thing of beauty, a clever way to showcase the traditional butter chicken dish in an unusual way. The texture of the bread was gorgeous and its rich filling tasted superb (17/20).
We tried a different dessert to the first meal, makhan malai with saffron milk, almonds and rose petal jaggery brittle. It is a take on a sweet usually made in the winter in north India in places such as Lucknow, where the milk used is exposed to dew. The version here is essentially aerated saffron milk garnished with gold leaf, almonds and little pieces of jaggery (cane sugar). It was remarkably light, with fluffy texture and the dish avoiding the over-sweetness that afflicts so many Indian desserts (16/20). Coffee at the second meal came from Square Mile, one of London’s better suppliers.
The bill came to £44 with just water to drink. This is certainly cheaper than it would be in the evening with alcohol, but then lunchtime often is the best option to eat at smart restaurants in terms of value for money. At dinner, if you ordered three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine, then a typical cost per head might be around £85. This is of course not exactly a bargain, but you are in Mayfair and you are eating some of the most interesting, and best, Indian food in the capital. The cheaper lunch options are the way to keep the bill down.
I thoroughly enjoyed Indian Accent, which was operating at a high level even on its first day of service. It is great to see that they have not made any effort to tone down the experience compared to the original in Delhi. The spicing was lively and the menu, while having a few tweaks compared to Delhi, was still exciting. This is definitely not your traditional curry house, and perhaps some purists may not be comfortable with that. For me it is thrilling, and just the kind of thing to encourage recognition of Indian food as the exciting world cuisine that it is. Indian Accent has taken the traditional food of the sub-continent and moved it forward. It has done this not by not by using the culinary gimmicks of molecular cooking but by introducing inventive yet highly enjoyable dishes that draw on the rich traditions of Indian regional cuisine. Indian Accent is one of the most important openings of the year in London.