FOR A culinary impressario, Rohit Khattar is remarkably low-key and of modest dining habits—often self-imposed. He would, for example, hate that this article begins with a reference to him or mentions him at all. But Indian Accent, inarguably one of the best restaurants in the country, is his brainchild and it is a fact that even the self-effacing Khattar can’t deny. But if you ever speak to him of it, he will prompt you to speak of his chef, Manish Mehrotra, who made the brave switch from pan Asian to Indian cuisine and has made Indian Accent what it is today. That, in many ways, has been the brief history of Indian Accent, a collaboration between two people with a deep love and understanding of food and a nuance of the dining experience. And now, in its sixth year, Indian Accent, despite the invention it brings to the plate, is very sure of what it is. That is why it remains where it does, outlasting the more muscular attempts at the same style of cuisine by big chain hotels and the ‘me-too’ syndrome adopted by modest imitations.
Mukta Kapoor, the communications in-charge for the restaurant, among other properties of Old World Hospitality, tells me they have never advertised. It’s a little surprising, given that there are not many people who do not know of Indian Accent today. Their footfall has always been because of word-of-mouth even when the going was tough—the restaurant, which opened in 2009, took a year-and-a-half (maybe even two) before taking flight. Till then, it remained an ambitious—some would say a maverick—attempt at redefining Indian food.
In the frenetic world of Delhi food and hospitality, restaurants emerge at regular intervals. A pastische of investors who identify themselves as foodies come together to open a restaurant—sometimes there are two and at times as many as seven. A friend who works in the restaurant consultancy field says often over-zealous promoters bring in an international celebrity chef, but this arrangement doesn’t last long mostly because no one has the patience to anchor themselves to a project and then wait for the results to come in. International chefs, who have worked in the trenches of the food business, know a restaurant must gestate, find its feet and make friends in the city. When the pressure of monthly targets starts in the first month itself, the unlikely coupling between foodie and chef unravels. Hence we see this quick turnaround of restaurants in the city. Many great ideas have flamed out all too soon because of this reason. When viewed in this context, Indian Accent’s success must also be seen as a triumph of spirit and belief, one that is hard to find outside of the deep pockets of five-star hotels.
The evening I visited, Indian Accent was introducing its new chef, Vivek Rana, and its summer menu. Rana has worked closely with Mehrotra for many years and has also catered events at the Cannes Film Festival and the World Economic Forum in Davos. He brings with him some big-ticket event flair to this petit restaurant, as he fills up the dining room with his broad frame and cherubic charm. The summer menu is his introduction to the diners of Indian Accent, who have become accustomed to the affable Mehrotra bustling around. But Rana doesn’t disappoint. The masala papad he serves out of an airtight jar, with its creamy avocado dressing, is a triumph and the kind of introduction that seals the deal. Ever heard the line, ‘You had me at hello’? Rana manages that straight off the bat with a papad!
The set tasting menu, paired with wines, is the best way to experience the food at Indian Accent because it is a culinary journey. Each course has a purpose and tempts the palate with flavours and textures that are unanticipated, as well as carefully placed. Particularly pleasing for me was the inventiveness displayed with the soya boti, a delicious all-vegetarian version of the famed dish that will have vegetarians not feeling quite as left out. Another (real) meaty and one of those ‘it-falls-away-from-the-bone’ dish was the meetha achar spare rib: succulent, well-made and just the right portion size. One can go on about the food, but why spoil the surprise? Every dish at Indian Accent exists for a reason and you must discover that reason on your own.
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad.