Benares in Mayfair: Indian fine-dining with a modern British twist
After months of lockdown and “dining-out starvation”, we were excited to visit a fine-dining Indian restaurant with a British twist in the heart of Mayfair. Calm and private at its entrance, Benares emanates elegance in shades of black and red. Something to note after being guided by the staff to the table is that the management has implemented significant social distancing measures, creating a more relaxed experience. This consists of wide plastic panels covering both sides of each table – a great touch that adds extra privacy for anyone sharing a meal.
Needless to say, the front-of-house team was welcoming and cautious about cutlery and service, wearing masks, gloves and a big smile at all times. Benares offers both an à la carte and a tasting menu; or, alternatively, a thali, a typical Indian selection of dishes served on a platter. Similarly, the wine list and signature cocktails do not go unnoticed. Speaking of cocktails, we sampled a few throughout the evening, starting with the Green Spice Martini and the Passion Fruit Chutney Martini; a surprisingly balanced mix of spices like cumin and chilli with vodka making for an amazing aperitif.
We ordered a few appetisers, mains and sides to taste Benares’ most original creations. We were particularly encouraged to try the Paneer Tikka – grilled cheese with a spicy coating accompanied by pickled onions – and Quince Murabba – made using a preservation technique that sweetens fruit. This was complemented by their famous Baked Malabar Scallop. Raised on a tower of salt and submerged in an incredibly flavourful coconut curry sauce, the scallops were delightfully upstaged by the other elements on the plate.
The dish also comes with a side of flaky bread named panatta, which might remind you, both in texture and flavour, of a freshly baked croissant – incredible when dipped into the coconut curry sauce. The paneer is worth it, especially if you want to be tantalised by its presentation and its smoky scent before taking an indulgent bite.
For mains we ended up going for the least familiar of options: the venison. Medium-rare on a base of spicy mince, the dish was beautifully presented with fried plantain slices at the centre of the plate. We also ordered the Meen Dakshani, which consisted of turbot covered in a delicious masala coating with shaved coconut and clams in curry leaves. Intense in flavour without overwhelming the palate, it was simple and refreshing, hitting the right notes in the right places. We supplemented this with a side of traditional dal makhani – creamy, warming and probably a better choice to match the venison than the fish.
Dessert is always a priority for us. We were anticipating kulfi to be on the menu, since we’ve tried it many times over the years. Benares’ version of the sweet classic – a dairy-based dish resembling ice cream – is made of three different layers: the kulfi itself, followed by vermicelli, topped off by foamed Falooda with bits of raspberry jelly. Perhaps too much for one bowl, but impressive in terms of creativity. Our favourite course was the Bhapa Doi and Passion Fruit without a doubt. Made with steamed yoghurt and combined with passion fruit sorbet, the delicacy of the cream and the sourness of the sorbet make for an excellent match. Far simpler than the kulfi, yet far more satisfying.
Overall, Benares presents an interesting interpretation of traditional Indian cuisine, experimenting with innovative flavours and daring cocktail recipes that pair well with their smaller plates. If you’re looking for a luxurious place and modern food with a surprising spicy kick, this is perfect for your next meal out.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Cristiana Ferrauti
To book a table at Benares, 12a Berkeley Square Mayfair London W1J 6BS, call 020 7629 8886 or visit their website here.