Thanks to our city's fabulously cosmopolitan nature, it’s not hard to find enticing Indian restaurants in London. No matter what neighbourhood you turn to, you’re bound to uncover a wonderland of fragrant flavours and saliva-inducing spice - but it’s not every day that you come across a place like Benares. It recently regained its Michelin Star back in 2021 with executive chef Sameer Taneja at the helm, so when the chance to visit came up, how could I say no?
I always love a bit of people-watching in Mayfair; everyone is so glamorous and important-looking - it's interesting to see how the other half live. So after a slow meander through the neighbourhood, ogling at the luxurious shops that line the roads, I found myself at Benares. As we sauntered up to the venue, a charming doorman kindly opened the door for us, leading us into the warm, tranquil reception. After greeting us, the hostess took our coats then guided us up the stairs - I couldn't wait to see what awaited us.
While there was a unique, snazzy bar on one side, we made our way over to the other, where the dining area was situated. Now, you can't deny that this place is classy - it showcased white, textured walls, red leather booth seating and white, flowing tablecloths, with little lamps and overhead lighting offering a slinky, laid-back vibe. Around us, you could see celebratory dinners, intimate date nights and even suited business partners mulling over thoughts as they ate.
Though there were plenty of droolworthy options on Benares' a la carte menu, chef Sameer's eight-course tasting menu (£123 each) promised a journey through India, and that's just something my dinner date and I couldn't pass up. But, of course, we needed a tipple to go with our feast, so opted for a bottle of the Cheval Quancard, Pays des Côtes de Gascogne (£49) - a light, sweet sauvignon blanc that we ordered in the hopes of matching both the meat and fish on the menu, as well as putting out any spice-induced flames.
Before our multi-dish banquet kicked off, we were delivered a toaster rack of poppadoms. But these weren't any old poppadoms, one was made out of roasted lentils while the other was a combo of wheat and fenugreek. We slathered each bite with the mango and berry chutney (which had a little wintery warmth to it), pipetting on a few drops of chilli oil from a dainty vial; I loved the creative way that such a classic pre-dinner nibble had been elevated with simple touches.
Then came the street snacks. I don’t think I’ve ever had a dish so beautifully served - on a bonsai tree no less. Perfectly cubed and mouthwateringly delicious pakoras impaled on sticks poking out of the soil. Next to them, little crispy cones filled with a smooth chickpea, tamarind and walnut hummus, snuggled in a decorative bed of beans.
As you can imagine, these were gobbled down in just a few bites. But luckily, the autumn truffle shorba arrived shortly after. I'll be honest, this didn't look very appetising, but boy was I wrong. The bowl of creamy, rich soup was so unctuous, with a strong but not overpowering flavour of truffle. It also featured mushrooms and deep-fried croutons for added texture, all complemented with a fresh drizzle of herb oil.
We then dived into the Carlingford oyster and cured sea-bream chaat, which was immaculately presented in half oysters that lay on a cold bed of shells and pebbles. The vibrant pearls of coriander and mango gel brought this dish to life, pairing with the tangy, ceviche-style fish like a match made in heaven.
The waiter then presented us with the baked Malabar "hand dived" Scottish scallop and crispy bread poti. Both my partner and I are absolute suckers for a good scallop, so we couldn't wait to try this one out. Served in the shell, the fish had been cooked in a tingling, moreish, buttery curry leaf and coconut milk sauce. It was sprinkled in crunchy breadcrumbs, yet the meat melted in your mouth, bringing a unique combination of textures.
To follow was the tawa masala wild halibut and Portsmouth clam moilee. The succulent fish was so delicate you could cut it with a spoon, coated in a red mixture of lip-smacking, firey spices, which were cooled down by the creamy, coconutty clam sauce. Before our next plate arrived, we tipped back the fruit soda palate cleanser. Provided in an adorable, curvy glass, and theatrically topped up with soda dispenser by the waiter, it tasted like a cleansing mix of black tea and menthol.
Now, for my absolute favourite of the lot – the tandoori muntjac. A couple of eyebrow-raising, vibrant green hunks of veal were put in front of us (I of course made a Dr. Seuss joke about green eggs and ham to my partner, which was lost on him). I've never had meat, let alone veal, that was so soft. And the unique colour of the marinade brought a fragrant coriander oomph to the whole shebang, elevated even more so by the chilli chutney and garlic yoghurt.
Though I don't think anything could top this, the baby poussin tikka masala was a strong contender. An elevated, upmarket twist on the classic dish, the bird was juicy and tender, plus came in a delicate yet aromatic coating. We also enjoyed munching on dahl makhani, pilau rice and a beautifully buttery naan on the side of this.
To finish, we were given a couple of eye-catching desserts. The Madagascan vanilla rasmalai was soft and sweet, almost like an ice cream, with a delightfully chewy base. At the same time, we scoffed down a couple of petite fours, one of which was a chocolatey, almond-flavoured cornflake cake. The other? It tasted similar to a doughnut, but came in the shape of a delicate snowflake, topped with a purple raspberry gel. Finally, our tastebuds were treated to a couple of marvellous fig jelly sweets that resembled autumnal leaves that have just fallen from a tree.
The DesignMyNight Digest
I could not fault my visit to Benares. From the exceptional and attentive service through to the laid-back yet classy atmosphere, there's a lot to love. And that's before I've even got to the food. It's not just that every single dish was delicious, but they were also ingeniously creative - with upmarket spins on classic dishes and uniquely presented plates.
💰 The damage: £295 for the tasting menu for two, plus a bottle of wine.
📍 The location: 12a Berkeley Square, Mayfair, W1J 6BS.
👌 Perfect for: Unique date nights and celebratory feasts.
⭐ Need to know: You can snap up a shorter lunch tasting menu for £68.