Restaurant Review: Indian Accent, Mayfair in London
As a self-proclaimed Indophile, I’m always on the look out for authentic Indian cuisine in the capital, so when chef Manish Mehrotra announced his London opening, it certainly caught my attention. His New Delhi outpost is the only restaurant in the entire subcontinent to have made it on to this year’s World’s 50 Best list, where it has stayed for the past three years. The Michelin folk don’t venture as far as India, but the level of skill on show is certainly deserving of a nod. Following in Delhi’s wake came the equally successful Indian Accent New York; Mehrotra had a hard act to follow when he came to London.
The news that he was opening in Mayfair came with great anticipation and also a little trepidation. How would it fare among the Indian dining scene here, I wondered? From Michelin-starred Gymkhana at one end to ever-popular Dishoom at the other, the perception of Indian cuisine has bloomed and flourished beyond recognition over the last few years. But does London have an appetite for a restaurant of this calibre? Can it deliver on its bold promise to push our preconceptions of Indian food aside and blast perhaps the world’s most ancient and diverse food culture into a modern, international era? I wasn’t sure.
After a few teething problems, Indian Accent finally opened this spring on swanky Albemarle Street, discreetly located among art galleries and designer boutiques. In keeping with its surroundings, the exterior is understated and sleek, without any signs of Indian flair. You’d be forgiven for walking straight past without a second glance.
However when I went to book a table a few weeks later, I found it to be almost completely booked up. People had discovered it! It must be good! Shallow as I am, nothing appeals to me more than a restaurant I can’t get in to, and its allure instantly tripled. Eventually I snagged an early evening sitting on a weekday, and so it was that we went along to Indian Accent.
Upon entering, a regal and imposing whisky cabinet displays an impressive selection – Japanese Yamazaki, Isle of Jura, Indian Amrut – distracting me for a moment. We’re led to our table by Miguel, our charming waiter for the evening. With stylish turquoise velvet banquettes and mirrored walls, the sultry interior is characteristically Mayfair, and notably similar to well established rivals such as Jamavar.
To get us started, Miguel recommends a couple of signature cocktails: The Green Chilli Sour is a short, sharp and deliciously potent aperitif, fusing the spices of India with the tequila and mezcal of South America. In contrast, a rich and viscous Barbary Coast, piqued with chilli infused rhubarb, makes for a distinguished change to a Manhattan.
Having intended to go for the À La Carte, which comes in at a very reasonable £55 and includes accompaniments, we’re persuaded into choosing the momentous nine course Chef’s Tasting Menu. The short answer is: we were not disappointed.
Fairy-sized blue cheese naans (famed on Instagram) begin the show, served with miniature mugs of lobster bisque and butter chicken soup. The latter is so perfect, so rich and rounded, that part of us wishes we could skip the next eight courses and slurp a giant bowl of butter chicken with copious amounts of blue-cheese naan instead.
Alas, we must move on with our culinary journey, and as soon as it’s tasted this delicious amuse bouche is over. Sommelier Pierre comes over with the wine list, and we quiz him on the many challenges of pairing Indian dishes with wines from across the new and old worlds. As well as matching a wide variety of wines, the sommelier team take advantage of the unlikely synergy between Indian spices and whisky, explaining the eye-catching display at the entrance. Four whiskies come all at once: a 2013 Suntory Yamazaki, a single malt sherry cask Kavalan, a rare 25-year-aged Bruichladdich from the Hebrides, and a very special 1977 Caol Ila. Arranged by age and strength, it’s fascinating to try such esteemed bottles side by side, sipping our way through them as the dinner progresses.
As we’re mulling over the whiskies, a snack of “Five Puchkas” arrive beautifully presented on a bespoke wooden board. Five shot glasses of pure flavour (with tamarind stealing the show and smoked pine letting the side down a little) are each topped with light and crunchy fried puffs, a creative deconstruction of the Mumbai street-food pani puri.
Then comes a perfectly spherical potato chaat, with a stunning cacophony of flavours familiar to bhel puri (coriander, tamarind, lime juice and masala spices) exploding in your mouth in unfamiliar ways. This was followed by “Morels and Papad”, the addition of walnut powder and parmesan ‘poppadums’ giving a powerful hit of umami.
The courses continue to flow quickly and smoothly, with attentive service that strikes a balance without being overbearing. Course five is a highlight: slow-cooked, glazed baby pork ribs which fall off the bone, served with a searingly hot tartar-style soy keema, topped with a dainty quails egg. Our main course, so to speak, is an artfully formed paper dosa concealing a bed of spicy mushrooms; smartly presented, but with the mouth-watering flavour you’d hope to find in a South Indian eatery. The desserts that followed: “doda barfi” treacle tart, “makhan malai” and “meethe chawal” are delicious in their own right, but we would have perhaps enjoyed a little tartness to finish our meal.
Mehrotra’s triumphant venture has certainly made a mark on London’s fine dining scene. Thinking back to our reluctance to move on from the beloved butter chicken, this sums up the appeal of the Indian Accent experience to me: while gems of utter brilliance appear in little mouthfuls throughout the meal, the real pleasure comes from variety and surprise at every turn.
Address: 16 Albemarle St, Mayfair, London W1S 4HW / +44 207-629-9802