When I was a youngster, I was lucky enough to be exposed to all sorts of food. My parents have always loved eating and I learned to appreciate food from all over the world. I may have been principally a fussy eater, but one of my favourite cuisines was Indian food. Fuelled with my dads love of it, it appeared regularly as a dinner option. Thing is, the regularity of this meal started to wear me out, and over the years, I guess you can say that my interest had waned.
Only recently has this changed. More and more contemporary Indian restaurants are opening like Dishoom, Trishna, Delhi grill, Roti Chai etc... all building on those traditional Indian flavours and modernising them for London restaurant goers. With all these amazing places, it's hard not to get the taste back.
Benares has been a relative old timer sitting alongside these young bucks, with head chef Atul Kochar focusing on combining Indian flavours with English influences. It was somewhere I had always wanted to visit, and I was kindly invited along for a little tasting.
Meeting the chef is always a massive bonus at these sort of events and I have always admired Atuls attitude to food, passionate and positive. Here we learnt of the ethos behind his cooking and his love of the ingredients that his adopted country provided him, embracing Britain and India. In the kitchen, we watched him cook soft shell crab and the most ridiculously large scallops.
Back at the table, we continued to be spoilt. To start, I opted for a Chicken Tikka pie, or Khasta Murgh to give it it's proper name. Yeah, I know, ridiculous, but in the very best way. It just had to be ordered and boy was I glad I did. A clash of cultures forming just about one of the best pies I have ever tasted. Light pastry, tangy chutney all complementing the richly spiced but wonderfully balanced chicken tikka filling. A wonder on the plate and just about one of the most perfect things I have ever eaten.
My main of cannon of lamb was such a delicate piece of meat, cooked to a perfect pink with a light touch of spice. A little samosa of umbles (or innards) had a delicate offal taste, nothing too invasive thankfully as that would have been a bit too much for me. And those potatoes, oh my. Simple crushed potatoes apparently but they were so damn good and packed with seasoning, culminating with the most amazing potato flavour. Add a little artichoke and a drizzle of rogan josh sauce, and you get a dish which looks very British, elevated by touches of Indian influenced spicing.
I ended up with a betel leaf baba, which had a pleasant medicinal tang to it, pepped up by a sweet passionfruit cream and tart spoonfuls of passionfruit. Other desserts were equally mesmerising with a bhapa doi and peanut butter and chocolate tube with jaggery cake all embracing the East meets West flavours that we had experienced throughout the night.
The prices are painful in places (think £30 mains territory) and you would be lucky to escape a bill of less than a £100, but for me, Benares is one of those special restaurants. The food is just so precisely balanced in spicing and seasoning, as well as not putting a foot wrong in the cooking. A very modern British take on traditional Indian flavours, an unexpected evolution from the famous British curry houses.
FYI, I was invited along by the PR with a few others. Just in case that wasn't clear.
Benares - 12a Berkeley Square House Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London W1J 6BS