What? The ancient Indian city of Benares is the holiest of holy cities, so it’s wholly appropriate that its London namesake should be one of the best Indian restaurants in the country. And one I had to make a pilgrimage to.
New? Mark Twain once wrote that “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend”, but Benares the restaurant is actually a mere 16 years old.
Where? Sitting on the Eastern edge of Berkeley Square, the restaurant commands possibly one of the most prime locations in London.
The look: A friendly doorman holds open the door and bows as we enter, motioning us the dark staircase. At the top, Benares opens up, a luscious array of dark colours and dimly lit corners. The bar is impressive, the central focus of the restaurant, and a clash of colour and muted hues with a dark copper counter and brightly lit bottles behind. The crowd was a mixture of businessy-types, romantic couples and well-heeled locals.
On the menu: We were quickly whisked by an efficient waiter, one of many seemingly assigned to us, to our table and feasted our eyes on the a la carte menu while we decided what to feast ourselves on.
What we ate: It didn’t take long to decide. I started with delightfully crispy soft shell crab with a puy lentil salad and a fiery tomato Kasundi and honey dressing only to be outdone by my partner, who had gone straight in with the tandoori ratan consisting of a sumptuous selection of sea bass, chicken tikka, king prawn and a lamb seekh kebab fresh out of the tandoor.
My lobster biryani main was, unsurprisingly, excellent on a perhaps overly-generous bed of aromatic rice with samphire, pink peppercorn and fennel raita, but the absolute star of the show, which still tasted as good as it did when I first came here over 10 years ago, were the “Changezi Chaapein” smoked tandoori lamb cutlets with panch phoran winter vegetables and a rogan jus. Nothing tastes better than perfectly cooked, melt-in-your-mouth, cutlets of lamb wrapped in the smokey jacket of spices that only a tandoor can offer.
What we drank: The waiters may have chopped and changed, but the sommelier remained constant, and consistently on-the-money with his suggestions. Starting with a Champagne Bellini, which went down a treat, he recommended a series of perfect wines for each course.
Go with: Anyone who loves stylish, up-scale Indian dining.
Final word: Benares may be the holy of holys, but that would make Head Chef Atul Kochhar something between chief priest and god himself. Kochhar isn’t just on top of his game, he invented the game where fine Indian dining is concerned. The combination of spices and aromas are masterfully coralled by this genius of the kitchen. At a time when Indian fine dining is becoming increasingly popular, is Benares the finest Indian restaurant in London? In my opinion yes, so my final word has to be: ‘go’!
Benares: 12a Berkeley Square House, Mayfair, W1J 6BS www.benaresrestaurant.com