Combining Indian flavours with innovative flair and a refined aesthetic, we review this elegant new arrival to Albemarle Street
Widely regarded as one of the hottest Indian chefs on the scene today, chef Manish Mehrotra does ingenious things with his native cuisine, as seen with the international success stories of his restaurant, Indian Accent. First opened in New Delhi, 2009, Mehrotra’s dishes – which offer a creative, refreshingly contemporary take on traditional Indian fare – earned glittering accolades from the World’s Best and Asia’s 50 Best lists, leading to the launch of a popular second space in New York.
Now, Mehrotra has turned his sights on London, opening a new Indian Accent on Albemarle Street (previously occupied by Chor Bizarre). Of course, the city is a notoriously tough nut to crack; the restaurant is up against some pretty stiff competition in the West End, where the likes of Benares and Gymkhana – to name but a few – already hold court as London’s top-billed Indian eateries. However, upon stepping over the threshold it’s clear that the restaurant has been designed as a serious contender itself, with plush velvet banquettes, marble detailing and cosily intimate lighting creating a mood of understated elegance.
The first thing you notice is the supremely well-stocked bar by the door, where fine wines, rare whiskies and inventive cocktails can be whipped up at a moment’s notice – the Transcendental Meditation, made with honeyed gin, mountain sage liqueur, thyme and lavender, is an intriguing pre-dinner tipple.
It’s a cold, miserable winter’s night, so in an effort to find comfort in food we decide to splash out on the tasting menu, waistlines be damned. Indian food lovers should take note that a meal at here is not your usual Britishified experience – there is nary a bhaji or jalfrezi in sight, and at no point does rice grace the table. Instead, a minute blue cheese-infused naan bread amuses the bouche alongside a similarly dinky jug of curried soup to sip, before a wooden board carrying five different flavourful waters arrives, each designed to be poured into its own wafer-thin puchka and eaten in one.
Though whisky flights are available, this time we opted for a wine pairing. The jolly sommelier – I have yet to meet a curmudgeonly one – delights in bringing us unexpected combinations for each course. Highlights include a tart 2008 R. López de Heredia Rioja Crianza Viña Cubillo and a sparkling pink 2015 Domaine Renardat-Fache Cerdon de Bugey.
On comes the food, each dish presented with flair. We love the Kasmiri morels, earthy and rich and served in a creamy sauce with walnut powder. My companion raves about the beet and peanut butter vadai, though I prefer the perfectly cooked baked cod amritsari. Rather less pretty but nonetheless delicious is a hearty clay pot of soy keema – you really won’t believe it isn’t meat – topped with a quail egg.
Things start getting heavy with a round of kulcha bread, which comes with a choice of meat or veg stuffings alongside generous bowls of wasabi cucumber raita and rich black dairy dal. The bizarre-looking winter vegetable tart – seemingly thrown together with the air of a last-minute student art project – is a bit of a letdown, though the flavoursome chicken kofta redeems matters. Last come the puds; the makhan malai is sweet and perfumed with a shower of flaked almonds and rose petal brittle, but this Brit personally thinks the treacle tart blows it out of the water, small, simple and wonderfully sticky with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top.
With food this imaginative and considered, it surely won’t be long till the Michelin star-makers come calling.