Benares is one of the few Indian Restaurants to hold a Michelin Star. To celebrate their 10th Anniversary, they have unveiled a special 7 course set menu showcasing some of their most popular dishes over the last decade. I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to try out their new offering at the chef’s table… and all on my birthday!
Atual Kochhar is the first Indian Chef to gain a Michelin Star. Firstly as Head Chef of Tamarind Restaurant which gained a star in 2001, and again in 2007 for his solo Mayfair venture Benares. A fantastic achievement. (More impressive if you believe the alleged bias that Michelin inspectors have for Modern European and Japanese Cuisine.)
As you would expect for a Mayfair restaurant, this is the epitome of a fine dining but obviously with a heavy Indian bias. Most places I visit are in the soft-launch, preview, or just opened stage of their lives. These places are understandably working out little niggles in their offering. However Benares has had an entire decade to fine tune so any little faults are less forgivable. Fortunately their ten years of experience clearly shows as I find it very difficult find anything to fault.
We dined in the 6 seater chef’s table with views into the kitchen through half height glass. Our waiter explained this is a one way mirror so the chefs can’t really see us from their bright kitchen into our darkened dining area. In essence we could see the chefs in captivity without disturbing their natural behaviour.
Uniquely, we were left with a button to summon our waiter when needed. Apparently this is a very popular feature for business dinners where guests might want to be left in privacy for extended periods.
The seven course, 10 year anniversary set menu is priced at £78. For those who like their wines, two pairings are available. The “Captivating Wines” (£55) or “Prestigious Wines” (£75) selection. Our sommelier effortlessly returned the the questions served by the wine enthusiasts around the table. However, as a spirits fan rather than a wine lover, I am not the right person to comment on such matters!
We started with a “Chicken Tikka Amuse Bouche” which looked like two small ice cream cones. However, instead of ice cream the mini cones are filled with a very smooth chicken tikka moose! Very innovative, and made me smile, even if I would have probably prefered some succulent cubes of chicken tikka!
This was followed by “Karara Kekda Aur Lagosta” (Crispy Soft Shell Crab, Atul’s Signature Peri-Peri Lobster Cocktail, Baby Watercress). A single soft shell crab served with peri-peri mayo marinated with mustard and a side of lobster, I love soft shell crab but the star actually the delicate flavour of the lobster cocktail.
The most beautifully presented dish of the night was the “Meen Moilee” (Pan-Roasted Wild Sea Bass, Vermicelli, Coconut and Curry Leaf Sauce). Deceptively, the creamy looking sauce actually contains no cream at all. Instead coconut milk has been used to provide a surprising amount of richness. This complemented the meaty texture of the fish without overpowering the taste like many fish sauces.
My favourite dish of the evening was the “Gosht Rogan Josh Aur Sunhari Khasta” Roasted Rump of Cornish Lamb, Shoulder Samosa, Potato and Broad Beans. This is one of only two places I’ve visited this year which have provided a memorably lovely soft lamb. (the other being this gem from the Tanner & Co launch party). It is personal preference but I do prefer my lamb on the rare to medium rare side. Excellent.
The number of restaurants who can survive, let alone thrive in the competitive London market forms a very small club. As a Michelin Starred eatery in the heart of Mayfair the £79 menu is very reasonable for this anniversary menu which is a showcase of Atul Kochhar‘s signature dishes. Of course there are many Indian restaurants in London, however at this end of the market there are very few who can provide food with this style and finesse.
(Top Tip: if you can get a group of six of you, book the chef’s table as I believe it’s no extra charge.)
IMPORTANT: This menu is due to change in the first week of September