To the manor born
Delhi. Wide roads. Laburnum trees. Kothis. Gardens. The wide expanse of the sky. Soul food. A city break. A piece I had written on my stay at The Manor in Delhi for Eat stay Love in 2016.
The fortune of the genteel Manor, over the years, has been deeply entwined with its scullery
We wend our way through Delhi’s unforgiving traffic on a dry, dusty late summer day. The deathly smog that wraps itself around the city is still a few weeks away. The relentless sun pierces through the branches of the laburnum trees, laden with yellow flowers that dangle like pendulums. At the end of a wide road at Friends Colony, we stop at house no. 77, now a dignified luxury boutique hotel, The Manor.
The estate has passed through many incarnations since the 50s, before Rohit Khattar’s Old World Hospitality took over the management of the hotel a few years ago, and brought the group’s Corporate Chef for Luxury Dining into the fray. Sitting comfortably in the sun-flooded bar, having a cup of tea with Chef Manish Mehrotra, one wonders aloud why a Pan-Asian specialist would want to create a modern Indian restaurant in India’s ruthless food capital, that too, bereft of butter chicken, poppadums and laccha pyaaz (the shock and horror!). “I wanted to do something different from what I was doing since the past 14 years, plus, we had nothing to lose.” It is not that others had not tried to stamp their signature onto the scullery. Michelin Star Chef Vineet Bhatia and Chef Abhijit Saha had tried to weave their magic, but Delhi remained impervious to their charms. The once-upon-a-time night halt for Aman’s guests to Rajasthan, No. 77 was for long, just a post script to Delhi’s dining scene. Until Indian Accent pirouetted on to the culinary stage, and swept the Manor in to the realm of a modern day culinary fairy tale.
As I bite into a succulent duck khurchan cornetto and break off a huge chunk of the blue cheese naan, I feel a warm, childlike happiness spread through my belly. In its current iteration, Indian Accent is cosy and discreet, fitted with old fashioned wall-to-wall carpeting, black and white photographs of Delhi and soothing hues of green. On one side the tables overlook the garden and the neat row of frangipani trees, which at nightfall, flood the garden with the perfume of the white flowers. Later that evening, sitting in the verandah, I spoon Mehrotra’s interpretation of Makhan Malai, the preening Daulat ki Chaat, which comes replete with monopoly money crowning the froth. “Milk foam is molecular gastronomy from Emperor Shah Jahan’s time!” the chef laughs, with a twinkle in his eye. The orb collapses with each scoop, voluptuous and decadent. The food is meticulous. The classical flavours and ingredient combinations tell a story. “If I can’t convince you about a dish, then it is a failure,” exclaims Mehrotra.
My suite is on the first floor, snug and restful, with my own terrace and a living area, all trussed up in colours of earth — red, rust and brown. Padding around the wooden floor, my favorite perch is the overstuffed chair by my bedside, where I settle down to read the glossy tomes on Delhi’s food and its monuments, lying on the coffee table. At night, when I’m fast asleep under the covers, a low rumble awakens me. It startles me momentarily, but then, I drift off to sleep. But it is comforting, and somewhat soporific.
My suite at The Manor
The next morning, I surrender myself to an Ayurveda dhroni table at Zehen, their centre of wellbeing, housed outside the hotel, at one end of the garden. “Get the abhyanga patra potli treatment,” suggests Dr Archana Linto, Zehen’s Ayurvedic physician and wellness consultant, after a long discussion, but I’m unprepared for what lies in store. In two poultices filled with Ayurvedic herbs and dipped in warm oil, two kindly specialists pound the tiredness from my bones. Later in the afternoon, in the Zehen dining room, I eat a healthy lunch prepared by the chef, including the nearly sinful uttapam cheese pizzas and the healthy, crunchy quinoa pulao. “This menu has been designed to satisfy one’s cravings in a healthy manner,” quips Mehrotra. I pore over the menu, a veritable cheat sheet for the days when you want to indulge, without going overboard. Flooded with natural light, the dining area doubles up as a meeting spot for the gentry who escape here for a few hours to work and eat a wholesome meal. I can well understand, as I scarf down my delicious, guilt-free pizza.
The Ayurveda therapy room at Zehen—The Wellness Centre
Enjoying a masala martini on the verandah, I contemplate on the 14 room hotel. The Indian Accent has been its anchor and has kept its flag fluttering high in the past eight odd years, though it is something that Mehrotra doesn’t dwell on. But for now, the incredible tastemaker and the charming Manor are nothing short of wholesome perfection.