Situated in the heart of Mayfair, Benares serves Michelin-starred modern Indian cuisine and is famed for doing that. This is fine dining and gives other such restaurants a run for their culinary money, and that’s restaurants of any gastronomic persuasion.
Named after India’s holy city, Benares, this restaurant offers only hints of its ethnicity in its decor. It is firstly a renowned restaurant that just happens to specialise in Indian food, but the most refined Indian food you will likely find anywhere. There are exotic fabric-covered banquettes, murals, water features and, although buzzing with animated conversation, it’s a place of comfortable calm.
I met Executive Chef Brinder Narula a number of years ago when I was researching for Capital Spice. This book included Brinder at another restaurant and also Chef Atul Kochhar, restaurateur and television personality, who is one of the most critically acclaimed chefs in Britain and is responsible for the Michelin star awarded to Benares in 2007. It’s good to see that a worthy partnership has been created which does them both credit.
A first class demonstration
Brinder Narula come from a family where food was very important, although when he left school he wanted to be an engineer; but his brother-in-law suggested he go into the hospitality industry, and he was accepted at the Institute of Hotel Management at Pusa, Delhi. At that time he didn’t particularly want to be a chef, and imagined he would be a hotel manager. He started enjoying the cooking course and discovered that baking was very methodical and scientific.
At the end of that course Brinder joined the chef training programme and chose to on go to the Oberoi School of Hotel Management, which is famous for its kitchen training. This is where all those famous chefs had started and that included Atul. Brinder trained there for 2 years, and then became a baker and confectioner. “I was at the Oberoi New Delhi for 7 or 8 years, and then they asked me to become a chef trainer, which I did for 3 years. I feel honoured and proud to be able to say that some of the now-famous chefs were my pupils.”
Quality shines through every aspect of Benares. Brinder brings his enthusiasm and skill to this worthy platform. He has access to the best and most ethically-sourced ingredients and he uses them to great effect. Even the humble mackerel is showcased here in Rava Machli Rechado – Grilled Cornish Mackerel, Smoked Mackerel and Dill Raita, with a garnish of Lime Gel. This is a must-try whenever it’s on the menu. It’s not an overly fussy presentation and it’s all the better for that, but it’s a first class demonstration of balanced flavours and textures – showing an understanding of the tastes of Benares diners and of how to bring out the best in even the simplest ingredients.
Another subtle stunner
Sarson Chooza – Tandoori Honey Mustard Poussin, Tomato Salad and Roast Garlic Mayonnaise – is another subtle stunner, as is Tandoori Macchi Aur Kekda – Chargrilled Scottish Salmon, Spiced Vermicelli, Crab Croquette and Moilee Sauce. That sauce would make a wellington boot deliciously appealing, it’s that good, and my only regret is that I didn’t unreasonably demand a bucketful to take home, and a reservation for tomorrow’s dinner.
Hiran Ke Pasande – New Forest Venison and Biryani, Wild Garlic and Oyster Mushrooms, with Chocolate Curry – is the one for red-meat eaters. This game was meltingly tender and marvellously complemented by that sauce. Yes, it has chocolate but don’t start to imagine notes of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Here it’s used as a delicate ingredient to add richness and a slight dark-chocolate edge. This is innovation and not just for the sake of it. It really works.
Changezi Chaapein – Smoked Tandoori Lamb Cutlets, Spring Greens with Ginger and Cumin, and Rogan Jus – is another dish that is well worth a mention. These are perhaps the most flavourful and succulent chops you will find within Greater London. I know you’ll find it difficult, but save some space for some sweet treats from the excellent pastry chef here.
Very good vintages
But there is a wine list here which any lover of food will also want to explore. Jeepson Lopes, Head Sommelier, offers the best expressions of classic grape varieties. Benares has very good vintages and diners can buy them by the glass. The Viognier from Clay Station, Lodi, California was outstanding. This sommelier is knowledgeable and astute and his selections for our meal enhanced each course.
It was a memorable evening at Benares. It gave us great pleasure to see our friend Brinder Narula, a celebrated chef, at home in Atul Kochhar’s flagship restaurant. It’s a place of excellence, polish and thoroughly good taste.
Bar: Open all day
Monday to Friday Lunch:
noon to 14.30 Dinner: 17.30 to 22.45
Saturday – Lunch:
noon to 15.00 Dinner: 17.30 to 22.45
Sunday – Dinner: 18.00 to 21.45
12a Berkeley Square House
Phone: +44 (0)20 7629 8886
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018