Benares is a Michelin starred Indian restaurant in Mayfair. We’ve only had one taste of Indian food at Michelin level before at Trishna in Marylebone which we thought was utterly brilliant, so we were excited about our lunch visit.
The restaurant, which is situated on the first floor and has no windows, was a large square space filled with tables adorned with white table cloths. It lacked any atmosphere or personality and just felt a bit sterile; there was nothing interesting to look and we felt rather bored by our surroundings.
We decided to opt for the set lunch menu which was two courses for £29 or three for £35 with three options per course.
Exclusive to the set lunch menu were the head chef’s (Atul Kochar) Taste of London nibbles which you could order for an extra £5 each, so we ordered all three to share. The squid rings with passion fruit dressing were an unusual combination which actually really worked. The chicken tikka pie was a little less belly pleasing but perhaps that was because of its not-so-hot temperature; it was just a bit bland. The fennel infused lamb chop was tasty and had a lovely charred outside but it was sadly overcooked – I love my lamb pink and tender.
To start, my gentleman companion opted for the summer salad of crispy seafood, turkey sausage, avocado and mixed greens. When you see the word ‘salad’ on a menu you usually expect to see some leaves – but not here! Still, the pieces of soft fish had a brilliantly crunchy batter around them and they all tasted delicious.
My starter of lamb sheesh kebab with feta, pomegranate and mint salad was a great combination of flavours. The rich spiced lamb against the tanginess of the pomegranate was delicious and the freshness of the feta topped it all off brilliantly.
For main, my gentleman companion went for the Vindaloo free range chicken supreme with potatoes and runner beans. It was a mahoosive breast and it was seriously tender and succulent. We were expecting the Vindaloo sauce to be really spicy (I thought Vindaloo was the hottest curry right?) but this had very subtle heat and flavour.
I went for the baked seabass with oyster mushrooms, wild garlic and olive labneh. The seabass fillet was delicious but the rest didn’t really work for me and the little seabass wonton was cold and far too slimey for my liking. Both mains were served with lentils, tandoori bread and rice which were all fine but not hugely flavourful.
For dessert, the tandoori ananas (pineapple) with earl grey ice cream was very pleasant. The pineapple had a strong wallop of tandoori smoke which was unusual and the ice cream was jam packed full of earl grey flavour; both bizarrely worked very well together.
The winning pud however was the classic lime tart with vanilla ice cream which had an interesting presentation; it looked like some kind of bird perched on the plate. It provided a brilliant blend of sweet and sour flavours; there was sweet marshmallow, a sharp lime custard filling encased in buttery pastry and then a bit of chocolate garnish for good measure. Yum!
We enjoyed our meal at Benares but I think we expected more flavour from the savoury dishes we tried. After our lunch at Trishna we had fallen in love with Indian food, however we didn’t feel quite so bowled over after Benares. The food certainly was tasty but I had hoped for something a little more spectacular.