My last week in Delhi and I was feeling a little odd. Having worked my way around the world, it was just days before I returned home briefly before my final five jobs in Europe. As the big homecoming slowly approached I became worryingly introvert. There I lay, sprawled across the hostel’s hammock drinking chai, staring at the sky, lost in a world of thoughts. Even the sprawling mass of Delhi with its many sensory overloads did little to shake me from my zen like state. But for all the joy of achieving so much over the past 47 weeks and the excitement to be seeing my friends and family soon there was a deep dread and worry about life after job 52 and the end of Foodish Boy. How was I ever going to do something so fulfilling with my life?
It wasn’t long until it dawned on me that there I was moping around when really I should be in some Indian kitchen spluttering from the spice that fills the air. Surely I wasn’t going to return home and have to dig out an old 80s edition of Pat Chapman’s Curry Club every time I wanted some Indian cuisine. Then at the very last-minute, after some help from my friends at Granturismo, I received an invitation to spend some time in one of Delhi’s finest restaurants, Indian Accent.
After feeding the 5,000 a few days earlier, I now found myself in the Indian Accent kitchen where arguably a similar amount of chefs served only 80 people. Head Chef Manish Mehrotra‘s food is so widely influenced it’s difficult to summarise. French techniques with Indian ingredients, Indian techniques with French ingredients, odes to street food, twists on royal banqueting dishes, regional cuisine and very jazzy modern presentation. I suppose if you really cared, you could say his food was conceptual. But all you really need to know is (cue drooling)… this man puts applewood smoked bacon in his kulcha. Need I really say any more?
My time at Indian Accent was split across the cold section, the curry section and the tandoor station. Naturally, the cold section was a joy with its ample opportunities for snacking on poppadums and various chutneys. But it was the deep fried potato spheres, a take on chaat street food, with a white pea ragda that ensured whatever work was to be done was to the tune of dip, dip, crunch. We plated a range of dishes including pommelo with murraba (a North India chutney) and puchkas (think a spherical poppadum) that you pour different sauces in to.
Working the cold section proved easy to master, copying the assembly work of my co-chef plating up. The curry section, however, was tricky to say the least. Even with a pen and paper to hand, it is almost impossible to put together several dishes of over 20 ingredients simultaneously without making a few fuck ups (and by few I mean lots). The chefs humoured me in the quieter periods letting me fire a few dishes such as chicken tikka meatballs with chopped tomato makhani (makhani implying the sauce is butter based) and minced chicken curry with tandoori foie gras. Yes, I know what you’re thinking – my waistline is expanding by simply writing about this.
But of everything I learned at India Accent, there was nothing more enjoyable than my time spent on the tandoor. Consider this: 1) you get to play with fire, 2) you use rather large implements suitable for sword fighting and 3) throwing dough on the tandoor wall, while you watch it splat and bubble in blistering heat is a joy like no other. The only downside of my time on the tandoor was the inevitable greed that caused me to bite into a molten hot naan (butter glaze can do bad things to men).
The Indian Accent chefs really treated me with a staggering amount hospitality and generosity, sneaking me out for long lunches of some of the regional Indian cuisine, driving me to see the markets and even allowing me several hours to peruse Manish’s cookbook collection when admittedly I should’ve been downstairs giving them a helping hand. And when they heard this was my last stop before England, they insisted my night would be spent the other side of the pass feasting like a Maharaja.
What followed was a meal truly befitting of a last supper…Blue cheese and caramelised onion kulcha, foie gras stuffed galawat with strawberry green chilli chutney, soft shell crab, flame roast coconut, tomato pickle. The starters kept coming… Meetha spare ribs, sun-dried mango, toasted kalonji seeds, khandvi (an Indian ravioli made with flour and yoghurt), and baked fish, masala butter and white bait papad – a dish so good I had to ask for a second helping.
When my main course arrived, I could barely manage any of it. I apologised to the waiter. “I’m not surprised Alex, most people eat just the one starter not seven!” Somehow, of course, I found room for a pudding of warm doda burfi treacle tart and vanilla bean ice cream, although by then I was worried for my well-being. As I bid farewell to the staff I joked that I looked like a pregnant man. “Never mind Alex, when you get home you can show off your Delhi belly!”