2 October 2012 by Luke McCormick
Benares is a sleek Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant celebrated for its modern Indian cuisine with a contemporary twist and renowned head chef Atul Kochhar.
Atul has been at the forefront of a new way of Indian cooking since he first arrived in London in the early 1990s, using a combination of local ingredients and masterful Indian spicing to create award-winning menus.
Born in Jamshedpur in eastern India, Atul began his cooking career in top hotel restaurants in India, working for the Oberoi group of hotels in New Delhi. His growing reputation in India saw him poached by the team who were about to open Tamarind in London.
While head chef at Tamarind, Atul became the first Indian chef to gain a Michelin star. Since then he's won numerous accolades for the food at Benares, his numerous television appearances and work with the Prince's Trust.
The glitzy Berkeley Square entrance of his flagship restaurant leads to a stylish first floor bar and adjacent large dining area, where we enjoyed a grazing menu that proved a great introduction to this Indian dining institution.
Overall, this four-course menu is a refined and classy take on India's varied cuisine. Each course is expertly matched with accompanying wines that get better as the night goes on.
Saying that, the experience was more pan-Asian than sub-continent. If you're after the classic Indian experience, stick to the amazing looking ‘standard' Indian dishes. For the more curious a tour of Asia awaits.
As an introduction, restrained and flavoursome chutneys were well judged and gave a hint of things to come, accompanied by mini poppodums.
Michelin stars are as much about consistency as they are creativity and combination of flavours. And on those criteria Atul is on form. It's not for nothing that Benares has retained its starred status for the past seven years.
What followed was a piquant, scrumptious amuse bouche of soft Philadelphia cream cheese croquette with wildberry sauce served with the Atul's signature wine - a 2011 Nyakas sauvignon blanc from Hungary.
At Benares, instead of the usual hard-hitting Indian spice of the sub-continent, what you get is subtle, long-lived flavours suggestive of any number of countries throughout Asia and the west.
A first course serving platter of fresh Kolkata-inspired mackerel kathi with bell pepper masquerading as Mexican fare was served alongside a refreshing, creamy handpicked crab salad with saffron mayonnaise and a tandoori chicken pâté with orange jelly that would not seem out of place in a French bistro.
All of this accompanied with garlic naan and an oaky Austrian Zwickl Kirnbauer chardonnay.
This is Indian with a twist, blurring the line between Indian fare and classic fine dining. And it's popular, the subdued interior continually buzzing and busy.
Next up was a mild fennel-flavoured Rajasthani smoke lamb chop with a faint hint of zest, lovely basil marinated charred prawns and a classic organic chicken seekh kebab that was most almost Middle Eastern. A fragrant scallop was also meltingly good.
The Alsatian Jean Claude Gueth Pinot Gris Cuvee Reservee had texture, body and acidity on the back of the palate, with an oiliness and fruitiness that worked well with the range of spicy meat flavours present in the prawn, chicken and lamb.
At this point I caught myself wondering whether this was Indian at all. Perhaps the only criticism (if you could even call it that with food this good) is the deliberate shying away from bold Indian flavours.
For the main a well-rounded Otago pinot noir with hints of dark chocolate that had more body than you'd find in a burgundy or bold Aussie red was the perfect partner to a Japanese-inspired spiced noodle broth of poached wild turbot, squid do pyaza with spring onions and a Gressingham duck served with a three bean stew.
Topping it off was possibly the fluffiest naan I've tasted.
A lovely peanut butter parfait and almond cake was a great finish, the Oreo biscuit a brilliant touch, the sugary Chateau Tirecul a comforting addition to wash it down.
Atul has successfully borrowed ideas from across Eurasia to create his signature cuisine. Try it now.
12a Berkeley Square House
Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, W1J 6BS
T: 020 7629 8886