"Good food isn't the only ingredient of an enjoyable dining experience" - Carol Wilson.
It is not everyday that you get lucky enough to get invited for lunch with Chef Manish Mehrotra at Delhi's award winning restaurant, Indian Accent. And if the invitation also included a tasting of Nordic cuisine, cooked by Michelin starred, Postres Chef Samuli Wirgentius, you know you are spoiled for choice.
Last week, an invite for lunch at the Indian Accent had me all excited. I had diligently followed all the episodes of 'Foodistan' last year, a reality TV show which pitted India and Pakistan's best chefs against each other and delightfully cheered Chef Manish Mehrotra as he walked away with the winning title, defeating Chef Poppy Agha from Karachi in the finale.
I couldn't believe that I was actually going to meet the Celebrity Chef in person and get to taste the magic he is so famous for creating.
Veen Connect is an epicurean initiative to bring together chefs from different parts of the world. As part of its Indian debut Chef Manish Mehrotra flew to Helsinki earlier this month to showcase Indian cuisine and Chef Samuli Wirgentius did the same here at Indian Accent. The result was a fascinating culinary rhapsody where both the chefs delighted the food connoisseurs with their signature dishes - a culinary journey, most of us will remember for quite some time.
Sprawling across a lush green lawn, Indian Accent is located in a quiet residential neighborhood in Friends Colony, away from the hustle bustle of the city. Part of the boutique Manor Hotel, the hotel has a colonial feel while showcasing a perfect blend of old world charm with modern luxury. Infact driving through the tree covered streets of the colony reminded me of an army cantonment - serene and peaceful. Where in Delhi can you visualize such a scenario ?
The restaurant inside, reflects the same calm and serenity. With minimalist decor, the ambiance is warm and comforting. As you enter, you are welcomed with the sight of Marigold flowers placed throughout the restaurant. The two columns of traditional silver diyas, standing tall inside the restaurant, the small knick knacks placed inside the restaurant, the black and white paintings, the staff dressed up in saffron kurtas, all adds up to the traditional charm, making you all raring and ready to embark on this unique culinary journey.
While the six course menu cooked by Chef Manish at Postres restaurant in Helsinki had four Indian dishes and two Finnish, here at Indian Accent it was to be the reverse with Four Finnish dishes and two Indian. All the courses were paired with some great wines.
Our meal began with simple amuse bouche of Caramelised Onion Kulchas with a drizzle of Blue Cheese. Usually Blue Cheese tastes quite sharp and is not to everyone's liking. But here in these kulchas, the blue cheese was quite mild and tasted really nice. Hot, crispy and perfect bite sized, they did not take too long to disappear.
Next appetizer was a cute mini cone filled with Baingan Bharta and topped with a Goat Cheese Mousse, resting in a small chai glass filled with moong dal namkeen. The Baingan bharta was beautifully cooked in a typical punjabi style and reminded you of flavors back home. When we asked Chef Manish the reason for the moong dal in the glass as we felt it did not really add anything to the taste of the dish, he told us that the moong dal was there basically to hold the cone up in the glass. So, instead of putting something inedible in the glass, they preferred to put something which served the purpose and could also be eaten. What a classy uplift for our homely baingan bharta.
This was followed by Banarsi Tamatar ki Chaat with Gucchi Meatballs. The Tamatar ki chaat was topped with fried quinoa and a a papad textured golgappa, which was supposed to be had crushed over the tamatar chaat, giving you a lovely crunch with each bite. Served alongside were Gucchi Meatballs in a white creamy sauce, which again had an exquisite taste. At first look, they seemed like Dahi bhallas. It is only when you took a bite, you got a lovely burst of flavor from the morel mushrooms.
Our Main course started with Nordic flavors, a simple dish of Potatoes, Dill and Brown Butter. Small balls of boiled potatoes were topped with fresh dill and a delicious brown butter sauce. Simple flavors yet so delicious.
Next what appeared before us on the table succeeded in bringing a big smile on our faces. A Watermelon and Ginger palate cleanser,in form of a 'chuski' came served in a toy pressure cooker - a play on the hot and cold contrast concept. Besides looking really cute, it was refreshingly delicious too.
Next course was Hay smoked scallops with grilled fennel, sorrel and fennel pollen. The Scallops again were lightly seasoned making the sea food flavor shine through. As sorrel leaves weren't available locally, Chef Wirgentius had to replace them with rocket leaves, something which he wasn't happy about. I guess that's what the challenge is all about - to overcome the little difficulties that you face cooking in an unfamiliar environment and then adapting the situation to your best advantage - that is the sign of a great chef which was easily visible here as I loved the flavors in the dish and just couldn't tell how much more different or better the dish would have tasted with the missing sorrel leaves. For me, it was already perfect.
A dish of Charcoal grilled Lamb with Broccoli and Cabbage followed next. The lamb was tender and really juicy and tasted wonderful with the broccoli sauce and the burnt cabbage leaf it was served with. The best part of the dish, as explained by Chef Manish, was that every part of broccoli was made use of in this dish - the leaves, the stem and the flowers. The vegetarians got a Roasted Courgette, brocolli, cabbage and capers vinaigrette which looked quite tempting too.
Having fully enjoyed the Nordic cuisine, it was time to tickle our palate with some desi delights. What better way to do it than with the ever popular Sarson ka saag, Malai Corn and white butter popcorn. "The first sarson ka saag of the season" proudly professed the chef. You could see how much love and care went into the dish.
Soft, melt in the mouth, malai corn cutlets over a perfectly blended fresh tasting sarson ka saag served with mini Makke ki Roti, the combination was enough to sent me nostalgically back to my childhood. I might be adventurous in trying out different cuisines, but at the end of the day, there is nothing as satisfying as good old Tandoori chicken and Sarson ka Saag and Makki ki Roti.
Served next was the Kitsch-ree, a la Indian Accent style. Who could imagine the plain old boring khichdi could become so alluring. Given a complete makeover with crispy bacon, nuts, toasted garlic and grilled chicken it tasted heavenly. I will never be able to associate khichdi with being boring again.
My epicurean journey ended perfectly with 'Finnish Summer', a dessert comprising of Strawberries, whipped cream and grape ice.
It was lovely interacting with Chef Manish, who inspite of being a chef of such great calibre was so humble and down to earth. It was an absolute delight to see him and Chef Samuli constantly circulating and interacting with their guests, explaining about each dish as it was being served. These little gestures and the warmth with which we were attended to, is what remains etched in our memories for a long time and makes you want to return again and again.
Thanks Indian Accent and Chef Manish Mehrotra and Chef Samuli Wirgentius for such a memorable experience.