Benares Restaurant & Bar
12a Berkeley Square House
London, W1J 6BS, UK
Tel. 020 7629 8886
Food type: Modern Indian
Food rating: 7/10
Nearest tube: Bond Street
After the disaster that was Pied-a-Terre, J and I went to Benares with great trepidation. At least, after cutting our loses on Wednesday night, we had a bit more moolah to spend here – assuming they treated us well that is. Benares is a Michelin starred restaurant located in Mayfair. The head chef here (Atul Kochar) has featured prominently on TV – amongst others on BBC’s Great British Menu and Market Kitchen. If you can recall, I wanted to come here for my birthday last year – I was debating between Benares and Pearl.
We arrived at 8.25pm for our 8.30pm booking and were told that our table was not ready and had to wait at the bar. This is pretty understandable seeing as the restaurant was jammed packed. J had her usual OJ (£3.50 here) and was glad to report that this was freshly squeezed and not watered down. I started off with a bottle of Cobra beer while munching on some spiced ‘Muruku’ peanuts which were very ‘morish’ (7/10).
After 10 minutes, we were whizzed to our table in a rather intimate dining room. The tables were rather small for my liking. It was good to see that the people dining here were not all suits on expense accounts but included families and couples on dates. There was some contemporary music being played in the background – the atmosphere here was definitely a young and lively one and not at all as stuffy as I had initially feared.
Papadoms & Various Chutneys
We were started off with some mini-papadoms with various chutneys while we were going through the menu. The chutneys included a refreshing Tomato & Chilli (which reminded me a lot of the hot and spicy crabs in Malaysia), Carrot & Ginger, Gooseberries and my favourite – Green Apple & Cumin. The papadoms were fresh, crisp without a hint of oiliness (7/10). To emphasise how thin and crisp they were, one of the papadoms actually broke and fell onto my menu while I was filling it with chutney! Oh the embarassment! The ala-carte menu had items individually priced. Starters ranged from £9.50-£16.95 and Mains from £14.50-£35.
Gosht Ke Shammi
I started off with Gosht Ke Shammi (Ground Lamb Patties served with Cucumber Yoghurt) – finely ground and delicately spiced lamb patties which were fried to give it a golden brown colour. Upon cutting, the lamb just fell apart. The lamb was juicy, succulent and most importantly just melted in the mouth. J (a hater of lamb) absolutely loved it. There was absolutely no hint of greasiness in this dish at all. The cucumber yoghurt provided a cooling influence, and cut through the richness of the lamb. This dish was perfect for this hot summer’s day (7/10).
J ordered a Karara Kekda (Crisp Soft Shell Crab with Squid Salad). However they brought the wrong starter – Jal Tarang (Spice Crusted Scottish Scallops with Grape and Mint Dressing). The restaurant was quick to address this mistake and offered the scallops to J as a complimentary starter before they brought her the crab. I recognized this dish as the starter that Atul Kochar cooked in the 2nd series of the Great British Menu. The scallops were correctly cooked with lovely contrast in textures – crisp exterior with a slightly raw interior. This was as good, if not better than the scallops at Roussillon. The grape and mint served to highlight and compliment the sweetness of the scallops (8/10).
Her actual starter arrived shortly – a whole soft shell crab sat alongside a salad of rocket and crispy spiced squid rings with a bit of chilli sauce. The squid was lovely – gently spiced so as to retain its flavour and timed perfectly. Often times, squid when overcooked by even 5 seconds will end up being very chewy. The squid here was nice and tender and went perfectly with the peppery rocket and the slight sweetness of the dressing cut through the spicing very well. The soft shell crab was nice and crisp although I found the flavours here none too remarkable even with the chilli dipping sauce (4/10).
My mains consisted of Lobster Xec-Xec (Pan-fried Lobster Tails in Classic Goan Style Sauce). We also got 2 side orders – a bread basket and some sauteed potatoes. While I only expected a portion of lobster tail (as with so many of these fine dining restaurants) I was brought a whole lobster! The lobster was on the chewy side although the star of the show was the Goan sauce. It complimented the lobster perfectly without overpowering it. Such was the balance of the sauce that this dish went amazingly well with the pinot noir I had (5/10 overall but 9/10 for the sauce alone). I had a field day mopping up the sauce with my naan, which in itself was light and fluffy (5/10). The dish was finished off with some bitter greens and slices of ginger which I felt were unnecessary.
Our side order of Aloo Anardana (Potatoes Sauteed with Pomegranate Seeds) featured potatoes cooked in their skin which helped retain so much flavour. Again the spicing here was faultless and the potatoes were perfectly cooked with an almost buttery texture. The dish was finished off with some fresh coriander and pomegranate seeds. I did not find the addition of pomegranate seeds necessary and would have preffered an extra helping of fresh coriander (4/10).
J’s mains was Tawa Jhinga (Pan-griddled Tiger Prawns with Carom Seeds, Peppers and Caramelised Onion Sauce) – huge succulent prawns with a milder sauce. I personally didn’t enjoy this dish as much as she did (5/10).
Trio of Sorbets
Although relatively full, we still found space for desserts (£8.50 each). I settled for a trio of sorbets which was the perfect cleanser and end to the meal. This came in 3 unique flavours – Yoghurt, Peach & Strawberries and Guava. I particularly enjoyed the guava sorbet – one of my favourite fruits on a hot day. Still the sorbets were nothing special and as such gets a score of 4/10.
White Chocolate Mousse with a Banana Sorbet
J had a White Chocolate Mousse with a Banana Sorbet. The Mousse was none too remarkable but I did enjoy my obligatory spoonful of the Banana sorbet (5/10).
Jasmine Pearl Tea & Petit Fours
We finished our dinner with some Jasmine Pearl Tea which were perfectly brewed. The petit fours were however a disappointment. The ‘profiterole’ in particular had such intense citrus zing to it that was just revolting (0/10). Sometimes, a simple chocolate truffle will do!
Overall, my dining experience at Benares was a memorable one. Petit fours aside and despite some technical cooking flaws (chewy lobster), the meal deserves a score of 7/10 for its delicate and carefully balanced spicing as well as two truly memorable starters. While there were a few hiccups with the orders, they were efficiently and swiftly dealt with. Indeed, despite the restaurant being heavily packed, food still arrived swiftly and efficiently – no 45 minute wait here. The sommelier was indeed very helpful in selecting a bottle of wine without trying to push for a more expensive option and the choice was indeed spectacular. All in all, this was indeed an experience to remember and a perfect way to end my culinary voyage for the week.
…oh wait! My tutor is buying J & I dinner at Pearl tomorrow! 😀