My wife Ms B and I have just returned from a tapas sharing platter lunch at Benares, Atul Kochhar‘s Michelin-starred Indian restaurant on Berkeley Square. The 5-dish street food sharing platter cost a mere £30 for the two of us and we topped it up with two cocktails for another £10 in total. A mind-boggingly marvellously brilliant deal. You pay more at most pubs in this town to get two portions of rubbery, battered cod with sliced, oily, deep-fried potatoes and some luke-warm IPA.
Right from the moment we arrived at the ground-floor reception, the service staff were very friendly, polite, helpful, relaxed, unpretentious and knowledgeable, a true delight. The atmosphere is also very pleasant, with dimmed light, sound-absorbing décor, warm colours, a nicely decorated bar and a lounge area with a little pool where lovely gerberas were peacefully floating around. It was in the lounge area where we were seated. We were briefly walked through the set menu tapas dishes (no choice, but who needs choice if the dishes are just right).
The Passion Fruit Chutney Martini and the Green Spice Martini, created by head barman Stefano Marchetto, arrived within a few minutes and were very impressive, both in terms of the taste and the looks. I particularly liked my Green Spice Martini, which came with half a deseeded, dehydrated, crispy red hot chilli pepper placed on top of the glass and beautifully combined with the drink.
The first dish that arrived was a mixed leaf salad with Kasundi dressing (made from fermented mustard paste) and Panch Phoron artichokes from West Bengal in North East India. (The menu contains a neat map where you can track the geographical origin of the dishes.) Somehow the spices and the artichokes catapulted the salad into a completely different category of food, more like a main dish than a leafy salad, with lots of texture and bite.
The next round included my favourite of the day, Kohlapuri Masala chipirone (deep fried battered baby squid with just the right texture, soft, not rubbery, but still with a tad of a bite), mango & ginger quinoa from Maharashtra, West India, and Tandoori Cafreal sea bass, Konkan spiced tomato chutney from Goa, also delicious. We liked how the dishes were served in those traditional, sealable metal containers used by street food vendors all over India to this day.
The final round paraded Benares’ signature dish lamb pepper fry (bit like goulash, but with a very Indian touch) and Carom crips from Kerala, South West India, and grilled chicken Seekh kebab, apple & burnt lemon ketchup from Lucknow, North East India, to finish it all off.
When we were ready to ask for the bill, we were surprised by a small plate of petit-fours, which included fudge, chocolate parlines and caramelised fruit.
We are usually both not big on Indian food (I know it’s sinful, it’s just that we can’t help it!), but there is no doubt we will be back to Benares very soon. 5 out of 5.
Have we whetted your appetite for fine dining? Check out our reviews of two-starred Lafleur in Frankfurt, of Ekeberg in Oslo, the Fig in Chipping Campden, and Berners Tavern and Aquavit in Londontown.