The Best Exotic Marigold
From the word ‘go’, this is a chef’s table with a difference. I’m pleasantly surprised to be led to a specially created room at Indian Accent, cozy and accented with The Manor’s signature marigolds, a far cry from the usual business of sitting in a restaurant kitchen, waiting for the bon mots. Though the bon mots do flow, but more on that later. First, for the flowing of champagne. Introductions are made as the other guests and I partake of bubbly around the elegantly attired long table set for eight. A screen at the far end of the room is raised to reveal Executive Chef Manish Mehrotra, an immensely huggable man who infuses the atmosphere with his joviality. “We try to implement different flavours and cooking techniques from around the world here, but not just for the sake of doing it. So you will never find paneer chettinad on our menu,” he booms, as we titter away at the blasphemous thought.
We begin with the blue cheese naan. “Blue cheese and bread is a classic combination and we do our take on it by serving it stuffed in naan,” says Chef Manish. Next up is the tuna bhel ceviche, topped with crushed kurkure – yes, you read that right. As we work our way down the menu for the night, Chef Manish tells us about the trends he has observed around the world. “Last year it was popsicles,” he says. “It could have been an ice candy served in a shot of vodka. This year is all about gourmet popcorn and South American cuisine,” he continues, as we bite into our pulled baby lamb shank phulka tacos. “The phulka is a bread that we rarely eat outside and it reminds us all of the rolls our mother would make for our tiffin boxes,” he says as the guest opposite me nods away with a faraway look in his eyes. He also reminds us of the most Indian accent of them all – “Please use your hands, then you will enjoy it more!”
As we proceed with dinner, the conversation veers towards the differences between South Indian and North Indian cuisine. As I rhapsodise about my love of pomelo, Chef Manish makes a surprise addition to the menu with a course featuring the fruit. Later, as I dig into the kheema kaleji chicken kheema with foie gras, I mention how much I loved the galawat kebab with foie gras and strawberry and green chilli chutney that I had eaten at the restaurant before. Again, my table was in for a treat as Chef Manish pulled another course out of thin air! After that, I gagged myself so the diners outside our select circle didn’t go hungry.
Throughout dinner, a couple of my dinner companions are furiously Instagramming photos of the dinner and the splendid wine selections, but it is easy for this food to look good even without the benevolent effects of the Lo-Fi filter. An amuse bouche of mango and cranberry kulfi arrives in a tiny pressure cooker by Hawkins. As the ladies go into meltdown over the cuteness of it all, Chef Manish explains why the little cookers are glued down onto a wooden slab. “So many of these cookers went missing that we had to find a way to make it difficult to make off with them.” He dares us to smuggle one out. The soft shell crab with flame roast coconut and madras gunpowder comes with a stainless steel surgical steel implement to make the dipping easier.
We carry on with the stuffed kulchas – Hoisin duck, applewood smoked bacon, mushroom and roast pumpkin with cheddar, served with black dairy dal, barely leaving space for dessert. But we are no match for a platter of rum ball doused in Old Monk, mishti doi cannoli and dodha burfi treacle tart. “We try to invoke nostalgia for things that we grew up with – things like aam papad or Phantom cigarettes,” says Chef Manish, as he bids us good night with a mini charpoy sagging under treats like gulabi chikki and fatafat. Now I am filled with a rosy glow every time I think about our lovely dinner.
INDIAN ACCENT, THE MANOR, NEW DELHI
Delhi’s low-key Friend’s Colony has been home to The Manor since the 1950s. A charming boutique luxury hotel with the spirit of a country house, one of its treasures is the excellent Indian Accent. Set in the ground floor, overlooking the lawn, the restaurant is lovely for a leisurely lunch. The extensive wine list is bolstered by the house cocktails – do try The Marigold, for a warm, sunny feeling. The meetha achaar Chilean spare ribs with aam papad quite literally fall off the bone and the John Dory moilee is sprinkled with pine nuts and topped with glorious red caviar. The smooth galawat kebab with the even smoother foie gras makes for an unforgettable combination of textures that is enhanced further with the accompanying strawberry and green chilly chutney. For dessert, one must pray that the kitchen hasn’t run out of the besan laddoo tart with mithai cheesecake. The tasteful space in tonal beige and gold is a perfect foil for the exotic fare.
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