As I enter The Manor, the boutique hotel at the posh Friends’ Colony in Delhi, I get a palpable feeling of excitement. I am here to meet Chef Manish Mehrotra, the undisputed king of modern Indian food and have lunch with him at the much acclaimed and awarded restaurant, Indian Accent.
The restaurant is at once cozy and posh, with indoor seating and an outdoor verandah seating and perfectly manicured lawns stretching around it. We settle into a quiet corner, and I ask him what exactly his cuisine represents. “I want to break the myth that Indian food is all about curry. There is so much variety in India. Even we as Indians don’t know food from other regions”, says Manish, “I just want to make great Indian dishes accessible to us Indians and the world”.
Today I will be trying out the taster menu that Indian Accent offers (Rs 2250 without wine, Rs 4050 with wine pairing). The food starts flowing in unobtrusively. The first to come in is the bread basket – albeit a different kind. It has two gorgonzola blue cheese mini-naans which provide a burst of flavour in the mouth. This is followed by the amuse bouche of tomato and anjeer shorba, which is an interesting combination of flavours.
Now the starters begin rolling in. The first one is the amazingly delightful take on Mumbai’s favourite ragda pattice but presented in a beautiful manner, with extra crisp pattice sitting proudly on top of a mellow, perfectly cooked ragda (white matar mash), delivering a perfect chaat bite. The sarson saag with makki roti showcases the chef’s creativity and craft. Here, instead of white butter, feta cheese has been added to it, which adds to the smoky flavour, and gives it a beautifully creamy texture. The accompanying makki ki roti is mildly peppery thanks to the addition of pink peppercorns. As the waiting staff clears the table for more starters, I feel a glow of warm satisfaction settling in.
The food that follows converts this look to a look of pure ecstasy. The next starter is the one that won Manish the prestigious foodistan trophy, effectively crowning him the best chef in India and Pakistan. It is the soft shell crabs with flame roasted coconut and Madras gunpowder. One bite into it and a “kya baat hai” escapes my lips. Not only is this dish a great creation, it is a perfect execution of the idea. Here the tastes are familiar yet exotic. The gun powder takes the beautifully cooked crabs into a different level altogether. The accompanying tomato and gongura pickle chutney adds to the delight.
The next surprise is the Rome-meets-Rajkot khandvi ravioli stuffed with goat cheese and pumpkin mash, topped with a khakra chip and pinenuts. In my opinion, this is a better ravioli than anything ravioli I have had so far. The doughy exterior is replaced by the fresh and light khandvi, and the crunch of the khakra completes the bite. The next surprise is another foodistan star – spare rib with kalonji and meetha aam ka achaar. The quality of pork is the best I have had in NCR so far. The top of the spare ribs is an addictive crackling, and the rest of the rib is soft and yielding. The meetha aam ka achaar is a stroke of genius. It is tart enough to cut through the fat of the pork and yet again deliver a clean taste that works at many levels…..and so familiar, yet so exotic.
The rare and exclusive Kashmiri morel is made mussallam style for the next starter, and has a small parmesan papad on top. This is the first time I am tasting the morel, and with the rendition here, am hopelessly in love with it.
It is time for the main course, and a palate cleanser of anaar and churan sorbet is served, rather fascinatingly, in a miniature pressure cooker. The chef suggests I try out the other sorbets too, which are the melon and midori sorbet, and amrood and kala namak sorbet – which of course I do, each of which transport me back to school to the wonderful chuski times.
The service is attentive, discreet and quick. Soon thereafter I am served John Dory fish topped with fish roe with moilee sauce. The fish is fried to perfection, and the moilee sauce is comforting. The daal muradabadi is redolent of the UP heartland. A dry preparation of mung daal has fried onions and the fried daal (that we have as a snack with tea) topping it. It is accompanied by a selection of Amritsari kulchas. The smoked bacon kulcha, wild mushroom kulcha, a soft duck in hoisin sauce kulcha, and a pumpkin and cheddar cheese kulcha, each and one of these small bite-size babies is great. It is the smoked bacon kulcha that I love the most.
The dessert course is equally alluring and fascinating. The mithai cheesecake has the crumbly besan laddo tart being a perfect mate for the slightly tart and creamy cheesecake. The canneloni stuffed with mishti doi is an idea that has been waiting to happen. The English treacle tart with doda barfee is another stroke of genius, because it gives an extra depth of caramalisation to the dish, making it even better. Who would have thought that our humble doda barfee will add another beautiful dimension to this British classic?
As I sit and savour the 18-dish-lunch that I just enjoyed so much, an imaginatively packaged revdi assortment and the churan filled ramladdu is served to me on a miniature charpoy. I ask Manish how he visualizes and creates his dishes. He smiles and says “I was having a treacle tart in London and realized that the taste resembled our own doda. So I worked out the dish. While enjoying foie gras, I realized that its texture is very similar to our galawti kabab. So I created the foie gras galawti which is now the signature dish here.” But what is his food philosophy, I persist in asking. He thinks a bit and answers, “No dishes hare here without a purpose. I do not include dishes that are without reason or which create a clash between cuisines. I say no to paneer chettinaad, or chicken chettinaad with missi roti. There is a circle that has to be completed with every dish.” And he is right. Each one of the eighteen dishes I tasted today were complete bites, with the perfect textures, flavours, tastes, and crunch.
Manish Mehrotra is not just a super chef. He is a food designer. And he is able to do so because at heart and in life he is a regular guy who loves to explore, and relishes his butter chicken and garlic naan as much as his mushroom risotto. He is in touch with the diverse flavours of India and respects them. I expect a lot more fantastic dishes coming from our mahaguru of modern Indian cuisine. I sincerely hope he decides to open a cooking school that can take his creativity forward and bring it into the mainstream. I would definitely love to have my sarson saag infused with a healthy dollop of feta cheese at the next dhaba that I visit.
Ratings out of 5
Food: 5.0 | Ambiance: 4.5 | Service: 5.0 |Overall: 5.0
Meal for Two: Rs 4500 | Alcohol: Yes | Credit Card: Yes| Timing: 7 AM to 11 AM, 12 Noon to 3 PM, 7 PM to 11 PM
Address: 77, The Manor, Friends Colony, New Delhi | Phone: 011 43235151, +91 9871117968