Tony Naylor recently wrote an article for the Guardian titled ‘Fine dining’s identity crisis: is this the end of posh restaurants?’ which makes the case for a new era of casual dining with today’s top chefs. According to Naylor, a stiff atmosphere, pristine table settings, and hard lined waiters and waitresses who hurry to fold your napkin into a swan every time you get up to go to the toilets are all things of the past.
I am not sure Benares, a Michelin starred modern Indian cuisine establishment in Mayfair, got the memo on this. Whilst the experience was nowhere near as terrifying as dining at The Cinnamon Club, the starched tablecloths and hovering waiters and waitresses were still very much a thing of the present. Perhaps it is an unwritten social rule that if your restaurant has a Michelin star or if it is located in Mayfair it has to tick certain boxes of haughtiness and decadence. Let’s just blame Mayfair and its pretentiousness.
Atul Kochhar, a twice Michelin starred chef, is renowned for combining regional Indian food with his love of British ingredients to create a unique and innovative modern Indian cuisine.
It was refreshing to see Benares wasn’t above serving classic poppadoms with various pepper and onion chutneys. A complimentary starter of some sort of lightly fried cheese with a coriander chili oil with was also a nice touch.
Khasta Murgh, chicken tikka pie served with wild berry chutney was the favourite by far – crisp, yet doughy flaky pie crust filled with tender flavorful chicken was heavenly. An inventive and clever Indian twist on a classic meat pie.
Slices of pan-roasted lamb, still pink, were served alongside a samosa filled with braised shoulder meat, and Calcutta style chickpeas and pickled baby artichoke (£32). To accompany this there was a miniature jug of Rogan Josh curry sauce which could have been a little spicier but complemented the lamb nicely.
Tandoori grilled paneer was served with stuffed baby pepper and pan fried baby spinach cake (there were a lot of baby items happening on this menu).
Kadai chicken cooked two ways – although I’m not quite sure what the two ways were exactly – was served with English peppers, tomatoes and chili oil (£28).
Side dishes of plain naan and dal, available with Benares’ signature black or tempered yellow lentils, were the perfect accompaniments to the meal. Could have done without the Gobhi Aloo, stir fried potato and cauliflower as we were quite full at this point.
I had to draw the line at paying £18 for a spiced mince lamb kebab with feta and pomegrante. Michelin star or not, a kebab is a kebab and paying £18 for one ain’t gonna happen.
However, I do have to say that all the food at Benares is executed to a very high standard. From something as simple as the plain naan to the chicken tikka pie to the lamb — all were prepared with great precision and care.
The set menus are a good deal at 2 courses for £29, and 3 courses for £35. The a la carte menu is a bit pricier and the tasting menu is £82 (plus £55 with wine flight or £75 with the ‘prestigious wines’ flight). All together, ordering a la carte starters, mains, and side dishes came to £73pp not including drinks and no desserts ordered. So if you want the full monty, I suggest the tasting menu as it is better value.
The cocktails as well are quite expensive but at the same time extremely visually appealing..
Now would be a good time to share the amusing anecdote that the pineapple featured in the above photo fell off the glass and landed somewhere on the restaurant floor away from the table. The waitstaff, being the super efficient trained people they are, promptly delivered another pineapple head on a folded napkin on a silver tray bringing much amusement to the table.
Simply because of the exorbitant prices of the food, I would probably not dine here again as there are so many wonderful Indian establishments in London serving delicious, aromatic dishes with great flavour. However, I am glad I had the experience of sampling one of my favourite cuisines with a modern and refreshing twist and dining in a place where the chefs and staff clearly take great pride in the food they are preparing and serving their clientele.
12a Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London W1J 6BS
Tel: 020 7629 8886