Sunday, February 6, 2011

Benares - Michelin Starred Indian

Just before Xmas the gorgeous Shahera Jordan from Smartbox™ asked me if I would be interested in trying one of their boxes out and writing a review. A Smartbox™ is a gift package which entitles you to a leisure activity (ex: Ferrari car driving, pampering in a spa institute, luxurious escapes...). The Smartbox™ contains a voucher, with no face value, valid for up to a year and a half, and a glossy guidebook, detailing all activities available. It was packaged up beautifully - gave really detailed information about the options available, and how to book.

I was blessed, knowing my love of food (she is currently helping me lose weight yet gives me a food box!!!), Shahera gifted me with the Michelin Star box. BLISS. Then terror....there were so many awesome options to choose from! Much as I would have loved to drive out to Gidleigh Park, or Sharrow Bay, time constraints meant we would have to stay close to home, so I selected and booked Benares, Atul Kochhar's one starred Michelin restaurant in Mayfair, with the offer as per the guide being a 5 course tasting menu that looked divine.

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On arrival we settled into the cocktail lounge for a couple of pre-dinner tipples. Now I must apologise now, due to the sheer amount we ate and drank, I am combining most images into .gifs this week as otherwise this blog would be huger than my ample buttocks.

The bar was buzzing, and being the good little food obsessive that I am I had already highlighted a few cocktails in my head that I wanted to try. I started off the Benares Margarita - I love a good Marg, and this one didn't disappoint with its Patron Anejo tequila and agave syrup making my toes curl in happiness.

The Hussyband started off with a citrus-y martini (who's proper name escapes me) that was just lush, I do recall there was Grey Goose vodka in it (not that that is any help right?)

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Having PLENTY of  time until our table was ready (they do early/late sittings) we decided to have another cocktail *hic*. Thankfully, the drinks are all served with an ample bowl of roasted almonds that are gently spiced (and as a non nut eater - I actually enjoyed them!) I chose the Jasmina for number two, with house prepared Jasmine syrup, Smirnoff Black and lots of fresh mint, it reminded me of a boozy version of the lemon mint drinks I had in Oman last year.

Hussyband this time went for another hosue special - the Passionfruit Chutney Martini that was created with the help of Chef Patron Atul. The chutney is made in-house, and mixed with Smirnoff Black, fresh lime, and a dash of egg white (of all things!) Of lordy lordy lordy - this was so tasty! And PRETTY with its floating half of passionfruit.

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But I digress, it was time for us to move to our table. The voucher also included a glass of champagne each, and being Hussyband's aversion to all things champagne like, I got to drink both glasses. He enjoyed a mango and chilli caprioska. 
This had to have been my favorite cocktail for the evening with its sweetness that suddenly kicked me in the back of the throat with its chilli zing. These washed down a trio of chutneys with mini pappadums - there was a passionfruit and pineapple, tomato, and the good old standby of mango. The tomato had me sold - whilst the others were all gorgeous, it was more tart and spicy.

The Amuse Bouche which was the start of our dining extravaganza for the evening, was a spiced potato ball on a pea puree. It reminded me of Kitty's Potato Balls, a party favorite from back in Oz. These baby's were beautiful - crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and the scent of cumin filling our noses. I chose to have the wines paired with my dishes (lazy maybe, cheap not, delicious definitely.) The wine served with my Amuse was a 2008 Domaine du Grande Mayne from France, a tasty sauvignon blanc that whilst smelling extremely fruity, was actually quite dry and full bodied.
The next courses were all served as trio's. First up, we had (from left to right) Confit Duck Terrine with Orange Jelly, Curry Leaf & Tarragon Infused Lobster Rillet, and Prawns Pickled with Indian Five Spice. Served with a side of Honey and Saffron Naan. This was served with a Soave "La Rocca" Pieropan 2008 from Italy.

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The suggested order of eating these morsels was Lobster, Prawn, in we dived.

The lobster was by far my favorite dish of the evening - sweet, rich, oozy. I am still craving more of it 2 days later.

The prawn, I had expected to be hot, but was served cold. It was nice, but a little chewy.

The duck, was in top 5 for the night. Dense, perfectly seasoned and yummy.

The naan - how to describe this. The best naan I have EVER had. Sticky, sweet,   dense but light. NOM.

We are already starting to groan, and then remember we have 3 courses to go. Oh dear.
The Third Course (from left to right) Chili and Garlic Marinated Chicken Tikka, Lamb Kofta, Tandori Monk Fish Tail with Squid Ink Mayonnaise. My wine for this couse was Journeys End 2009 Chardonnay from South Africa....if I had to say the top three things South Africans are good at its playing dirty rugby, making lush white wines, and ....nope that is it! (Sorry!)
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Dining order this time was :
Monkfish - dense, tasty, the mayonnaise gave it a nice zing.

Lamb - I love kofta, and this one was lovely!

Chicken - the English national dish is chicken tikka masala - an abomination that did not exist prior to its invention here. Thankfully,  this was a lovely moist piece of chicken done as it should be, and not swimming in an orange sauce!
Now we are really struggling, and I am so glad I had eaten a very very light lunch.

Almost there....Course 4....(left to right) Lamb Rump on Chick Peas, Seared Tiger Prawn with Celeriac Puree, and Pan Fried Sea Bass with Kadhai Mushrooms. These were served with a side if Parathi - but we were struggling so didn't really eat any, I had a bite, and it was good, but the naan was better. My wine was a glass of almost home, a 2008 Muddy Water Pinot Noir from Nu Zulund. It is light but full of fruit and with enough oomph to cut through the spices without overpowering the palate.

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I am getting full just writing about this! In order...
Sea Bass - second fav dish of the night - crispy skin and the perfect mouthful.

Prawn - loved the spices, but I have been spoilt from birth with prawns (we used to hand net for them and cook them in a 10 gallon drum of salted water before eating them by a bonfire on the beach) and over here they are just not as good....still, this made the top 5 :)

Lamb - number 3 for the evening. Gorgeous, rare, tender, the chickpeas off gave a nice textural bite to the dish.

Finally we reach the desert course. Now you are thinking why are there only two morsels here...and that was at our request. The trio for desert (as shown) are a Star Anise Bitter Chocolate Mouse and a Hibiscus Sorbet. Not shown, was a poached pear (neither of us like pears). My wine was a glass of Paul Cluver 2008 Late Harvest Riesling  from South Africa.

The sorbet was number 6 of the evenings dishes - other than my penchant for pink being tantalised, it was light, tangy, just sweet enough. The mouse was very dense and bitter in a good way.

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If we thought we were done we were wrong, tea and coffee were offered and declined, we did managed to force down the petits fours, and we marveled at the magic which was the hot towels - aspirin sized white discs that when water is added the grow before our eyes into towers of warm cleaning goodness - like bacon, hot towels make everything better!

All up, a brilliant night out. I would like to thank Shahera Jordan from Smartbox™ , and the team at Benares for making us welcome and pouring us back out onto the street happy and stuffed to the gills.

Benares Grazing Menu: £79/pp, matched with premier wines £120/pp, or with prestige wines £179/pp.

Benares Restaurant & Bar
12A Berkeley Square House
Berkeley Square, London, W1J 6BS


Not Quite Nigella said...

I really like the Smartbox vouchers as I like to choose where I eat or what I do :) and the meal looks great-I've also seen those towelettes at Joel Robuchon and thought that it was rather cool too!

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

Those towelettes rock my world (also saw them at Joel Robuchon) - but then I am easily amused!! ;o) All looks fab... but don't get me started about the 3 things that Australians do well...!!

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