Two restaurants have changed my perception of Indian cuisine: Veda, the much-missed restaurant that used to be on Arbuthnot Road, in Central, and Indian Accent. A recent visit to the latter’s New York branch (the original is in New Delhi) confirmed my revised views. Before, I found the food at many Indian restaurants outside India tasted as if the cooks prepared vats of three or four sauces, which they simmered with chicken, paneer, lamb, or whatever the customer ordered, so everything ended up tasting the same.
At Indian Accent, chef Manish Mehrotra makes dishes that are far more unusual and complex than those at the corner curry house. I dipped a papadum into wild boar chutney; ate three types of stuffed bread, with fillings of blue cheese, butter chicken and applewood-smoked bacon; and had delicious idli with duck chettinad, foie gras and pearl onion chutney. These weren’t typical dishes but there was no mistaking their distinctive Indian flavours. And, most importantly, they were delicious.
So I was pleased to find the chef’s Indian Accent cookbook. Mehrotra, however, wasn’t the first choice for the job, reveals his boss, Rohit Khattar, chairman of Old World Hospitality, which operates Indian Accent and many other restaurants. In the book’s introduction, Khattar admits he originally considered another chef for his concept of a modern Indian restaurant serving dishes “that would look as if they were part of world cuisine but the intrinsic flavour would have to be Indian”. At the time, Mehrotra specialised in pan-Asian food, but Khattar was won over by his skills and his enthusiasm for the project.
“Thus began our journey to figure out what Indian Accent truly should be like,” Khattar writes. “Would we serve Indian food with an international accent or world cuisine with an Indian accent? Manish and I spent a lot of time dining at many places. What we realised was that there was really no precursor to what we were planning to do. The idea was to contemporise dishes, use global ingredients, plate them in a non-traditional manner and yet ensure that the taste was uniquely Indian … With great trepidation, we opened [the New Delhi restaurant] in 2009. I loved the first menu and was confident about the taste but was nervous that people might think it was some strange fusion, contrived in some way.”
But the response from diners was a revelation. “Indian Accent’s success has been unprecedented and has heralded a new wave in Indian cuisine where chefs are experimenting like never before.”
The book contains recipes for some of my favourite Indian Accent dishes: kulchas with applewood bacon or butter chicken; and morel musallam with walnut powder and parmesan papad. Other dishes include galawat kebabs with foie gras and strawberry and green chilli chutney; soft-shell crab with flame-roasted coconut and tomato pickle chutney; bheja (brain) fry with melba toast; silken tofu kofta with quinoa pulao and five-spice curry; chicken tikka meatballs with chopped tomato makhni; and besan laddoo tart with saffron cheesecake.