Sameer Taneja is the executive chef at Benares, one of London’s best known and trailblazing Indian restaurants in Mayfair. Using his classical training in French and Indian cuisine and 20 years’ experience working alongside some of the world’s best chefs, Sameer’s culinary style pairs high quality British ingredients with authentic Indian spices and techniques.
The talented chef has worked with luminaries such as Pascal Proyart of One-O-One Restaurant; Michel and Alain Roux of three Michelin-starred Waterside Inn, Joel Antunes of Brasserie Joel and Pierre Koffmann of Koffmann’s.
Sameer joined Benares as head chef in 2012 but left three years later in 2015 when he launched his very own restaurant venture, the much lauded Talli Joe in Covent Garden, which offered Indian tapas and innovative cocktails. Following its closure, he returned to Benares as executive chef in the summer of 2019.
Sameer is originally from Delhi in India where he first developed an interest in food, and received his degree in culinary arts from Mangalore, on India’s South-West coast. Prior to moving to the UK in 2003 he worked at The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur, consistently ranked amongst the top hotels in the world by Trip Advisor and Condé Nast. He lives in London with his wife and two young children.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with the Mayfair culinary heavyweight and discussed everything from his signature dish to what he thinks of the current 10pm restaurant curfew as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
It was an accident actually, however I always looked up to chef Pierre Koffmann, who is my mentor. I have followed him since I was young, and I am extremely blessed to have had an opportunity to work for him at Koffmann’s. Cooking is a religion for him rather than a passion or job and his presence in the kitchen makes it a ‘Temple’. There are of course a few others, who helped me in on this amazing journey too.
What’s your signature dish?
I think reaching for a ‘signature’ point can stop creativity. I love my cured fish chaat, but wouldn’t call it a signature, more of a favourite. It has been on our a la carte menu since the day I joined as executive chef.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
The quality of produce certainly plays a big part in the creation, it’s always important to stay informed of what’s hot in terms of seasonality. With there being such a range of dietary requirements these days, it’s imperative to ensure our menu is versatile as well.
Do your personal preferences influence the menu at all?
My cooking style is simple, clean and precise which is reflected on the menu at Benares. I also push myself to learn each day by taking on all feedback and adapting the menu accordingly.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
I love all the seasons, but when it comes to winter I have a magic with spices for warming up dishes for the cold season that gets unleashed.
What is your favourite ingredient?
Pepper, I feel it adds more than just flavour, it changes the characteristics of the dish; I use it beyond cooking for its additional health benefits.
What would you do if you weren’t a chef?
Stand up comedian.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
Red kidney bean curry and rice – Rajma Chawal.
When are you happiest?
When I’m spending time with my kids.
When you’re not in the kitchen where can you be found?
With my kids – again!
What’s your favourite takeaway or comfort food?
I don’t usually order a takeaway but I do really enjoy a good Ramen.
Where is your favourite place to dine?
Tough call, I love my food and always remember a good meal. There are many restaurants I like, but to name few – Hoppers, Sabor and Corner Stone.
What offers do you have on at Benares at the moment?
We’ve extended the Eat Out to Help Out (EOHO) offer not only through September but through October too. This applies from Tuesday to Thursdays and we’re offering £10pp off food and non-alcoholic drinks when dining from the a la carte or tasting menus.
As well as this, we’ve relaunched our lunchtime Bottomless Thali offer, available to book between Tuesday and Saturday (12-2pm), where you can indulge on unlimited thali and free-flowing red, white or sparkling wine and Cobra beer. What’s not to love?
How is Benares dealing with the 10pm curfew?
We’ve tried to adapt in a number of ways to help support the business in light of the reduced service. Firstly, we are offering an attractive ‘early bird’ menu of two courses for £29, and three courses for £35 which is available from 5.30 to 6.30pm to encourage diners to eat out at these times.
We are now also using our private dining rooms for standard bookings, so we are able to increase the number of covers we have available without comprising on our strict social distancing measures.
Address: 12a Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London W1J 6BS
Phone: 020 7629 8886