The track record of big-name restaurant operations from most other countries opening in London has a – and we’re being kind, here – decidedly mixed success rate. It was a surprise to everyone, not least, I’m sure, the owners themselves, that one of Paris’ most popular and well-regarded restaurants, Chateaubriand, mislaid most of its charm and allure somewhere over the English Channel and morphed into Chabanais in Mayfair, which gathered a handful of dreadful reviews before closing after a couple of months.
And more recently, the fact that Red Rooster in Harlem (NYC) had the blessing of none other than President Barack Obama himself didn’t save the London branch, in the basement of the Curtain Hotel in Shoreditch, becoming a weak facsimile of the original, serving flabby overpriced ribs and dull fried chicken with sub-TGI Friday’s flair.
But for whatever reason, when London’s played host to restaurants that originally hail from the Indian subcontinent, the results – so far – have been much more exciting. Jamavar, originally from New Delhi, which in a lovely bit of irony took over from the space vacated by Chabanais, instantly became one of the most celebrated “posh” Indians in the capital, winning glowing reviews (and a Michelin star) in its first few months.
And now we have Indian Accent, also originally from Delhi, which occupies a gleaming, brass-embellished spot on Albemarle Street and which has again raised the bar on the scale and ambition of Indian cooking in London.
The secret of Indian Accent’s success, and what sets it apart from its peers, is that it’s not afraid to play with the forms and techniques of traditional Indian cooking, while introducing certain ingredients and flavours that you’d otherwise rarely find in this style of cuisine. For example, every guest, whether they’ve popped in for a quick two-course lunch or are settling down for the full £80 tasting menu, is treated to a little pot of spiced pumpkin soup (rich, comforting, with a complex flavour) and a teeny naan stuffed with blue cheese, an idea that probably would have Indian food purists agog – at least until they tried it and realised how utterly lovely it is.
Another highlight of the tasting menu is puchkas (you may have seen them called gulguppas or puris elsewhere): five miniature pastry casings each resting on a different flavoured shot of liquid filling which you combine yourself before dropping them into your mouth. Coriander, tamarind, pineapple, pomegranate and spiced yoghurt were each as colourful as they were vibrantly flavoured; particularly the coriander, which had a powerful chilli hit.
Some dishes draw influence from European cuisine – ‘Kashmiri morels, walnut powder and parmesan papad’ was an intelligent meshing of Italian/French/Indian flavours, to stunning effect. And a treacle tart dessert added ‘doda barfi’, a kind of sugar-nut crunch treat, to this traditional British pud, and came paired with a quite wonderfully smooth vanilla bean ice cream.
Not all the cross-culture experimentations worked. Even if the ‘meetha achaar ribs’ hadn’t been overcooked to blobby, formless mush, we don’t think the sweet, vaguely Chinese-y mango sauce they came in would have provided much to talk about. And we remain to be convinced that stuffing greasy kulcha with smoky bacon doesn’t just mean you end up with a rather over-facing serving of dense fat and salt. But they were still nothing if not interesting, and in the context of such fireworks and bravery elsewhere, it was almost certainly a price worth paying.
Because if Indian Accent is the future of Indian dining, well, you can consider us sold. Far from being the half-hearted cash-cow that so many other imported restaurant concepts embody, the team at this slick operation in Mayfair have shaved off none of the ambition or passion that made the original a world-class hit (and earned it a place in the 50 Best list) and have managed to bring something genuinely new and innovative to London. This is how you manage an international expansion properly, and this is how you reinvent Indian cuisine while remaining accessible and enjoyable. This is, in short, how to do it. Other restaurants take note.
Source: Just Opened London