Indian food as you never knew it

As I was leafing through my wardrobe (most of which has been quietly annexed by Ruhi, but that’s a different topic for a different day), I am across a tee that was a bit of a window into the past. One of the first tees I ever bought from Bangkok, it had grown a few sizes too small for me, but its message still fit the occasion.

Same Same, But Different.

It was like a message in a bottle sent through time to present day me, and it was in a sense a foreshadowing of the meal to come. East might be east, and west might be west, but at Indian Accent the twain do meet in a manner that would have left Mark Twain gobbling his words in silent glee. Not for nothing is this place rated as one of the finest restaurants in the world, and while Bukhara, Varq et al might be the big daddy’s of the Indian food world, they are more like a clinical Black Ops team compared to the suave SWAT team that is Team Indian Accent.

At first sight, Indian Accent is the diametric opposite of the opulent and seriously swish Friends Colony that houses the restaurant. The decor is elegant and minimalistic, neither distracting nor detracting from the dining experience that is meant to be the centerpiece of it all. It’s almost zen-like in the way it puts blinkers on you and creates something resembling tunnel vision. It’s amply clear from the get-go that the food is the superstar, with everything else merely the supporting cast meant to keep the machinery running.

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We opted for the set menu since it represented terrific value for money and, which is more, it contained most of the items that I wanted to try in any case. Even as we pored over the menu and cooked our own khayali pulao before we had even had a bite, some pint-sized blue cheese naan breads arrived. That’s not a combination you usually find dotting a menu, but this is not your usual Indian restaurant. The bread itself had lovely texture and the sharpness of the blue cheese came through nicely without being overpowering. Considering to be something akin to a trial ball in gully cricket, it whetted up my appetite nicely for the food that was yet to come.

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Continuing with the theme of tiny tasting portions was the Pea soup, served fittingly in a small black earthenware mug. Elegant, homely, comforting and with just the slightest hit of peppercorn, this soup was a very bright start to the meal in more ways than one.

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This was followed up with a Potato Sphere Chaat with white pea ragda, a highly refined take on Delhi’s chaat and Mumbai’s beloved ragda pattice. Cutting through the crunch of the potato sphere revealed the flavourful fillings on the inside and it was complemented nicely with a wedge of vinegarised watermelon on the side. Summery and full of joy, it was a familiar dish all grown up and now residing in Beverly Hills, but never forgetting its roots in…Pali Hill? I dunno, there are only so many hilly comparisons I know of.

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The Duck Khurchan Cornetto was one of the dishes that piqued my curiosity on the night, and it tasted familiar without ever looking like any khurchan you’ve tried anywhere else. Creamy, fibrous duck meat was stuffed inside a flaky biscuit we know best as ‘Mathri’, and the dryness of it perfectly complemented the well seasoned minced duck. A touch of foie gras gave things a bit of a western flavour in a manner of speaking. Think of Katrina Kaif in reverse and you’ll get this dish; it was born and brought up in India, but is tailormade for foreign tastes.

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Showcasing a happy harmony of surf ‘n’ turf was the portion of Bacon Wrapped Prawns, beautifully laid to rest on our plate under a veneer of Wasabi Malai Cream. Finely sliced, not too crisp strips of bacon hugged each large piece of prawn very lovingly to the very end, but the party piece was in the marinade. The hit of wasabi delivered in the mayonnaise was mild, but not so little as to be insignificant, and this was a dish that would be a guaranteed hit for anyone that loves their piggies and seafood.

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Then came the dish that was Diwali, Christmas and Eid all rolled into one for me. I’ve had ribs before this, and I’ll have ribs after this too, but not many will match up to the Meetha Achaar Chilean Spare Ribs dished out here. Topped with a tiny sliver of aam papad, the beautifully piquant and slightly tart caramelized meat just slid off the bone the way I might have just slid and lost my balance on a freshly waxed floor. The meat was expectedly melt in the mouth and I’m glad these ribs lived up to the hype and then some. A thing of beauty might be a joy forever, but these ribs only lasted a minute or so at the table.

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The mains arrived at our table in a flurry after the cutesy anardana and churan palate cleanser had achieved its task manfully. The Chicken Tikka Meatball was wonderfully, even delicately, spiced, but the clear winner of this little duel was the black dal. I’m generally not one to stick up for black dal (no, I’m not racist), but this was so richly balanced in its flavor profile, it also boasted a creamy texture that left me licking my fingers and the chicken meatballs licking its wounds.

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A special word for the sides that were star attractions in their own right; the butter chicken kulcha and the duck kulcha were both superb in their own right, but the apple smoked bacon was a clear winner for me. The mildest hint of umami came through the buttery, almost pillowy kulcha it came in.

Hell, even the simple rice we were served as an accompaniment to the dal blew my mind. Complete with toasted seeds, some garlic, clove, elaichi and gucchi mushrooms, it was an orgy of fragrances brewing in a bowl that set the senses alight before I even had a bite of it.

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In comparison, the dessert platter (comprising dodi barfi pie, vanilla ice cream and custard apple with jalebi that resembled jalebi rabri) left us a little cold, and seeing, maybe sensing, that the desserts hadn’t taken our breath away, offered to get us some of his daulat chaat since it was something we wouldn’t get to taste too often in Mumbai. And by the gods, was he rights.

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Little more than milk foam (or malai, if you will), some slivers of almond and saffron, this was a dessert as light as air and the spoon I wielded felt like a razor-sharp rapier as it sliced through a dessert that was barely there. This light and frothy dessert, adorned with a plume of fake money for added dramatic effect, was almost souffle like and vanished in seconds, leaving in its wake a light, milky sweetness. It was perhaps the perfect ending to the meal, a tribute to the refinement and inventiveness that have seen the restaurant win so many plaudits while staying true to Indian culinary

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A special mention must be made for Chef Manish Mehrotra, the heart and soul of the kitchen. Friendly and almost familial, he took time out of his schedule to visit every table and make the guests feel like they were the most important people in his universe at that given moment. It is one of his many gifts, primary among which is the magic he wields in the kitchen.

Powered by his wizardry, it is safe to say that Indian Accent takes the familiar and gives it its own trademark twist to elevate to a whole new levels you never saw coming. The unusual and the unique show off a culinary trick or two without showboating too much. Suffice to say that this is deservedly one of the finest, and I would argue the finest, Indian restaurants anywhere in the land.

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Indeed, Indian Accent’s menu reads like the lyrics of ‘These are a few of my favorite things’, leaving us with flavors and memories to savor for some time yet. The only negative I can attribute to the restaurant is that it chose to eschew opening a branch in Mumbai, opting to take a bite out of the Big Apple instead. That’s just nitpicking though; modern, eclectic, inventive and outstanding, Indian Accent is a celebration of Indian Cuisine that will leave you jumping with joy.

To Ruhi, the love of my life, the spark in my heart; I thank you profusely for choosing to take me here despite my strongest protestations. Sometimes, it’s quite alright if you choose not to listen to me and march to the beat of your own drummer. Only sometimes, mind.

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