Benares W1
REVIEWS, January 25, 2010
Overall Value
out of 5
  • Food
  • Service
  • Ambience
Benares, 12a Berkeley Square House, , London, W1J 6BS

Re-opened after a four-month refurbishment, this Mayfair Indian looks broadly as before, and still offers refined Indian cuisine (presented European-style) in a smart environment; it’s noisy, though, and the atmosphere can tend to impersonal.

The re-opening of Atul Kochhar’s celebrated Mayfair Indian – after a four-month closure, following on a fire – provided a good excuse for a revisit. There has been much renovation and replacement, but the ordinary visitor’s impression of the square main dining room remains substantially the same as before.

Elsewhere, however, changes have been made, increasing the overall capacity of the establishment to 140 (not that far short of, say, the Wolseley’s). This is now, we believe, the first Indian restaurant in town to boast a chef’s table. Also available for private dining: the elegant and well stocked new wine room – they call it a cellar, but it isn’t – and some larger and more conventional private rooms.

As the availability of all this accommodation suggests, this is very much a business restaurant. Lunchers at neighbouring tables included a day trader discussing his strategy, a man loudly discussing the ‘bottom line’, and a Frenchman deeply in love with his BlackBerry. Such an ambience may be great if you’re trying to cut a deal, but – especially as the volume notches up – we couldn’t say we found it especially relaxing.

The staff, in keeping, can sometimes exhibit a tendency to impersonality. On arrival, our welcome could have been warmer, and we found the efforts to ‘upsell’ on the drinks front – ‘still or sparkling?’’ ‘I particularly recommend the [£15/glass] wine’ – rather irksome.

Ignore these expensive booby-traps, though, and you can lunch (if not dine) here remarkably inexpensively – with a glass of wine each, two people could eat well here for £70, all in. (Seems to have been all the better value when you exit past the surreally opulent Jack Barclay Rolls-Royce dealership, next door!)

At full prices, you’ll pay a great deal more of course, but we’d have to say that the lunch we enjoyed here suggested that the cooking – refined subcontinental, presented in essentially European style – is among the best of its type in town, and the overall ‘package’ is clearly a natural for business.

In fact, the slightly mechanical nature of the operation almost does the food a favour – one ends up just slightly surprised by how delicious it is, and consistently so too. Even the coffee (served with distinctly un-Indian sweetmeats) is decent. For an Indian restaurant, that must surely make it pretty much unique.

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