Benares in Berkeley Square now has as its head chef Sameer Taneja, who trained in French classical cooking at One-O-One, with Joel Antunes as a saucier at Waterside Inn and also with Pierre Koffmann at Koffmann’s. He was head chef at Benares before heading up the kitchens at Talli Joe, and now as executive chef he regained the Michelin star that Benares had lost in 2019.
The meal tonight began with a par of canapes elaborately displayed in a little mobile planter. Channa papdi chaat had the papadom made into a cone shape and filled with chickpea masala, topped with mint and tamarind chutney. This was very good, the chickpeas having pleasing texture to contrast with the crisp popadom, and the mint enlivening the dish. I was less taken with a little spiced corn on a stick, which seemed rather ordinary (14/20 canapes). The first proper course of the meal raised the standard. A little cup of shorba (soup) with Australian winter truffles had superb depth of flavour, the gentle fragrance of the truffles adding an air of luxury to the deeply flavoured soup (16/20).
Tandoori prawn was top notch, the prawn large and sweet, having absorbed the flavours of its spice marinade (16/20). This was followed by a baked hand-dived Scottish scallop served in its shell with Malabar sauce from the south of India. The scallop had lovely natural sweetness, and the coconut and gentle spices of the sauce lifted the flavour without overwhelming the delicate flavour of the scallop. This came with extremely good paratha, the bread being entirely free of oil yet without having dried out, a pretty much flawless paratha (16/20).
The next dish was tawa masala halibut with Portsmouth clam molee, the latter being a spicy dish with coconut from southern India (Goa specifically), the sauce having Portuguese influence. The halibut was superbly cooked, having beautifully absorbed its spicy marinade. I have had less precise fish cookery in multi-starred French restaurants (17/20). Another superb dish followed, tandoori muntjac, the venison lightly cooked and with a precisely balanced spicy marinade, accompanied by with garlic yoghurt and chill chutney (17/20). It was nice to see the restaurant using high quality meat, from Primrose Hill Butchers, for both the venison and the poussin to follow. The venison is hung for 3-5 days depending on the weight.
At this point there was a kind of intermission, with an iced red fruit sherbet as a palate cleanser. I am not sure this was really necessary, but the sorbet had smooth texture and plenty of fruit flavour, and was harmless enough (15/20). The final savoury course was baby poussin tikka masala, a variant on the classic chicken tikka, here with high quality poussin providing lovely flavour, again working well with the precisely judged spices (16/20). To finish was rasmalai, a classic Indian dessert made from cheese, milk and almonds, here with a chocolate leaf topping to elevate the dish (15/20).
Service was very professional all evening. I was being treated by a friend so did not see the bill, but if you ordered carefully here then a typical cost per head might be £95. Over my last three meals here the cooking has shown steady improvement from visit to visit, and is now producing some of the absolutely best Indian food in London.