Having previously worked as Head Chef at Benares, before leaving to launch his own venture in 2015, Sameer Taneja returned to the restaurant in 2019, taking the position of Executive Chef. Soon after Sameer Taneja joined, Benares was also awarded a Michelin-star in 2021, having spent most of 2020 closed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At Benares, the Delhi-born chef uses his classical French training in both Indian and French cuisine to showcase refined dishes using high quality British ingredients enlivened with authentic Indian spices and techniques. The results are interesting, forward-thinking yet comfortably in keeping with the traditional high end restaurant aesthetic Benares has upheld for over 15 years. Sure, the windowless dining room won’t be for everybody, but both the food and polished service lend a real sense of occasion, something we’ve been stripped of for far too long.
At lunch and early dinner, Benares serves a set menu offering good value at £33 for two courses, or £39 for three courses. An a la carte menu is also, but if visiting for dinner it’s worth ordering the tasting menu (£123), featuring high-end takes on classic Indian street foods. In addition to the fact that it doesn’t drag on for hours, the tasting menu seems fresh and exciting, rather than an egocentric parade, as is so often the case with Michelin-starred restaurant tasting menus. Wine pairings are also available with the 10-course tasting menu, with glasses selected from the restaurant’s list of over 400 wines.
During a recent dinner at Benares, the tasting menu began with a round of elegant poppadoms and berry chutney, soon followed by a selection of fried street food-inspired snacks and a small teacup filled with creamy chicken and chestnut shorba, crowned with fresh Italian summer truffle shavings to lend profound decadence.
A clear nod to Indian street vendors followed with a chaat of Porlock Bay oyster and cured sea bream, all served in clean oyster shells with just a drizzle of tiger’s milk dressing, blobs of coriander gel and masala chana for additional crunch: a glorious symphony of contrasting, albeit complementary, flavours and textures.
Also served in its shell, hand-dived Scottish scallops were perfectly cooked – baked and presented in a south Indian Malabar sauce, lightly spicy and lifted by the sweetness of coconut, which complemented the delicate scallop’s flavour without overwhelming. More expert fish cookery followed with a tranche of wild halibut in a spicy tawa masala marinade with Portuguese influence, simply served with Portsmouth clam moilee. A delicate, refined dish prepared with utmost precision.
Following a refreshing lemon and pea fruit soda palate cleanser, Tandoori Muntjac arrived. Two hunks of good-quality venison were cooked pink (as they should be) and cloaked with a herb-driven marinade, plus garlic yoghurt and chilli chutney. A simple, well-executed meat dish.
Even better, however, was the Benares riff on classic tikka masala with poussin scantily clad with a thick sauce that brought plenty of moisture without overwhelming the dish. The delicate spicing was also remarkable, again relinquished from being overpowering, with precisely judged spices, further joined by rice and a truly exceptional dal demanding to be scooped up with the accompanying paratha.
Soft, spongy rasmalai followed, flavoured with glorious kesar mango, providing a thrillingly light finale alongside petit fours of note, including thin cinnamon cookies with pearls of tart raspberry gel. Another example of the striking attention to detail which permeates the menu at Benares, filled with food that’s both refined and archetypal yet pleasantly revitalising.
Benares can be found at 12a Berkeley Square, London, W1J 6BS.