Hot meets cool | London’s new Indian flavours

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The spice factor in two new Indian restaurants in London tickles Derek Guthrie's palate
Hot meets cool | London’s new Indian flavours

It’s just a teensy bit meh whenever a new Indian restaurant opens in central London to be told yet again that curries have been reinvented. Yes, yes, we’re coming to grips with regions and refinements from the subcontinent. Yes, the discovery of new tastes from unfamiliar spices should naturally excite, but no, we’re not reinventing the wheel. Unless I’m very much mistaken about the “modernist cuisine” of the forthcoming Farzi Cafe in Haymarket.

At the top end, I’d happily eat in Mayfair stalwarts Benares and Gymkhana every day – if my wallet and doctor would permit. They now have a new neighbour, Indian Accent, a gold encrusted jewel overpopulated by front of house staff (I counted an 15 on our lunchtime visit) who are delivering New Delhi by way of New York. It’s got taste.

I’m from Glasgow and my playmate is from Bradford so Punjabi food, and in his case Pakistani, are, er, meat and chapatis to us both

Being W1, a la carte of a couple of small starters and mains, plus wines and so forth will push the bill towards a ton, but there are two set menus at lunchtime plus a tasting menu of six courses (for £45) which are so perilously close to good value I’m tempted to use the word “bargain”. A non-sequitur hereabouts. Mayfair doesn’t do bargains.

A witty little amuse bouche of blue cheese naan bread is delivered with good humour, alongside an equally tiny jug which should say “Drink Me” on the side since it’s obviously a magic potion (of coconut and pumpkin), electrifyingly rich in spice. It had us all but wiping our fingers round the dregs, an act to be repeated throughout lunch, mainly on little bowls of black dairy dal and wasabi-infused raita.

Dip in Brilliant

I’m from Glasgow and my playmate is from Bradford so Punjabi food, and in his case Pakistani, are, er, meat and chapatis to us both. Dinky plates tend not to cut it, but delicate crunchy potato sphere chaat, beet and peanut butter vadai and cod amritsari, all delivered on flavour despite diminutive proportions, each enhanced by swooshes and underpinnings, of white pea mash, goat cheese pachadi, and mint boondi (no, me neither) which were petite, clean tasting, and refreshingly new (to me). The layers of spice were clear, the textures varied; the endorphin alarm was ringing. More please. Now.

The more arrives in the form of mini kulchas, small flatbreads stuffed with truffled mushroom, duck, butter chicken or bacon (to hell with that “you have that last piece”: gimme, gimme, gimme). There’s a perfectly passable chicken kofta, onion “pakora” (it’s not) and punjab kadhi which jostle for attention beside the restaurant’s Instagram star, a fenugreek tart decorated with bright shards of winter vegetable that will grace a thousand timelines. Ironically, it’s the least exciting on the palate, despite being the most photogenic.

Mishti doi cannoli at Indian Accent

Talking of which, by this time our German Riesling, a Hermann Dönnhoff, Kabinett, was marrying so well with the gentle heat, those endorphins were making my guest Damien’s craggy features look almost handsome and I realised the dark intimacy, soft carpeting and discreet staff (who didn’t interrupt every five minutes) made for quite the most romantic restaurant I’ve been in for a long time.

Had I been on an actual date rather than a business lunch I might have shared the makhan malai with saffron milk – a dessert so light it made il flottante look like sponge cake – but I wasn’t, so Damien had to get his own (without any complaint).

I’m going back. The next table to us were sharing a ghee roast lamb which came with roomali roti “pancakes”, a homage to Peking duck, which judging by the oohs, aahs, and hmms were as tasty as everything we had.

Back down on planet earth, or the Fulham/Chelsea borders to be exact, the neighbourhood dearth of Indian cuisine has been resolved with the arrival of Dip in Brilliant, a confusing name unless you know the history. Southall, to the west of London, has the capital’s biggest Asian community and as a consequence has dozens of excellent Indian restaurants of which the Brilliant, by common consent, is regarded as if not the best, at least the most famous.

Daughter of the family, Dipna, has brought the Brilliant’s homestyle recipes to town and created a more casual version equidistant between Fulham Broadway and Stamford Bridge football ground, indulging local ladies (and Chelsea supporters) who lunch, with kachumber chopped salad and old school butter chicken.

It’s a kitchen which cares about flavour, with clean tastes throughout. The menu is eminently recognisable, but with “single” dishes for daytime snacking: roti wraps, masala fries, and summery kulfi ice-cream sticks. C