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Benares (Bar, Restaurant)

Picture of Benares in Mayfair, London

First Floor, 12a Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, W1J 6BS
Cuisine: Indian Average Price: £85.00
Tel: 02076298886 | Email to Benares | Transport: Green Park | Write review

Benares Review

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Best for: Colourful cocktails and impeccable service in Mayfair.

Great: mélange of European delicacy and Asian flavour.

The subcontinent simply loves all things colourful and noisy. Restaurants in Mumbai and Delhi are typically an explosion of activity – waiters hurry about as customers struggle to adjust their chairs in order to allow precious space for them to pass between the crowded tables. Mirrors, paintings and velvet wallpaper often line the walls. While the chandeliers are known to droop so low that they even touch the top of the diners head. Food arrives in abundance and is served directly from large steaming pots. A minimalist Indian restaurant, therefore, seems about as natural as a bulimic food critic.

Located to one side of Mayfair’s Berkeley Square – incidentally once home to Major-General Robert Clive of East India Company fame - Benares Restaurant and Bar has bravely pursued this rather paradoxical theme. With its gleaming stone floors, symmetrical water features and an interior palette that consists solely of black, white and dark wood, the restaurant’s décor is clinical and contemporary chic, and, as a result, bears absolutely no identifiable traces of anything remotely Indian. Instead, the white rock formations that line the walls of the main dining area are more distinctly reminiscent of the Fortress of Solitude – Superman’s bling Arctic hideout best portrayed in the Christopher Reeve films.

Like its ice-age inspired surroundings, Benares initially feels a little cold and calculated – the sort of restaurant which might be taken over during weekday lunchtimes by the unimaginative world of corporate hospitality. A quick glance at the drink and food menu, however, and it becomes clear Benares actually possesses real creative spark. The Passionate Lassi, a vodka-fuelled spin on the traditional Indian yogurt drink, is a prime example of how the restaurant’s management have carefully devised flamboyant modern twists on popular Indian classics. The grazing menu is clearly an excuse to showcase all of Benares’ finest tricks so we opt for that and the Premier-Prestige wine combination, which mixes and matches the finest choices from the expensive wine list and the extortionate one.

Miniature potato pakoras arrive first and, to our amusement, they taste identical to the fried squidgy delights sold at Indian train stations – the perfect snack food for weary travellers onboard a rammed sleeper carriage. The dishes thereafter, however, slowly become far richer and exotic in both presentation and flavour.

Round one – which includes Curry Leaf and Tarragon Infused Lobster Rillet and a Confit Duck Terrine with Orange Jelly – consists of intricately presented French-inspired morsels with a deft touch of Indian spice: a subtle mélange of European delicacy and Asian flavour. The same cannot be said, however, about the subsequent Tandoor Pigeon and Vanilla Beetroot, which may look the size of a baby’s fist but packs a mean punch. The combination of red fiery spice and the intense, gamey flavour of the pigeon breast is a real treat but one that potentially lingers for the remainder of the evening. Despite being coated in all the familiar tandoori spices, pigeon simply doesn’t taste like Indian cuisine and neither does the subsequent Braised Mutton with Chickpea Puree, which, although gorgeous, would have been more at home in a Lebanese restaurant.

Overall, the grazing menu teases, so gently, with the idea of being Indian cuisine that - especially after five glasses of wine, none of which, it must be pointed out, were actually from India (although admittedly Indian wine is god awful, but the option of a Kingfisher or a Cobra wouldn’t have gone a miss) – it’s very easy to forget Benares is actually supposed to be an Indian restaurant.

How about the impeccably dressed waiters and waitresses that have gracefully mastered the balance of offering insightful tips about each dish and wine and knowing when to leave the customer in peace? Erm, I’m pretty sure they were from various parts of Europe not India.

Or the Heston Blumenthal-inspired post-dinner flannel, which arrives in the size of a small pill and, following the addition of boiling water, flowers into a face-sized wonder? Very entertaining, but hardly particularly Indian either.

The service was superb, the drink plentiful, and the food, at times, was nothing short of exceptional, but apart from the occasional ingredient here or there, can Benares actually promote itself as an Indian restaurant albeit a contemporary one? Having just returned from a three month trip round the subcontinent – where after eating chapatti and rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, I somehow still managed to retain a love for the cuisine – I wasn’t convinced.
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Customer Reviews for Benares

Average (based on 3 votes): 3 Atmosphere: Value: Quality:

The following customer reviews are not endorsed by Fluid London and are simply those of users who wish to publish their independent experiences of Benares.

“No better than your local Indian Restaurant for quality of food. I will never go there again.”
Atmosphere: Value: Quality:
alan, Carmarthen (7 years 9 months 28 days ago)

“We were celebrating a 50th Birthday, the staff were impeccably attentive and polite but unobtrusive, the food was sublime, I had kebab platter to start and the meat just melted in the mouth, my partner had soft shell crab and squid, she does not like things too hot and spicy and this was perfect for her. We followed this with the Roe deer and the fennel infused lamb chops. We had two bottles of the Slowine Cabernet Sauvingnon which was very nice indeed. For dessert we had the fennel bread and butter pudding with ginger and Armanac custard and the white chocolate mouse. When the staff realised we were celebrating they brought out a plate of petite fours with Happy Birthday piped in chocolate on the plate, Mr Kocher also came to our table and posed for a photo with my partner. Altogether this was a most enjoyable evening and dining experience and I fully intend to return to eat my way through the menu.”
Atmosphere: Value: Quality:
Michael Brown, Strood (10 years 9 months 11 days ago)

“Quality food & quality service - highly recommend Benares.”
Atmosphere: Value: Quality:
Sophia, London (12 years 1 months 9 days ago)

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Food

Benares serves Indian British cuisine.

Updated 06/09/2008

Drinks

Benares serve a fantastic range of drinks that compliment your meal or you can enjoy at the bar. Benares serve a wide selection of cocktails, including their house specials, champagne, vodka, rum, brandy & tequila; an impressive range of champagne and a good range of red & white wine.

Updated 12/09/2006

Additional Information

Benares Hire Details

Benares offers several private dining options including a Chef's Table for 6, a Sommelier's Table for up to 10, a dining room for up to 18, a larger dining room for up to 34 and the bar for up to 60.

Updated 19/10/2010

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