If the ultimate test of good cooking is how easily mutton comes off the bone, the tony Indian Accent here, set amongst waterbodies and immense greenery, is way ahead of the pack.
"You've got to commune with your food. It's your spirit that's got to get into the food," Shantanu Mehrotra, Executive Chef at the Indian Accent, that's just been named in TIME magazine's list of 100 Greatest Places Around the World, told IANS midway through the meal.
"Your heart's got to be in it," he said as the meat effortlessly slid off the tawa lamb chop and perfectly combined with the accompanying baingan ka bhartha. It was, on one level, a quite unusual pairing but it only served to enhance my exploration of the Chef's Tasting Menu.
That it would be an experience with a difference was evident from the very start -- a savoury chaat served in a soup spoon followed by the dainty puchkas or five waters. Atop each of five shotglasses containing mint water, tamarind water, pineapple water, pomegranate water and yoghurt base water sat five marble-sized gol gappas lightly filled with boiled potatoes.
One desparately wanted to know but didn't have the heart to ask how the feat was achieved. Needless to say, the Puchkas quickly disappeared even as the flavours blended quite nicely.
As one sat back to savour the moment, a Proper Copper vodka cocktail arrived at the table, served, quite appropriately in a copper mug, the green sage leaf floating atop the crushed ice adding just a hint of flavour.
Next up was a Kanyakumari pepper crab topped by a delicate idiyappam -- rice flour pressed into a noodle nest and fried. It was gone before you knew it, quickly followed by the crab.
A few more sips of Proper Copper and one was ready for the smoked duck shammi with barberry chutney. The rich aroma and deep flavour of the chutney fought for space with the mildly spiced shammi and, in the end, it was a draw.
"We are constantly experimenting to achieve the optimum level of spice, though we will happily cater to the preferences of our guests," explained Mehrotra, who began his career in 1999 with Old World Hospitality, the owner of Indian Accent, under the legendary Manish Mehtortra, now the Corporate Chef.
Now came the tawa lamb chop with bhartha and smoked papad and the speed at which it disappeared made the chef perhaps sense I could have done with another, but just as well, given all that was to follow, this wasn't enunciated.
For a moment, one wondered about the anar and churan kulfi sorbet served in an ever so tiny "pressure cooker", but it was soon apparent why the mouth cleanser was required: A solid spare rib with a vegetable accompaniment came next.
A spare rib is certainly not the easiest to cook but here again, the meat just glided off the bone - much like a knife would through butter.
"We use only imported meat and are very particular about slow cooking. We pay a lot of attention to timings. We've worked it out with the timers through a lot of trial and error," Mehrotra xplained.
Coming up next was one of the outlet's all-time favourites: Black dairy dal with anar and avocado raita accompanied by three varieties of kulchas -- another house speciality.
"This one is stuffed with applewood smoked bacon; this one has parmesian cheese sprinked on it and this one palak," Mehrotra said, adding: "The intention is to give you a complete experience.
A little experimentation found that the dal went best with the parmesian kulcha and the raita best with the stuffed variety.
In all this, the vegetarians haven't been left out and there's a separate tasting menu for them. On offer is summer corn, chutney butter and makai kebab (a sandwich of sorts); Bengali chenna and tomato kasundi rassa; and wild mushroom kofta,green chilli and safed makhani, to name just a few. The starters are common -- savoury chaat and Puchkas.
The desert went by the rather odd name of Daulat ki Chaat but there was nothing odd about it -- a raised canopy of custard, sprinkled with almonds and held in place with dry ice.
Given the variety on offer, the TIME listing should not be a surprise.
"It came in as a pleasant surprise, as we didn't know who came and ate at the restaurant, or when we were reviewed for this list. This is a validation of our belief that every guest is a VVIP -- and it's only when you work with this ethic for each and every meal can you achieve such recognition," said Corporate Chef Manish Mehrotra.
What: Indian Accent at The Lodhi
Timings: 12 noon-2.30 pm; 7 pm-10.30 pm
Cost per head: Non-vegetarian Chef's Tasting Menu - Rs 3,900; Vegetarian at Rs 3,600.
(Vishnu Makhijani visited Indian Accent at its invitation. He can be contacted at email@example.com)