Restaurant Review: Benares, Mayfair in London
Words by Nick Constance
It could be a coincidence that Bernares Indian restaurant is next to a Rolls Royce showroom, but I’d bet my last chilli pepper a lot of customers go for a bite and a glass of champers, after sealing the deal on a brand new Roller.
Suffice to say Benares in Berkeley Square, Mayfair, is pitched at the luxury end of the food chain, blessed as it is with the finest ingredients, ambiance and service.
There’s a new generation of customers who appreciate the craftsmanship, heritage and style of Rolls-Royce cars but they hanker for something with a little more edge. Same goes for the world of fine dining, these days. And with Masterchef and Urban Spice Man Atul Kochhar at the helm, this is exactly what you get – a little more edge.
At the heart of his cuisine is an almost scientific blend of flavours and textures, often in curious combinations. Spicing dishes for warmth and aroma rather than heat seems to be his award winning formula.
I could have saved on the word-count had I simply said ‘Atul is one of the most critically acclaimed chefs in Britain for his take on modern Indian cuisine’.
Get the Party Started
We were shown the Tasting Menu at £98 a pop but plumped in the end for the à la carte. I kicked off with a starter of Tandoori Rattan: medallion-sized pieces of Sea Bass, Chicken, King Prawn and Lamb Kebab. (£27.00.) All 4 worked wonderfully together.
My dining partner (LLM’s editor, Nick G) selected Karara Kekda, which roughly translates as Crispy Soft Shell Crab, Green Papaya salad with mango and Chilli dressing. (£20.) So far, so utterly delicious.
For the main event I chose Duck Varuval (£30) – Roasted duck, Tamarind and Sesame rice and Vegetable slaw – while Nick went for the Hiran Ke Pasande – Venison, Sorrel and Oyster mushrooms, Biryami and…Chocolate Curry. The accompanying mildly spiced Rogan jus complimented the meat perfectly.
When we arrived there was only a smattering of tables occupied. Soon, though, it filled up and a Friday lunchtime buzz prevailed. Staff played their part, theatrically describing each dish.
We rather lost our heads on the side dishes. It’s hard to resist Garlic and Corriander Naan breads, but the mixed veg and the spiced rice pots were bordering on avarice. Unsurprisingly, neither of us found room for pudding so we headed to the lounge for coffee.
Before we decamped, we were distracted by a commotion at the next table, when a waiter brought what appeared at first glance to be two tiny white marshmallows. He poured hot water over them and whatever the Indian is for ‘hey presto’, they become hot, steaming towels. This is the sort of theatrical flourish anyone collecting a gleaming new Bentley Bentayga from the showroom next door might expect.
As you can probably tell, I enjoyed the Benares experience, but here comes the one duff note. The décor-cum-ambiance is too dark and the furnishings are too ‘corporate’. On the other hand, I left the building feeling very full and pleasantly spiced out.
Benares is regional Indian cooking at its British best. Does this even make sense? It does if you eat there.
Verdict: Top dollar. Undoubtedly worth its Michelin star.
Address: 12 Berkeley House, Berkeley Square, London W1
Telephone: 020-7629 8886
Open Lunch, Mon-Fri, 12 noon-3pm; dinner, all week, 5.30-10.30pm. * Wheelchair access (prior notice is required.)