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On Asia’s 50 best restaurants list, updated annually, most of the top spots are usually awarded to upscale restaurants in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok.
And this year was no exception. On March 24, the Oscars of fine dining in Asia saw swanky Singaporean restaurant Odette clinch first place for the second year running.
But edging its way toward the top 10 is New Delhi-based Indian Accent – one of only two restaurants in India to make the list and the only one in the top half, coming in at number 13 this year.
Launched in 2009 by acclaimed chef Manish Mehrotra, the restaurant is celebrated for its reinterpretations of Indian classics like puri, paneer, and spicy Goan curry. One of Mehrotra’s signature dishes is a coin-sized piece of naan bread stuffed with melted blue cheese.
Mehrotra began developing his concept for Indian Accent over a decade ago while working as a chef in London, where popular Indian classics like naan and chicken tikka masala can be found at eateries throughout the city.
The chef, now 46 years old, wanted to show the world that Indian food could be much more complex than simple curries.
“I don’t want to give a new identity to Indian food,” Mehrotra tells CNN Travel. “We just want to tell people that there is more to Indian food than what they know about.”
Medu vadai, or doughnut shaped fritters from South India, is one such dish he is keen to share.
They’re are presented on top of a banana leaf, as per tradition, but are made from tofu rather than lentil. The rings are lightly dusted with a spice mix he calls ‘gunpowder’ and served with colorful quenelles of baked beetroot and lentil chutney.
The manicured plates, often served as part of a tasting menu, are a clear departure from the family style dishes shared at many Indian restaurants.
“There were few restaurants which were doing high end Indian food,” says Mehrotra. “I wanted to do my version of high end Indian food.”
Situated inside The Lodhi Hotel, the restaurant is decorated in a smart, modern style and seats 120 diners. The cocktail bar is a standout feature – it’s latticed cabinets are lit up in a warm amber glow.
Relative to other restaurants in New Delhi, Indian Accent is not cheap. The chef’s tasting menu is an eight-course meal that starts at 3,900 rupees (around $53). Compared to many other restaurants on the 50 best list, however, it’s a steal.
Nonetheless, when it first opened, Mehrotra says many felt his menu was too upmarket and overpriced.
“Almost 10 and a half years back, this was something very new to this country… people were bit skeptical about it,” he says.
But over time, Mehrotra’s restaurant won over customers and critics alike. He’s received numerous awards and Indian Accent is now one of New Delhi’s hottest spots to eat and be seen. Recent guests include Priyanka Chopra and Bollywood actress Azmi Shabana.
“Manish Mehrotra is India’s greatest modern chef,” says Vir Shangvhi, author and television host, in a 2017 review of Indian Accent.
The success of the New Delhi restaurant has led to openings of Indian Accent in New York and London – both of which have been received favorably.
Until it closed in 2019, Bangkok’s Gaggan, run by Kolkota-born Gaggan Anand, consistently ranked among Asia’s best restaurants, even snagging 4th spot at the 2019 World’s Best Restaurants Awards. (He’s since reopened in a new location with a slightly longer name – Gaggan Anand.)
For Mehrotra, the most important thing is the food. He just hopes more customers continue exploring the regional spices and delicacies of India.
“This is Indian cuisine done in a different way,” says Mehrotra. “It is taking the world along with us and moving forward.”
Indian Accent, The Lodhi, Lodhi Road, New Delhi; +91 11 6617 5151