It’s been 12 years since Atul Kochhar opened Benares and his philosophy hasn’t shifted: serve modern Indian food with a British flair and the people will come. By lunch time on Wednesday, the main dining room has got a respectable number of diners (and I’m told by operations manager Arnaud that the 150-cover venue will be effortlessly jam packed by the evening). Benares is the sort of place that will always attract the Mayfair locals – the interiors are mod, the service is sincere – but if you ever had doubts about Indian cuisine, this is also a very necessary destination for the skeptics.
Overwhelming flavours and spices that are typical of Asian cooking are dialled down to let creative dishes shine on their own merits of varied and fresh ingredients. A beautiful soft shell crab appetiser is paired with an apple relish and coronation slaw, with hints of mild curry. Then there’s my venison main course, which goes one better; the meat is perfectly pink, served with a biryani and baby aubergine in a sesame and ginger gravy. As this is fine dining, the portions are quaint, but rich enough to leave you satisfied – and any holes were soon filled with sides of their signature dal and naan. To wrap up, their chocolate banana torte with moist mocha cake is a strong choice. It’s not only gorgeous to look at but a worthy finale to a exceptional meal.
Benares is fancy, no doubt, but holds back on the airs and graces to serve excellent Indian cuisine with a genuine desire to change the game. Mind you, it’s an experience that will cost you a pretty penny (well, quite a few of those), but what you’ll get in return is quite priceless.
For more information about Benares visit: www.benaresrestaurant.com