Indian Accent, The Lodhi, New Delhi, owes its durable fame to its kitchen – a powerhouse of ideas stirred by the inimitable Manish Mehrotra – and its impeccable service standards.
by SOURISH BHATTACHARYA
It was the Supreme Court’s order banning the sale and service of alcohol within 500 metres of national and state highways that triggered the move to relocate Indian Accent from its secluded old address in tony South Delhi – 77 Friends Colony West – to its jewel box-like new home, The Lodhi, the DLF-owned hotel whose competition right across the road, The Oberoi, was then being given its most ambitious makeover yet.
Chef Manish Mehrotra, who has spread his wings to New York and London, where he has been entertaining the likes of Mick Jagger (who just loves his Dal Moradabadi) and Sting, seized this opportunity to start afresh by making his new kitchen bigger and more efficient. But he has not tinkered with his inimitable style of reimagining Indian dishes, starting from the humble foogath (French beans cooked to perfection with coconut) to his signature meetha achar spare ribs and the newcomer buttered scallops.
When Indian Accent was spreading its global footprint, there used to be murmurings about Mehrotra, the celebrity chef behind the restaurant’s incredible success, not having the time to create new excitement around the menu in sync with the change of seasons. The relocation gave him, and his long-time second in command, Shantanu Mehrotra, an opportunity to turbo-charge their creative juices.
As a result of this inventive outburst, the new menu has an array of tasty treats. Notable among them are the beetroot and peanut butter ‘chop’, a popular Bengali vegetarian snack paired with kasundi (the fiery Bengali mustard) balanced by a goat cheese raita; ghee roast mutton boti (a tribute to the Mangalorean chicken dish) served on roomali roti pancakes with chutneys; the unique tandoori bacon prawn accompanied by wasabi malai; chicken kofta, Punjabi kadhi (inspired no doubt by the lesser-known Punjabi chicken kadhi), onion pakodas and greens; and, my favourite, tamarind crab (made with the new favourite of chefs, Kanyakumari crab meat), beans foogath and coconut curry.
All of Mehrotra’s trademark touches are there – the foremost being bringing together commonplace ingredients to create wow combinations. It is this unusual talent that has stood the chef in good stead. Only he has the talent to lift the everyday podimas (tempered mashed potatoes) by adding jackfruit and coconut curry. Or to breathe new life into the ubiquitous vada pao by replacing the potatoes in the vada with ricotta cheese and serving it with pao bhaji and drizzling the pao with kaffir lime butter. A world of flavours comes together seamlessly on one platter.
It’s the same story with the pork belly tikka served, believe it or not, with a Punjabi lobia curry or buttered scallops with rawa prawns, Malvani pulao and kokum curry. These are not shots in the dark. There’s a science of combining flavours that guides Mehrotra’s seasoned hand, but that’s another story altogether.
For Indian Accent old-timers, there’s plenty of familiar territory to revisit. The eternal favourites, which have been responsible for Indian Accent’s journey to the stratosphere, are all there. Yes, you’ll still find the atta and semolina puchkas, jhal potatoes and five waters, and the chicken khurchan phulka taco; the stuffed kulchas – roast pumpkin, wild mushroom with truffle oil drizzle, butter chicken, applewood-smoked bacon and chilli hoisin duck – are still there, along with the heartwarming cauliflower chur-chur parantha; and the Old Monk rum balls (with 70 percent Valrhona chocolate) and the dream-like warm dodha barfi treacle tart continue to be the show-stoppers.
Food alone isn’t Indian Accent’s strength. The service, led by Palki Singh, who did her Master’s in International Business in London before choosing to venture into hospitality, works like clockwork. It’s a bonus to interact with happy service staff, who know their food as well. But, of course, there’s Mehrotra who, despite his stardom, continues with his old practice of serving each dish individually to guests. If there’s one great chef who’s an equally good charmer, it is Manish Mehrotra – and he’s blessed to have a team that works like a symphony orchestra under his baton.