If London boroughs carried slogans in the same way US states do then “style over substance” would surely be the motto emblazoned across Mayfair’s chic streets.
You would see it scrawled on the bumper plates of the Lamborghinis that rev at full throttle between traffic lights on the congested streets, or embroidered on the red carpets that cushion the stairs outside its hotels.
The bars, that puff a scented mist into your face on arrival and offer cocktails decorated like tropical fish ponds would put their staff through intensive training courses to ensure they can weed out the high rollers and frown upon undesirables.
Restaurants would spend more on plates and cutlery than they do on the food, cafes would become more like art galleries and casinos would dispense chips that cost more money than the monetary value they depict.
You can pick the ones that require you to suspend disbelief at your will, but one thing that is for sure is that Mayfair is at a crucial juncture. On the one hand you have style in abundance, but on the other there’s a notable erosion of substance, and finding places that can marry both is becoming increasingly difficult – but they do exist.
Benares is a shining example of where style and substance meet. Everything from the reception to the table shouts suaveness and sophistication, but it is matched, if not superseded, by the food and drink offering and service you receive.
It starts, as do most good experiences, in the bar. A range of cocktails inspired by the kitchen offer an innovative and refreshing take on the apéritif. The Green Spice Martini fuses ginger and coriander leaves with vodka, fresh root ginger and Elderflower Cordial. Garnished with a piquant dehydrated red chilli, it is among the best pre-dinner cocktails I have ever tried. An Indian Piña Colada, Passion Fruit Chutney Martini and Benhattan are among the other notable options, all exquisitely well thought-out.
It sets a theme that is consistent throughout the night. Tasting (£98 per person) and set menus (£35 for three courses) are both available with wine pairing, but even the a la carte menu is served with the guidance of a sommelier along side, which I would wholeheartedly embrace.
Cornish Mackerel served with a Greek Viognier and an aged white to accompany Jerusalem Artichoke and Parsnip set a glorious precedence for things to come. The main dishes highlight the tremendous variance on offer, with New Forest Venison with Chocolate Curry a good pick and Old Delhi Style Classic Tandoori Chicken on offer for those wanting something a little closer to home.
Mayfair isn’t a cheap place to dine out, nor are Michellin starred restaurants, but a meal at Benares is undoubtedly money well spent. They offer an unique experience and an intriguing menu unlike any you are likely to have enjoyed before. It is classic style with substance, and in an area where that is becoming increasingly rarified, it is a brilliant find.