Nestled in swanky Berkeley Square, Benares is a stalwart of old-school Indian fine dining. At the arrival of a new menu, we donned our smart shoes and ventured into the throng of swish restaurants for a taste.
Having been led past the indoor fountain, we settled in for Sameer Taneja’s new tasting menu. ‘Street snacks’ kicked things off, served resting in the shade of a bonsai. Both were simple yet effective, one a lightly-spiced bread pakora, the other a cone of chickpea puree. From here, however, things pivoted quite unexpectedly. An espresso cup of shorba (traditional gravy-esque soup), swapped the expected Indian spices for a more European summer truffle and chestnut. Continuity aside, the result was deliciously smooth.
A clever oyster ceviche kept up the pace, laced with delicate tiger’s milk and served in the shell. Although the crispy sweetcorn chaat that adorned it felt a touch out of place, these notions were swiftly superseded by an utterly perfect scallop, baked in a fiery coconut sauce and topped with spiced brittle crumbs. Refreshed by house fruit soda (theatrically carbonated at the table), we were ready for the big hitters.
Bathed in aromatic tawa masala sauce, a fillet of halibut arrived with an entourage of juicy clam moilee, and both were promptly devoured. A tandoori muntjac chop followed, paired with a simple garlic yoghurt and chilli chutney, its heavenly pink meat surrounded by fragrant green sauce. Finally, a baby poussin tikka was perhaps even more tender, with the tang of masala sauce hitting all the right notes. To finish, a soft, spongy rasmalai came topped with a borderline-cloying mango gel, although those with a sweeter tooth would likely have no issue.
Benares is just as on point as ever, armed with the triple threat of delicious food, elegant wines and charming service. Those unable to fork out £123 for the tasting menu should still visit, as Taneja’s set menu offers three courses for under £40.