Visiting what Pete Wells once referred to as the “greatest Indian restaurant in the world” on the capital’s most polluted night makes everything double-edged: reddish eyes are thanks to both smog and happy tears, mildly running noses account for the diligent spice and irritating air, and the culture of excess lives in both consequence and fine accomplishment. ‘What have we done,’ a gentleman next to us muses while waiting at the valet, a signature Indian Accent (IA) gendha phool in hand.
As we enter, we finally come face-to-face with the cheery hostess who we’d been on the phone with multiple times already. She’d called to ensure that we really wanted the white eaters slot of 7pm; that we’d clear the table before 9:45 pm (the Indian dining slot); and that we’d leave any children at home. While these conditions would typically seem annoying, here they establish Indian Accent as possibly the only brand that can impose regulations on freewheeling Delhiites for whom rules exist only to be broken.
To our surprise, we are greeted by the celebrity chef alongside the host, his warmth off-setting the minimal interiors. We’re led to what Delhiites would recognise as the former On The Waterfront, basically unchanged. Compared to its earlier Manor avatar, the new IA seems less accidental-loungey, more polished, but just as comfortable. The soft couches are a delight to sink in to, and seem to anticipate a post decadent-tasting-menu-and-many-glasses-of-Riesling languor.
Compared to its earlier Manor avatar, the new IA seems less accidental-loungey, more polished, but just as comfortable.
The air is buzzing with non-resident Indian accents, foreign languages and sophisticated natives reminiscing about the IA in New York and London’s Gymkhana. There is much debate on the quality of duck dosas and deer meat naans, globally. The all-male waitstaff are present in large numbers, catching even the slightest wave. The menus, they explain, can go two ways: a tasting at Rs 3,500 (exclusive of exorbitant taxes) and a la carte. We learn that like the last IA, the menu is seasonal and constantly adapting to what’s good, ripe and best suited to innovation.
Keen to share, we order generously from the a la carte section. Dishes come out in perfect pauses, making our dinner lusciously lengthy; fine amouse bouches – blue cheese naans, a masala chuski nestled in a little Monopoly prop-like steamer – eliminate any drag.
We start with two appetisers: tandoori prawns with wasabi malai, wrapped in bacon – an Atkins dieter’s wet dream – and a pepper paneer cornet with smoked papad. The first is probably our least favourite thing we eat all night, verging on dry, but in retrospect, the complaint is negligible. Four beautiful papad cones neatly filled with succulent masala paneer are party hats flipped over, officially marking the beginning of our memorable feast.
Between starters and mains, out come meetha achaar spare ribs: a large juicy meat dish divided in to five big portions, coated in a khatta meeta sauce. We polish off every bit, bedazzled by both the freshness of the meat and the innovativeness of the sweet pickle flavor. Picking up on our increasingly good mood, our server cranks up the plot by bringing out our main courses all together. The star is a tempered ricotta vada bhaji with kaffir lime pao. Like nothing we’ve tasted before, this take on the Bombay classic is superbly spiced with the bhaji masalas you expect, but the kaffir lime pao is a genius addition: mini bread dollops with a dash of unexpected freshness transform this otherwise sleepy lunch dish in to something light and unprecedented, touched by the far ends of the silk route.
Dishes come out in perfect pauses, making our dinner lusciously lengthy; fine amouse bouches – blue cheese naans, a masala chuski nestled in a little Monopoly prop-like steamer – eliminate any drag.
Next up are butter scallops and rawa prawns with malwani pulao, and a chicken chettinad keema. While we blame ourselves for ordering dishes of the same color palette – a slightly violent orange-red— both keep things well above board; the butter scallops sit atop expertly flavored rice like royalty lounging in their garden chaises, and the keema is good old keema, with a South Indian twist that we like because it makes ‘fusion’ not just about east meets west, but also domestic mixing.
Because the bill is so beautifully presented on a sleep-inducing mini- charpoy – with plump anaar danaa chooran and candy that stains lips squid-ink blue – we almost don’t notice the fat service taxes. Moreover, the damn good Haji Ali Custard Apple Cream that we finish with has us chatting about our next reservation – Indian slot time – even before we’ve approved the hole in our bank balance: a void that can only be filled with another meal here.
Getting there: Indian Accent at The Lodhi, Lodhi Road, call 011-43633333, Rs. 9,800 for two who eat like three, with a round of drinks.
This review was contributed by Meher Varma.
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