Indian Accent: An elegant modern nirvana in Mayfair
An avatar is an embodiment of a person or an idea which descends to make the world a better place. Just when no new avatars of Indian cuisine were heavenly or humanly possible, small and compact Indian Accent landed in upmarket Mayfair and lodged itself confidently, in close proximity to stalwarts Benares and Gymkhana.
What arrived was not a plain, me-too or rehashed avatar, but an innovative way of savouring Indian ingredients, spices, flavours and tastes – a bold and sassy interpretation of traditional Indian recipes, propped effectively with techniques from around the globe.
However, if restaurant or dining room size is your criteria, then go a block or so away to the more imposing Benares for an authentic and tasty (but somewhat pricey and old-fashioned) Indian dining experience.
Or turn left to the spacious Gymkhana, where the buzz is fantastic. The food stacks up excellently too. However, its colonial club decor and connotations of the Raj feel a bit outdated and tasteless, especially in today’s London. It is finally time to break these shackles — and to look ahead. And that is exactly what chef Manish Mehrotra has done at Indian Accent. He puts us through a time tunnel of sophisticated, grownup, modern Indian food — a heady, ethereal, magical journey. You come out the other end inspired and light-headed, even a bit frisky and giggly. Most dishes are nostalgic Indian food as I know it from grandmothers’ and aunts’ recipes, but many levels elevated, refined, and rearing to make a statement — that Indian food too can do polished and elegant.
The teensy-weensy blue cheese naan (give us more!), the pumpkin coconut aperitif (ask us if we want a refill!), the anardana, or pomegranate, chuski palate soother (offer it on non-tasting menus too!), the saag paneer and mushroom kulcha bread (keep them petite and intense!), the mudra mocktail (so divine, just bottle it and sell as nectar!), all packed a flavour punch way beyond their size and volume.
As a starter, the Kashmiri morels served on a parmesan papad was mysteriously intense, confidently inviting and deliciously umami. The sago fritters accompanying the prawn starter were crispy and fluffy — and moreish. I could have eaten a bowlful. The prawns were meagre, though. The light green chutney surrounding the dainty hamachi fish was wonderfully spiced and fingerlicking and showed more oomph than the fish itself. A re-look at the seafood supplier might be useful.
My main meal, chettinad chicken, even though balanced with a flavourful coconut moilee sauce, was a tad fiery for me. That’s to be expected of a dish that hails from southern India.
The sides of malai sweet corn and black dairy dal — while smooth, warming and utterly soulrejuvenating — were a bit superfluous to the meal and, dare I say, mismatched to the mains. But no, please don’t take them away. I am definitely going back for a quick, nimble lunch of the sides and the stuffed kulcha bread and to immerse myself in the divinity of the heavenly mocktails. The perfectly enjoyable dry Riesling was an elegant supple partner for the tantric spice dance in my mouth.
Makhan malai was a light mound of aerated saffron milk dessert decorated with rose petals and almonds. I protested as it was not like any other Indian dessert: milky, condensed and diabetesinducing. But my dining partner, the Grey, described it as the perfect end to the meal, a “cooling off” similar to the last stretch of a gym treadmill run.
Service was formal-friendly, needs-based and low-key. Every dish was accompanied with an introduction. This set a positive, enlightened mood. The food felt at home, the staff less so.
The only insipid part of the meal was the bare uber-minimalist decor. One doesn’t need pictures of the Taj Mahal, sepia-toned photographs of colonial India — of cricket-playing lords and darkskinned men in unfashionable hats. But a single white orchid in an alcove, uninspiring cream papered walls and aluminium-looking trimmings is a step too bland for Indian sensibilities or even understated London elegance.
After the meal, I walked out feeling light and uplifted, and no postprandial rest was required.
All in all, Indian Accent is a fitting tribute to the India of today — progressive, modern, confident, forward looking and seeking global connections while protecting her own. Also, a bit puzzling and occasionally trying too hard.
Food 9/10 Service 7/10 Decor 5/10
From the menu:
Tadka hamachi, avocado, Calcutta chutney, £16
Tiger prawns, sago fritters, sorrel chutney, £18
Kashmiri morels, walnut powder, parmesan papad, £13
Chettinad chicken, coconut moilee, £23
Baked sea bass, Amritsari masala butter, sweet corn kadhi, £24
Wild mushroom kulcha, truffle oil drizzle, £6.50
Saag paneer kulcha, £6.50
Black dairy dal, £7
Malai sweet corn, £6
Makhan malai, saffron milk, £11
Mudra punch, £8
Dolin dry aperitif, £5
Glass of Vina Gravonia, £14
Glass of grand cru 1er Riesling, £13
Double Espresso, £4
Total for two, including 12.5% service, £196.88
Address: Indian Accent, 16 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4HW