Whilst London has always been a trailblazer in terms of art, culture, fashion and finance, it historically fell short in the restaurant scene. However, over the course of the past decade or so, nothing short of a culinary revolution has swept through London. Today the British capital’s food scene is now on a par with New York in terms of showcasing the best global cuisine at different price points, via low to highbrow experiences that span everything from hipster vegan and street food to fine dining and well-heeled gourmet institutions. London has always excelled at stodgy luxury and counterculture funkiness, but it has taken time for the city to truly embrace its multicultural side with pride and panache.
In recent years, world class Peruvian, Mexican, Japanese and Middle Eastern establishments have opened alongside a plethora of more refined Mediterranean eateries. Even British cuisine has taken giant leaps forward, led by innovative chefs drawing upon the country’s many strengths, not least farm-to-table produce, quality meats and bountiful freshly-caught seafood.
The London dining experience has also become a lot more fun of late. West End neighbourhoods like Soho and Covent Garden, as well as Shoreditch in the east, all positively hum with a breezy and buzzy cosmopolitan atmosphere especially in the summer months.
Due to its colonial ties, Great Britain has always excelled at Indian cuisine, to the point where chicken tikka masala is practically considered a national dish, and a curry take away is as ubiquitous as fish and chips. Whilst the vast majority of the U.K.’s Indian venues cater more to the mass-market, increasingly Indian food establishments have trended towards going upmarket. Nowhere is this more evident than in London.
Whilst London has always been known for having some of the best Indian restaurants outside of the motherland, nowadays the quality of these offerings and the settings in which diners feast are on a par with the best of any cuisine that the city has to offer.
Since it opened to virtually immediate critical acclaim in Delhi in 2009, Indian Accent has consistently been ranked as the best restaurant in India and one of the most celebrated in the world. Founder Rohit Khattar and executive chef Manish Mehrotra’s traditional Indian cuisine refashioned into something more modern, more global and, quite frankly, rather special, made the restaurant an instant hit.
The Delhi mother ship achieved global cult foodie status by way of its tasting menus that showcased its most popular dishes while embracing the challenge of introducing innovative new ones. Recently it moved from its cosy Manor Hotel birthplace to the more central, exclusive and architecturally dramatic Lodhi Hotel, located in a smart, tree-lined residential area 10 minutes from Connaught Place.
New York was chosen for Indian Accent’s first foray outside India, the Big Apple having always been under-represented in terms of Asian cuisine. The 2016 opening of Indian Accent in Midtown’s Le Parker Meridien re-set the bar for upscale Indian dining in New York pretty much overnight.
There were high expectations of Indian Accent’s London opening. Could its high-end and innovative Indian cuisine carve a niche for itself in the face of well-established and much-loved competition? Would the restaurant be as successful as Delhi and New York? Could the brand retain its intimate charm and culinary excellence as it expanded its geographical presence? My visit to the newest outpost of Indian Accent in London’s Mayfair proved that the answers to all of these questions was a resounding “yes”, and then some.
Great Britain’s Indian Accent proudly takes its place in the heart of the capital surrounded by some of the city’s most exclusive art galleries and upscale shopping – its smart but relatively discreet entrance lying just across the street from Browns Hotel on Albemarle Street.
Guests are warmly received just beyond the entrance and directed to one of two dining rooms – one on street level and the other below ground. Both are a master class in understated luxury and equally beautiful and refined. Whilst gold, intricate latticework and rich upholstery abound, nothing is too extravagant or over the top. Herringbone wood floors and ambient lighting soften the atmosphere, while emerald green accents perk things up a touch. Tables are perfectly spaced. The acoustics are conducive to conversation. Overall the décor is clearly exotic but elegantly toned down by clean lines and contemporary detailing.
Many 21st century London restaurants are over reliant upon eccentric design or outrageous artwork to characterise their overall dining experiences. At Indian Accent however the food is very much the star of the show, and the environment in which it is served has been skilfully fashioned to allow it to shine.
Even with a full house – the natural buzz of patrons coming and going and numerous waiting staff moving about – the restaurant, while clearly busy, felt calm and inviting when I arrived for dinner.
There are numerous ways in which to enjoy Indian Accent. Culinary offerings range from a full blown nine-course chef’s extravaganza complete with wine and whiskey pairings, to slightly more restrained three and four-course tasting menus and even a streamlined business lunch, one-hour pre-theatre offering and a recently introduced weekend brunch. Of course, à la carte ordering is also welcomed, and the kitchen is extremely amenable in terms of dietary requirements and changes to set menus to suit individual diners’ palettes. In a world where elaborate tasting menus can often be formal and stuffy with little room for manoeuvre, it’s refreshing (and ultimately more enjoyable) that Indian Accent puts the tastes of its guests first and will happily tailor its menus to suit.
However one describes the fare – be it Indian cuisine with a contemporary spin or modern food with an Indian accent – things are done very differently at 16 Albemarle Street to every other Indian restaurant in the country. And this is no exaggeration. What comes out of Manish Mehrotra’s Mayfair kitchen are Indian classics playfully yet lovingly reimagined in a new contemporary light.
The meal begins with warm, mini naan flavoured with blue cheese, which are soft, gooey and absolutely delicious. My palette is further awakened by creamy pumpkin and coconut-infused shorba – a soup-like stew said to originate from Persia and introduced to the Indian sub-continent during the Mughal invasions. It tasted remarkable. Who knew that what was effectively curry sauce could be so refined. Just two amuse-bouches into the meal and I am already sold.
The plates keep coming, each more appetising and interesting than the one before. Kashmiri morels served with walnut powder and parmesan papad were divine and out of this culinary world. The best black dal I had ever tasted was enhanced by wasabi yoghurt and a lime flavoured brioche. Sweet pickle pork ribs glazed with sundried mango were sweet and tangy and exuded an East Asian flavour. Ghee roast lamb, served with a medley of chutneys and roomali roti pancakes, was a culinary triumph. If you are ever tempted to opt for a tasting menu at any restaurant do it at Indian Accent, where every dish is a successful experiment in combining eastern and western spices, with one foot firmly planted in South Asia whilst the other is free to play.
My makhan malai dessert was like a mouthful of sweet air – the delicate saffron-infused milk cream accompanied by rose petal brittle and almonds. It was the perfect end to a meal that hit so many high notes it was truly hard to keep count.
After the incredible fare I enjoyed at 16 Albemarle Street it’s hardly surprising that chef Manish Mehrotra is so widely regarded as the most exciting modern Indian chef in the world today. Mehrotra’s progressive takes on nostalgic Indian dishes served in a slightly contemporary way – so that people from all walks of life and all cultures can easily relate – undoubtedly make Indian Accent one of the most notable 21st century restaurant brands in the world, and its Mayfair outpost one of London’s unmissable culinary delights.