I just ate from the hand of God- That was my thought at the end of the Chef’s tasting menu at Indian Accent New Delhi. I was numb for quite sometime.
I have to agree, I had never had the opportunity to eat food cooked by a Michelin Star chef. I vividly remember Mr. Vir Sanghvi telling me that I do not want to miss out on this opportunity to eat food at Indian Accent when Chef Manish Mehrotra will himself be cooking. I had to find a way to ensure that I could take that trip to New Delhi, for Food Superstars meet and a chance to eat at Indian Accent and to hear from the man himself about his food. With a 17 month old baby, traveling has become quite a thing of the past now for me.
Let me begin by saying that I was taken aback by the humility of Chef Manish Mehrotra. A chef of his stature, someone who creates extraordinary food and someone, who can safely be called the father of Modern Indian Cuisine, was outright down to earth. He almost had a halo around his head. He explained his food mantra and went into details of what he was going to serve us at the tasting menu. It was a nine course lunch but eventually ended at perhaps more than 15 dishes. I slowly lost the count somewhere in between. At Indian accent, he believes at seasonality and creating food with local and seasonal produce. This was a summer tasting menu, hence a lot of dishes were summer fruits and vegetables. The presentation is top notch and every dish is visualy stunning and when I tasted, every dish had one unique feature- multiple layers of flavour and texture and yet, it was familiar. Every dish also came with a pairing of premium wine.
Indian Accent is an attempt at changing the way the world looks at Indian food, said chef Manish. Worldwide, Indian food has been bastardised and only the tikkas and ‘curry’ have become popular. There is so much more to Indian food than just that. From North to South and East to West, the palate changes and every region has its own spices, spice mix and ingredients to work with. At Indian Accent, they celebrate Indian food in all its entirety.
Chef Manish Mehrotra believes that chaat is a complete food and it is his favourite too.
A chaat has a variety of texture and layers and he loves playing with flavours while creating his kind of chaat without losing out the core essence. When Dahi wada with spicy chili potato was served, he personally came down to explain the various elements of the dish. The wada itself sat on a bed of mashed potatoes, which he said was his take on the alu in Kolkata phuckha. Then there were sweet and tangy mulberry along with some fresh melon balls, cucumber, roasted cashew and the wada with dahi and tamarind chutney. A perfect dish for the summers, it was hot, sweet, spicy, sour and everything together in the mouth. Another chaat we had was Banaras tamatar ki chaat, which had a taste similar to the bhaji in pav bhaji and came with a sharp yet cooling parmesan foam and a crunchy namkeen/ biscuit. I am personally averse to spicy food but these chaats were mildly spicy and did not overpower any other flavour. I remember he said, that at home, we do not eat spicy food everyday. So why do we have to create spicy food in restaurants?
Apparently, a long time back when blue cheese was still unheard of in India, an elderly lady had pointed out to the Chef personally and with an intention of care, that the cheese was spoilt and that he should not serve it to other customers. This story has become a folklore with Indian Accent. Today, restaurants all over the country are doing blue cheese naan but it was Chef Manish Mehrotra, who had first created this genius dish. One bite into the naan and the piping hot blue cheese literally spills out. Another dish which is wildly celebrated in Indian Accent is the kulcha. You will get to taste a variety of kulchas, each one sensational. We had hoisin duck kulcha, sweet pumpkin kulcha, butter chicken kulcha, wild mushroom kulcha and more but it was the duck kulcha that won all our hearts at the table. Shredded duck which was sweet and salty along with the buttery kulcha was so lush and delicious that we couldn’t stop at one.
A la Carte menu will always be there but Indian Accent will now focus more on seasonal and festival based tasting menus
Navrati will see dishes focused on the festival, so will a Ramadan or any other festival. The menu will be driven by local and seasonal produce. Being in Delhi, how could we escape from a kadhai chicken or a kadhai paneer. Having said that, Chef Manish has completely changed the way kadhai chicken looks like and he has broken down the dish to its basic elements without losing out on the soul of the dish. The flavours simply exploded in the mouth. A sweet chili pepper was stuffed with small pieces of kadhai chicken and it sat on a bed of the smooth velvet sauce. Roasted and pounded coriander seeds were additionally sprinkled which gave the necessary oomph to the dish.
From north, we went down to extreme south at Kanyakumari crab. Sweet crab meat chunks came with a sagoo pongal, crushed peanuts and a kurry leaf oil. It was dressed with a sagoo crisp and some edible flowers. What is important about all of these dishes is to bring together the various elements and have them. One spoon of this sweet tasting crab dish and it transported my mind to the backwaters of Kerala. It was a unique flavour experience and you will have to try it to fully understand what I am saying.
Chef Manish Mehrotra does not believe in molecular gastronomy and uses such techniques rarely
Sour pork with Goan chorizo rice was also another winner of a dish at our table. Yes, we were all Bengalis at our table (it just happened by chance) and we love our paturi. But this was a different paturi. The sour pork and the chorizo rice was wrapped in a banana leaf parcel and cooked. It was a little over the top sourness but the aroma of that smoky chorizo was intense. I can still smell it in my head.
Before the final course came in, suddenly there were small pressure cookers with phalsa popsicle being served. These pressure cookers have been there in the kitchen from day 1 and they have been serving something or the other in them. Every year, they plan to discard them, but some dish creeps up in the kitchen which becomes worthy of being served in the pressure cooker. Not a big fan of phalsa itself, I wasn’t impressed but there were many who thought it was sublime and the perfect palate cleaner between dishes.
Final three dishes were the best and I was already stuffed till my throat. Black dairy dal was much like the dal makhni but so creamy and had a full bodied flavour. Grilled Sea Bass (having grown up by the sea at Port Blair, it is my favourite fish) with a crispy skin and a sweet and sour sauce which was enlivened by green mango and there were small pieces of soft sweet potato hiding under the sea bass was a glorious dish. The fish was flaky and what I loved the most was the crispy skin with some rava (typically Goan). It reminded me of my time in Goa and I couldn’t be happier. We also went right up to North with Kashmiri milk lamb, lotus stems and morel. The lamb itself was incredibly tender, fell apart just with a spoon and there was a nadru (lotus stem) kebab with a crisp lotus stem too. It was however, the stuffed morel (meaty and a pickled taste) that did the magic in this dish, especially when mixed with the sultry brown sauce.
As Anindya said, it was good food karma hitting back at us and we started our dessert journey
Did you know that Chef Manish has re created the famous North Indian delicacy called Daulat ki Chaat or the Varanasi Malaiyo to be served round the year and not just restricted to winters. Well, the tasting menu did not have this but we had rabdi and jalebi and not just any rabdi and jalebi. Rabdi on top of jalebi and covered in pistachio dust, so superior in taste and so irresistible that I did not leave one crumb of even the pistachio dust on the plate. I never knew that any dessert, which was not chocolate based could have that much appeal. Aamras with crisp sewai with a host of other small tit bits in it and finally Nagpur orange sorbet completed the dessert plate. Vibrant and almost with a brain freeze kind of quality, the orange sorbet hit all my senses in the most beautiful way that I could imagine. I was dazed but I was happy.
As I am writing this, all I can think of is re visiting Indian Accent and now I know that my next visit to New Delhi will be planned in advance with a reservation at Indian Accent.