Shaun Kenworthy talks about a fine-dine Indian restaurant in London in his column ‘Chocolate, Chillies & other Culinary vulgarities’
Me and my favourite travel companion Pinky (at least until I have to do her packing at the end of each trip) were in London early this year and wanted to pretty much camp out in one location as we had just had a couple of hectic family-filled weeks over the Christmas holidays for the first time in 17 years, just imagine! Anyway, we reached King’s Cross Station around 11.30am. It was cold and wet so we bundled ourselves into a black cab and for a little less than 10 pounds, landed up at our little boutique hotel which I found online — Z Soho, slap bang on the corner of Moor Street and Charing Cross Road.
Now if you’re travelling to Europe and can stay for a couple of days in London, there can be no place better or more central than Soho. Within 10 minutes walking distance you can get to Oxford Street, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, China Town and all the shows, plays and musicals are practically at your doorstep. Pretty much all the best restaurants, bars and night spots too are there in Soho itself. If you can see yourself fit enough to hotfoot it for 20 minutes then you have the whole of Westminster, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Thames, Green Park, Hyde Park, Camden Town... I could go on and on!
One evening we headed out for dinner at Rohit Khattar and chef Manish Mehrotra’s newly opened Indian Accent, just a 15 minutes’ walk across Piccadilly on Albemarle Street, which used to house Rohit’s previous restaurant Chor Bizarre. Albemarle Street holds a litte bit of history for me, as I worked just across the road at a restaurant called Coast in the mid 90s, but long since closed.
Manish and I go back a long way. In fact, right back to my beginning and initiation to India with both of us joining Old World Hospitality on the same day at the end of October 2000.
Rohit Khattar’s now almost-empire started with his family owning the tiny hotel named Broadway in Old Delhi and the iconic Chor Bizarre restaurant, to then running the hospitality of India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. Rohit being an incredible networking genius has seen him and the brilliant team go from strength to strength and now running over 30 restaurants in several countries.
Manish himself has always been an incredibly simple and humble true gent and was the first person I would go to see for my lunch and dinner almost every single day when he was heading the kitchen of Oriental Octopus. But since then a lot of water has gone under the bridge with Manish’s success with restaurants such as Tamarai and Sitaaray in London’s Covent Garden before heading back to India to head the Kitchen team of OWH and of course the opening of Indian Accent.
Since Indian Accent’s enormous success at The Manor in Delhi’s New Friends Colony, Rohit and Manish took the brand to New York in 2015. It’s just recently that they relocated the original from The Manor to The Lodhi, a beautiful spot on Lodhi Road. Towards the end of December 2017, Indian Accent, London, replaced what was Chor Bizarre along Albemarle street just off Piccadilly.
I remember the old Chor Bizarre space. In fact, it was the place where I signed the one-year contract with OWH when I was working with Quaglinos just a few minutes walk away. The place has transformed unrecognisably with the new Indian Accent signage above the door with beautiful clean lines and nothing else to suggest your stepping into an Indian restaurant, greeted by European hostesses.
We chose the nine-course tasting menu which does run into many more than nine. But I did want to taste a couple of the courses from the vegetarian menu, which we would have missed out on otherwise. Cheeky, I know! We started with the amuse-bouche which was a tiny cup of deliciously deep-flavoured Pumpkin and Coconut Shorba that went incredibly well with the equally delicious oozing Blue Cheese Naan.
We started with the legendary flight of tiny phuchkas with five types of water which was a little teaser of things to come. What followed was Crispy Potato Sphere Chaat with White Pea Mash, another old favourite from Indian Accent, packed with punchy mint-tamarind flavour and memories of Dilli wala aloo chaat.
The Kashmiri Morels — somewhat meaty, sprinkled with walnut powder, Parmesan papad and heady scent of truffle oil —this truly is an adulterated vegetarian dish and not for the faint of palate. This was followed by our first non-vegetarian dish of the evening — Baked Marinated Cod with the crisp non-fish Amritsari elements being boondi sprinkle and crunch of wafer-thin cucumber.
The Meetha Achaar Sticky Pork Rib cooked to perfection with Aam Papad or sun-dried mango with hints of sweet and sour pickle and onion seeds. Then came a palate cleanser — Nimboo Pani Chuski, which was, as written, “filled with memories of Indian childhood” and enough to bring an instant smile to my wife’s face!
What would a North Indian meal be without Butter Chicken but here it was stuffed into a kulcha that was roasted in tandoor and served with Black Rich Dairy Dal and Wasabi Cucumber Raita. And all of these just main course accompaniments to the pulled Spiced Chicken Kofta, Punjabi Pindi Chole Kadhi and light crisp Onion Pakora.
By this time you can feel all your senses telling you that there really is no room for dessert but, resist we did not!
The Makhanmalai Saffron Milk topped with dried rose petals, jaggery, brittle and toasted flaked almonds, has to be one of the lightest souffles you will ever eat. Next, a rich Doda Barfi Treacle Tart with vanilla bean ice cream (Doda has to be my all-time favourite North Indian sweet) and finally, my favourite East Indian — rich Mishti Doi-filled Italian Cannoli Tubes, liberally sprinkled with icing sugar and a crumble of Rajgiri Chikki, sublime and the perfect end to a great evening and couple of days in London.
If you’re looking for bells, whistles, smoke and mirrors as part of your dining experience, then you are probably barking up the wrong tree! With Manish and Indian Accent’s impeccable team, the brilliance lies in the simplicity and not the fancy schmancy of the restaurant’s menu and the beautiful execution of the dining staff —from the impeccably well-versed New Yorker restaurant manager and Canadian somellier to the individual dishes served.
The nine-course tasting menu cost 80 pounds with pairing options of an extra 55 pounds for wine, premium wine pairing 75 pounds, whisky flight 50 pounds and premium whisky flight for 100 pounds.
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