I have been compelled to visit acclaimed chef Atul Kochhar’s modern Indian restaurant ever since he demonstrated his culinary skill during our incredible experience at Electrolux’s pop up fine dining space called The Cube late last year.
Atul and Benares have been awarded a number of awards including Outstanding Contribution to the Curry Industry at the 2005 British Curry Awards and Atul has appeared in numerous television series, most recently including Saturday Kitchen, Market Kitchen, Masterchef Goes Large, Masterchef the Professionals and BBC2’s Great British Menu. Atul is featured widely in magazines and newspapers and regularly shares his talent on food shows in the UK and abroad.
I met Mr Husband at the restaurant’s bar, where my taste buds were tickled with a sweet sherbet lemon coloured cocktail deliciously infused with a comforting cardamom liqueur and a frothy foam topped with handpicked saffron – gracefully named Saffron Daisy. Mr Husband didn’t take very long to slurp up his manly Tommy’s – tequila, lemon, agave syrup muddled with hibiscus water – with a straw.
The last sips of an aperitif away from dinner, we were invited to take to our table. Majestically set on Mayfair’s Berkley Square, Benares welcomes you in with its inviting interior of richly dark panelled walls juxtaposed with fresh white linen tablecloths. We loved the colourful votive candleholders with bright pink, green, blue and yellow beads and our eyes couldn’t help but crave for more of this type of Indian vibrancy within the dining décor. Perhaps some plush raw silk cushions in energetic shades would do the trick.
Décor aside, food took the centre stage for the rest of the evening, as we started on the first course of our well thought out tasting menu. The drum roll began with mutton mulligatawny soup – a spicy hot lentil dahl with mutton broth and sweet and spicy rice crackers on the side. The fiery taste was cooled down with a perfect wine pairing chosen by the sommelier – a 2011 malvasia – a Californian white with hints of juicy lychee. In fact, every single wine chosen complemented each dish extremely well.
Next followed a dish we had previously tried at The Cube – thinly sliced home smoked Gressingham duck breast with a spring onion chickpea masala chaat and fresh English pear. Our favourite dish then arrived along with a fruity glass of 2011 sequillo eben Sadie South African white wine – a beautiful tandoori roasted hand dived Scottish scallop with ‘textures of cauliflower’ – a traditional Indian vegetable served in various ways.
Mr Husband was in his element when a shot glass filled with Cobra Indian beer with a slice of lime was served up as a refreshing palette cleanser. We then tucked into our final savoury dish of rack of Cornish lamb with a ‘Rogan Josh style gravy’ to pour over the dish and moisten the polenta cake, along with pickled artichoke and a creamy saag – spinach curry delicately spiced to suit those who don’t like too much heat. Our rich Indian meal would not have been complete without the serving of hot tandoori naan breads to help mop up the juices and fully satiate our appetites.
Two sweet puddings rounded off the meal. First, a chocolate flavoured samosa and to end, a delicious steamed yogurt ‘pannacotta style’ dessert with raspberries and pistachio. A honey sweet 2009 chenin blanc les 4 villages from Loire, France, sent us into a delightfully sugary whirl.
Without it becoming a standard curry house, or offering a far out menu filled with dishes that alienate guests, Benares gently pushes the boundaries to bring a contemporary British taste and twist on Indian cuisine to the table. For that, we really admire it. Next time, we would like to try the khasta murgh – chicken tikka pie with wild berry chutney.
For more information visiti : www.benaresrestaurant.com
By Reena Patel