New accent, same Manish!
As the new Indian Accent opens, some memories of Manish Mehrotra and his amazing journey
I was trying to remember when a consensus arose that Manish Mehrotra was India’s greatest modern chef and that Indian Accent was the best restaurant in the country – the modern equivalent of Bukhara.
But, if I think very hard, I can remember the beginning. Rohit Khattar is a friend so when he asked me to check out Tamarai, a sort of nightclub he ran in London a decade ago, I said I would go. The food was pan-Asian and I wasn’t wild about eating Thai food in London but Rohit was insistent. I had to go, he said, because he was very proud of the chef there. He was Indian and had previously worked at Oriental Octopus, one of Rohit’s restaurants at India Habitat Centre.
So I went and of course, Rohit was right. Manish’s food was outstanding. He had picked up his Oriental food in India (he started out at Mumbai’s Thai Pavilion) and was therefore, not wedded to any one school of Asian cuisine. Normally, a Thai chef will never really understand Indonesian food, a Japanese chef will have trouble adjusting to Malaysian cuisine and so on. But for Manish, all the techniques and flavours of Asia were no more than starting points for his own cuisine. I came away incredibly impressed by his talent and flair.
Such was Rohit’s faith in Manish that he agreed at once. Manish could take over the restaurant at The Manor, he said, and do what he liked with it. This represented an amazing leap of faith for Rohit because Manish had never cooked Indian food before. And it was a huge gamble for Manish because every restaurant that had ever opened in The Manor had failed.
Indian Accent did well enough. Manish broke the jinx attached to the location. But there was no getting around the fact that Friend’s Colony is hardly the centre of Delhi. Or that there was no signage to guide people through the residential streets that led to the Manor where Indian Accent was located. If you didn’t know where to look, you wouldn’t find Indian Accent.
Eventually, Rohit rejected the Mumbai option and chose the most difficult course of all. He opened a second Indian Accent in New York, a city with no particular love of Indian food.
They reached out to Rohit just as Indian Accent had hit turbulence. The Supreme Court had banned the serving of liquor near highways and this had hurt Indian Accent. Rohit Khattar knew that the problem would be resolved (it was) but the crisis led him to look anew at other locations. The Lodhi is in the centre of Delhi and the On The Waterfront space is larger than the room at The Manor.