Working Lunch review: Forget your local curry house, Benares in Mayfair is how British Indian cuisine should be

 
Steve Hogarty
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An upmarket, Michelin-starred British Indian restaurant nestled amid the shimmering excesses of the Rolls Royce and Bentley dealerships of Berkeley Square, where a naan costs six pounds and you’re namaste’d five times before you reach your table.

Benares is the opposite end of the spectrum to your local curry house, a fusion of European fine dining and Indian cuisine that’s a world apart from a tikka masala and a bottle of Cobra. The western influence is found in quirks like the onion bhaji amuse-bouche, as well as an ever-present sommelier on hand to pair your haveli kofte with the perfect Pouilly-Fumé. It’s somewhat more refined than popping out to the off-licence before the poppadoms arrive.

WHERE? 12a Berkeley Square House, W1J 6BS, on a moodily lit first floor in Mayfair. Entrance to Benares involves ascending an obsidian-black marble staircase before carefully – eyes still adjusting to the dark – circumnavigating a giant and ornate pond, which sits adjacent to the restaurant’s buzzing cocktail bar. With no real natural light to speak of, Benares possesses the otherworldly, frozen-in-time atmosphere of a Vegas casino. It’s a spectacular space. I came out feeling very full, spice-drunk and a little jetlagged.

WHO? Benares is owned by the renowned chef and TV personality Atul Kochhar, who holds the distinction of being one of the two first Indian chefs ever to win a Michelin-star. His ongoing mission, to boldly do British Indian cuisine properly (versus your average, pissed-up, post-pub lamb vindaloo feast), has seen him launch a small empire of restaurants. Benares is his first, and he’s most recently launched Rang Mahal in Dubai.

ORDER THIS... A vegetarian menu is available on request, and extends beyond just a selection of different configurations of cheese and vegetables. Try the kathal achari for your main course, it’s a dish of shredded green jackfruit cooked in pickling spices. The texture of jackfruit is absurdly similar to that of actual pulled pork, with meaty, stringy strands that soak up the sauces. The paneer rogan josh is exceptionally good Indian cottage cheese too, served in two pocket-bible-sized pieces atop a chickpea pile. All delicious and – in case you suspected fine dining meant skimping on portion sizes – very generously dished out.

BUSINESS OR PLEASURE? There are four private dining rooms, two of which overlook the most vital parts of the restaurant: the kitchen and the wine cellar. They’re ideal for entertaining small parties of visiting dignitaries, or whoever your clients are.

NEED TO BOOK? Yes you do. Booking can be made at benaresrestaurant.com

THE VERDICT… Regional Indian cooking with a contemporary British twist, that lives up to the lofty expectations set by its Mayfair location and Michelin status. You won’t find a better Indian restaurant of this kind anywhere in the city.

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