Sunday, 19 August 2012

Benares, Mayfair - A Review

"Indian food is as diverse as its culture, geography and climate. It is vibrant, colourful, enticing, easy to prepare and wonderfully satisfying"

These are the sentiments of Atul Kochhar, head of the Michelin Star restaurant and bar Benares. This was the first time I had met Atul, though I had previously seen him on the telly (think Great British Menu, Saturday Morning Kitchen & Masterchef - all the habitual staples of a foodies television schedule). As you can imagine, I was extremely excited to meet him as he has been accoladed with bringing true Indian flavours to Britain. He was keen to dispel myths about Indian cookery over here, stating that we cook Indian food adapted to our western palettes. This was a practise that he said should not be frowned upon. I took away with me a sense that with the right spices (now easily available), I could make sumptuous, flavoursome food. Never would I have to open a jar of gloopy korma or drown dishes in chilli. It was turning out to be an inspiring evening and I was eager to get into the kitchen. 

Atul's frantic pace in the kitchen and constant parting of knowledge onto us was brilliant. I learnt more from 20 minutes with him about the origins and possibilities of Asian cuisines then I had learnt in my entire life. It is this expertise and execution that you pay for when attending a Michelin star restaurant. Though you may not get to speak with or watch the chef prepare your meal, you go safe in the knowledge that every morsel will be devine. And so it was. Atul made tandoori spiced scallops and soft shell crab. Having never been a fan of scallops before I could not turn down the chance to try these. I am a woman converted. When I was a child, I spent hours crab fishing using streaky bacon tied to a line and weight. We always threw back our catch so when I found myself confronted with my brown shelled nemesis I was eager to try it. The term 'Soft shell' effectively means that the crustacean has recently shed its old shell. 

Softshell crab ingredients
Tandoori scallops

Soft shell crab

After our kitchen demo, we were invited to dine in the main restaurant itself. The joys of a complex balance of spices was explosively self evident. Unlike other pricey restaurants I have been to, the cuisine lived up to its reputation and price tag. To start, I had 'Mackerel Ki Kathi', Kolkate style mackerel served on crispy nan bread, peppers and free range egg. This was my favourite dish of the night. I'd never had mackerel quite like it before. I moved on to my main course of 'Tandoori Machhi', Taggiasca Marinated Farm Raised Organic salmon, cumin baked potatoes & onions with white asparagus. As we ordered a variety of sharing accompaniments, I also ate palak paneer, rice, various chutneys including a delicious pineapple one. To finish, I polished off the chocolate peanut butter tube, jaggery cake, cumin marshmallow and sugar cane ice cream. Though delicious, I preferred my fellow diners rose and raspberry bhapa doi with pastachio burfi. Bhapa doi is steamed and sweetened yogurt. 

My fellow diner and I joked that we half expected the meals to come out in gold leaf. Low and behold, his rabbit arrived crusted in it and I could not help but laugh. Oh to be wealthy enough to eat so indulgently all the time. We comforted ourselves with the thought that if we had bountiful supplies of money, the special nature of eating the world's best offers would be diminished. The service was, as you would expect, flawless. Your cup never runneth dry. Your chair was always pulled out for you. Your napkin neatly placed on your lap. I felt well and truly spoiled by the whole experience.

Mackerel starter

Tandoori salmon
Chocolate peanut butter roll
Gin, champagne and rose cocktail
Squeezed beside the vast expanse of a rather expensive car show room, Benares is situated in the heart of Mayfair. As I walked out into the balmy night, I reflected on the evening. It had been a thoroughly positive experience. I had never once felt out of place and I would strongly recommend it to those looking for a special occasion venue. For me, this is what I became a food blogger for; to unearth gems not usually accessible to the average Joe and to pass on the message to my readers. Of course all this positivity was aided by the consumption of gin, champagne and rose water cocktails that had been garnished with real flowers...! Need I say more.

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