12 Berkeley Square, London, England, W1J 6JS, United Kingdom

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Benares opened on the east side of Berkeley Square in 2003. You walk up a flight of stairs past a smartly decorated bar area into the main dining room, which is flanked by several private dining rooms. In charge of the Benares kitchen these days is chef Sameer Taneja, who trained in French classical cooking at One-O-One, Joel AntunesWaterside Inn and Koffmann’s. Mr Taneja was previously head chef at Benares before heading up the kitchens at Talli Joe, and after returning as executive chef he regained the Michelin star that Benares had lost in 2019. The tasting menu at Benares was priced at £132, with a shorter version of this at lunch only being £73. There was a full a la carte selection in addition to this. There was also a set three course menu at £42.

The wine list has some quite impressive bottles but, this being Berkeley Square, it is not a cheap affair. Examples were Riesling Kabinett, Graf von Schönborn Schloss Schönborn 2019 at £60 compared to its shop price of £15, Nielson Chardonnay 2019 £89 compared to its retail price of £20, and La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva 2015 at £115 for a bottle that will set you back £37 in the high street. There were plenty of posher offerings too, such as Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape 2009 at an absurd £399 compared to its retail price of £106, and Vega Sicilia Unico 2004 at £899 compared to its current value of £418. We drank the very enjoyable Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Spatlese 2019, which was priced at £99 compared to its retail price of £35.

A canape of bread pakora was pleasantly spiced, and a little pani poori with sour apple and basil seed water. This liquid poured into the poori had quite vibrant flavour and the poori was crisp and light (15/20). Celeriac bhatti kebab had celeriac marinated with moringa (horseradish tree) leaves and then cooked over embers. This was unusual and interesting, the celeriac tender and the spices nicely complementing the earthy favour of the celery root (15/20). 

Scallop Malabar had a trio of hand-dived scallop that were baked and served in a scallop shell along with coconut curry. On the side was a Malabar paratha. This was an excellent dish, the scallops having good natural sweetness, tender and working well with the gentle spices of the coconut curry. The little paratha on the side had superb texture (16/20).

Tawa masala wild halibut was served with a Portsmouth clam moilee (a Goan curry with coconut milk) and curry leaf ragan. The halibut was terrific, being very precisely cooked and having excellent flavour. This worked nicely with the coconut curry (17/20). Lobster pilaf was pleasant though not in the same league, the lobster tender enough and the rice quite aromatic (15/20). On the side, padi aloo used high quality Ratte potatoes, laced with podi or gunpowder spice, a blend of spices and seeds. Bhindi was also good, avoiding the sliminess that so often afflicts this dish.

I was unable to get a bill, but a typical cost per person for three courses and some modest wine might come to around £105 per person. Benares at the moment offers some of the best Indian food in the capital, and distinguishes itself amongst its competitors by the level of effort it makes to source high grade ingredients. This is modern Indian cooking that deserved its Michelin star.

Further reviews: 12th Aug 2021 | 31st Oct 2020 | 28th Sep 2019 | 06th Apr 2016 | 01st Jan 2008 | 01st May 2003

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