Monday, December 14, 2009

Indian Accent

77 Friends Colony (West), New Delhi
011 4323 5151
Sunday lunch from 12.30pm

For a foodie, I have a conspicuously long list of foods I don't like to eat. Eggs in any form, cabbage, beetroot, tripe or any other kind of offal, passionfruit, or fish. Only in the last five years have I deigned to eat shellfish and while I now quite enjoy crab and scallops, I generally stay away from fleshy fish. So for a fish dish to leapfrog to the top of my 2009 culinary list, it must have been pretty extraordinary indeed.

Indian Accent serves a fish moily, a Keralan, coconut milk-based recipe, which is tweaked to make it fresh and modern, in line with the restaurant's particular brand of contemporary Indian cuisine. Here, the fish - in this case, red snapper - is coated in a rice flour coating, shallow fried, then served with the spiced coconutty sauce poured around it (moily is usually a wet curry). It is crispy and light on the outside, soft to the point of fluffy inside. It is simple yet perfect; modern yet true to its origins, balanced and original. For this fish-aversionista, a true revelation.

I first tried the moily a couple of weeks ago as part of Indian Accent's chef's tasting menu. The restaurant, which is part of the boutique Manor Hotel in a swish, residential part of south-west Delhi, is a sleek, quiet dining room with soothing, neutral decor studded with Indian hints - 'accents', if you like. There's a column of diyas one one wall and some framed black and white photos on another.

The tasting menu is 1900 rupees per person (1800 for vegetarian), with the option of five half glasses of matched wine for an additional 1000rs. It's a great deal, considering the quality of food.

Chef Manish Mehrotra spent months finalising the menu and the manager described the tasting menu as "not necessarily our best dishes, but the ones that work best to showcase what we're all about."

Highlights? For starters there's a modern take on paani puri: two little puchkas (puris) filled with a spoonful of spiced couscous accompanied by shot glasses of flavoured water (mint and coriander; pomegranate and cinnamon); pour in the water, stuff the whole thing in your mouth and let it explode.

Then there's a soft mincemeat kebab, a galawat, stuffed with foie gras and served with a strawberry and chilli chutney, that nails the whole east-west thing superbly.

The red snapper moily is one of four main choices, alongside another winner: dosa with masala morels and water chestnuts. The water chestnuts are the perfect foil to the richness of the morels and the buttery dosa that's wrapped around the mixture like a cone.

I also got to try a single, delectable, perfect scallop, topped with a dab of prawn balchao (a spicy Goan prawn paste) and a dusting of kokum powder. I have traditionally been dubious about whether delicate scallops can handle any sort of spice or heat; this dish proves they can.

Indian Accent doesn't slouch when it comes to desserts either. For the tasting menu there's the choice of crumble using apples from the Himalayan Kinnaur region, along with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a shot glass of custard, or a toffee coconut and jaggery brulee. Then there's the Old Monk rum ball. Old Monk is the rum of choice for Indian college students so it's a kind of cute in-joke that most foreign diners generally won't get. (Or, considering Old Monk retails for about 160rs for a litre bottle, it's a cute way to save money on raw materials. But I prefer to think of it as a cute in-joke.) The rum ball is doused in liquour before being set alight; it's less a rum ball and more a round scoop of dense, rich pudding.

Individually, each course was a delight, and as a whole it was sophisticated, well-prepared and presented and, thankfully, wholly lacking in pretension.

But it gets better. On Sundays, Indian Accent serves lunch, as opposed to the ever-popular brunch spreads that infect Delhi hotels and restaurants. Rather than a groaning buffet table full of global choices and a cavernous dining hall full of noisy families, Indian Accent does a plated, three- or five-course sit down lunch, but with free-flowing Möet & Chandon, from 1500 rupees.

So for my birthday lunch, to Indian Accent it was. Like mosquitos to bare skin, we were all over the Möet before they had a chance to plug in the coils.

(We worked out we drank at least a bottle each. Each bottle is priced at 5000rs on the menu. How do they make any kind of profit on this offer?!)

The menu for the set lunch is a limited version of the a la carte menu, but there are plenty of choices and thankfully, different options to the chef's tasting menu (but the moily still makes an appearance). For entree one option was  thanda badam shorba with raita emulsion and badam papad. My rusty Hindu was only of limited help here: I deduced it was cold (thanda) almond (badam) something - sherbert perhaps? - with a bit of cucumber-scented foam and an almond-studded pappadum. But what is it? Turns out, it's a cold soup, essentially spiced cold almond milk, which is poured over the raita foam. It's quite refreshingly delicious, although a bit insubstantial. Perhaps it might work better as an amuse bouche?

Main was a slab of pan fried pork belly with vindaloo masala and red rice. It arrived, a quivering mound of fatty meat, perched atop that misnomer that is South Indian red rice - it looked pretty white to me. It was tasty but I could only manage a few bites before the combination of swollen carbs, rich sauce and über-fatty meat did me in.

Dessert, again was a winner. One of my friends actually squealed with delight when her dessert slate slab - bearing a ramekin of apple crumble, a Chinese soup spoon of vanilla ice cream and shot glass of custard - was laid in front of her. I wanted something different, something I'd not tried at the tasting dinner, got flustered and confused and pointed at my default option, the trio of ice creams. Luckily, they were divine: coconut ice cream that was sweet and rich, almost like coconut marzipan, spiced chocolate, redolent with cinnamon, and vanilla, which was anything but.

Indian Accent for the moment is a glorious secret, but I suspect it won't stay that way for long. Especially when people come to know about that moily.

(All images courtesy of Indian Accent's website and used without permission. I'm happy to take them down if you ask, but, y'know, it's publicity!)


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