Opened: February 2016
Location: New York City
Owner: Chef Manish Mehrotra
Average Check: $125
Description: A fine-dining establishment in midtown Manhattan introduces guests to a new kind of Indian cuisine.
If you ask Chef Manish Mehrotra, Indian cuisine has stalled—and not just at American restaurants. Even in his native India, flavors and techniques that have long been heralded in the home have not moved beyond residences to restaurants.
In 2009, Mehrotra opened Indian Accent in New Delhi, bringing forth home-cooked flavors in a fine-dining setting. By all metrics it has been an enormous success: Last year it was the only restaurant in India to make The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list; it has also been named the No. 1 restaurant on the subcontinent by TripAdvisor three years and counting.
“What we did eight years back was completely different—for India itself, it was completely different,” Mehrotra says. While guests in New Delhi had not encountered such foods in restaurants, most diners outside India had never been even exposed to them. “As a chef, I really want to change that, and I really want to tell people that India isn’t all chicken tikka masala. Indian cuisine is quite refined. We have dishes for every palate in the world.”
The second location of Indian Accent (and the first outside of India) opened last February in New York City. As with the original restaurant, it highlights spices and techniques that hitherto were found only at home. Rather than flame-spitting kebabs, Mehrotra opts to braise meats in the oven; his kitchen staff also use a karahi (similar to a wok) to sauté spice mixes. Popular dishes include potato sphere chaat served with pea mash, as well as sweet pickled ribs with sundried mango and onion seeds.
The New York location also has a wider selection of seasonal foods and proteins like beef, lamb, and shellfish. Scallops are not a traditional Indian food, but the chef says they pair well with Indian spices, and when they’re in season, he’ll serve them in a cauliflower and saffron soup. Soft-shell crab is another addition to the Manhattan location. Although the dish (crab claws with a pepper-garlic butter and cauliflower) was inspired by western Indian fare, Mehrotra says it can be more difficult to source in India.
As much as the ingredients may vary from the original location, the harmony of flavors is paramount to Indian Accent. “India is a land of spices; it is not a land of chilies. Our cuisine is about balance of spices rather than one spice coming onto your face,” Mehrotra says. The cocktail menu also follows that tenet with infusions of ingredients like Assam tea and saffron and toasted coriander honey. Premium beer, mead, and cider are also available.
Because Indian Accent’s cuisine and techniques vary so much from the norm, Chef Mehrotra brought 10 chefs from New Delhi with him to the U.S. Now that the newer restaurant has reached its one-year anniversary, he’ll begin hiring and training cooks and chefs. Sometimes, he adds, it’s easier to take someone inexperienced in Indian cuisine rather than retrain more seasoned cooks.
As different as New York City is from New Delhi, Mehrotra says his team has been enjoying the experience. “They were really excited, and now they’re learning many new things. They’re seeing new ingredients, and the work culture is very different,” he says. “In India, I have 28 chefs in my kitchen, but in New York we have only 10. You have to adapt yourself and work in such a way that you produce the best quality food in a limited number of hours and with a limited number of staff.” He adds that in New Delhi, a butcher supplies the restaurant with its meats, while the New York team does the butchery in-house.
Indian restaurants are hardly an anomaly in fine dining, but Mehrotra is especially meticulous in creating the proper ambiance for both locations of Indian Accent. In New York, guests have a choice of dining occasions and corresponding menus: from lunch and pre-theater options to a chef’s tasting menu and dinner à la carte. Located just south of Central Park, the restaurant draws patrons from nearby businesses, the theater district, hotels, and more.
“Our food is more elegant, and it can be enjoyed slowly with a glass of wine,” Mehrotra says. “We really wanted this to be a restaurant where you can enter without smelling curry, without smelling spices. You can dine for three hours and come out without smelling like spice. We really wanted it to be more elegant, sophisticated, and toned-down.”
Indeed, the space lacks the neon colors and heavy fabrics associated with many Indian restaurants. Instead, blond-wood floors, a white marble bar, and gold metal accents connote a modern establishment, while aubergine chairs and a smattering of blossoming branches keep the overall character warm.
Mehrotra plans to bring Indian Accent to London and possibly other international “foodie” cities. He’s also keeping the door open to other concept ideas, such as a more casual Indian restaurant in the U.S. Either way, his mission to spread the gospel of a more dynamic and nuanced Indian cuisine is certain to continue.
“Flavor-wise, it’s completely traditional flavors. It’s the way we eat on a day-to-day basis in India, but we incorporate some international ingredients, and we incorporate a little bit of international presentation and techniques. We make it so everybody in the world can relate to and can be more adventurous with Indian food,” Mehrotra says.