Martin Klein meets Manish Mehrotra

Delhi Delight

The mountains around Salzburg are covered in snow. But in my mind, I’m already in the tropics and looking forward to my meeting with Manish Mehrotra in New Delhi. The menus of the previous Guest Chefs from India have delighted both our guests and our kitchen crew – the way in which Vivek Singh at the Cinnamon Club or Vineet Bathia at his Rasoi restaurant work with herbs and spices gives Indian haute cuisine an elementary power. I absolutely love it. Bathia and Singh first had to taste success in London in order to be recognised in India today. Manish Mehrotra may not be much younger than them, but the role of fine cuisine in India has completely changed over the past two or three years in particular – not least due to reality cooking shows, which have ensured that good Indian cooks are now referred to as chefs and can become just as famous as some of their counterparts between Copenhagen and Lima. Manish himself won “foodistan”, the Indian version of MasterChef. Since then, he’s also often been in demand as a TV chef.

In any case, it has meant that Manish didn’t have to emigrate to make a name for himself. His Indian Accent restaurant is located in the heart of New Delhi and is currently regarded as one of the best restaurants in India. And it puts Manish Mehrotra one place above Harald Wohlfahrt on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. I have high expectations. But when I first step out of the airport in New Delhi, I’m initially shocked: the noise, the dirt, the chaos on the roads! Two hours later and just under 20 kilometres away, Manish meets me in the fragrant frangipani garden outside his restaurant. The guest areas are furnished very brightly and plainly. The style here isn’t determined by Bollywood but, instead, is characterised by an elegant blend of subtle Indian-style ornaments in a cosmopolitan design. I had, of course, prepared for my trip. But I’m still surprised by the extreme contrasts of this Indian metropolis. The 42-year-old chef orders tea and tells me about his grandmother. She ran the strictly vegetarian household of his parents: “Before my grandma cooked dinner, she always had a bath, chose a special sari and praised the (Hindu) gods. No one was allowed to enter the kitchen.” Ever since, Manish has appreciated the special value of lovingly prepared vegetable dishes. Back at Restaurant Ikarus, a black dal will therefore be served instead of bread. This lentil dish is just as important in Indian cuisine as the daily baguette is in France. While discussing the guest chef menu, we are greeted by a friendly gentleman with a high hairline and a small black moustache. He raves about Manish’s marinated ribs with a mango & tamarind glaze. Although the ribs aren’t currently on the menu, he’s piqued my interest. When I eventually get the chance to try them, I know right away: we simply have to include them in our menu! The friendly gentleman is Rohit Khattar, who is not just a movie mogul but also a food fanatic – the Indian Accent is his flagship and favourite restaurant. “I only opened it because I was so envious of all the trendy new Indian restaurants in London and New York. I wanted one myself,” Khattar told the Indian Times. Together with chef Mehrotra, he’s aiming to establish sophisticated Indian cuisine in the world’s biggest cities.

Manish cooks the ribs long and slow in a marinade made of coconut milk, ginger, oyster sauce, chilli flakes and garam masala. The super-tender portions are subsequently marinated again, then baked until crispy. To finish off, the chef coats his ribs in a mango, tamarind, fennel seed & nigella glaze and serves them with crunchy pickled radishes and kohlrabi. Here it is again, the cuisine of many flavours! If we can find a nice piece of Mangalitsa pork to go with it back in Salzburg, this dish will be a real highlight.

We’ll serve another favourite right at the start of the menu: pulled kathal phulka. Kathal is jackfruit, phulka is one of the thin Indian pita breads. The dish pays homage to the vegetarian tradition of his grandmother, but it also shows how closely Manish keeps abreast of changing global trends. Pulled jackfruit is very popular among ethically motivated vegetarians, as the texture of the unripe fruit is actually very similar to cooked meat. But it doesn’t seem at all like a substitute. Of course, Manish uses fresh jackfruits from the New Delhi region. The fenugreek, curry leaves, mustard seeds and many other spices that are used in the sauce are carefully roasted in several stages. When the separately marinated and cooked jackfruit is added, all of the flavours fuse into one delicious whole. We roast a small piece of phulka bread directly over a naked flame and fill it with the cooked jackfruit. Like the ribs, you can also eat the phulka with your hands – Manish believes this direct contact with the food makes it even more enjoyable overall. His guests agree: Manish Mehrotra opened an Indian Accent in New York to great acclaim last year, and the team for London is already in place as well.

Recorded by Hans Gerlach

Indian Accent

77 Friends Colony
New Delhi
India

Tel.: +91-1143-23515

Web: www.indianaccent.com

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