Acclaimed and applauded, Atul Kochhar is chef-patron of Benares in Mayfair. Kochhar has long been recognised for his style and excellence, being the first Indian chef to take a star at Tamarind, and then another in 2007 for Benares. His challenge is to make top-level Indian cuisine and to raise it to a fine dining level.
Looking a bit tired, the venue is not exactly overwhelming. A unappealing staircase leads down to a lounge bar, with the dining room on the right hand side. The decor is not up to the standard that you would expect to see in a restaurant of this level. You might be forgiven for thinking that you had arrived in an airport restaurant.
Food wise though, Kochhar offered dishes with really nice textures. Though, it’s hard to think of the presentation of the food as fine dining, because the decor drags everything down. Elements on the plate are also hard to distinguish, though in the confusion, there are some nice surprises. Chicken flavoured with rose water and prawns in light spicy sauce, with garlic and blossom water. That said, the food is all over the place and couldn’t be called stylish. It’s hard to know what the final result is meant to be, which might leave you feeling a bit perplexed.
Perhaps the concept could simply do with a bit of an update. The restaurant certainly needs a revamp and the boundaries for presentation should be pushed further. Though generally, it is hard to imagine how this could ever reach the standard of haute cuisine. This is certainly not helped by uninteresting tableware and poor service.
The one thing in Benare’s favour is its wine list, or perhaps ‘book’ is more appropriate. It has been wisely selected and well priced.
Overall, the experience is interesting, but there is an overriding feeling that while it could be special, but too many elements fall short. If Kochhar opens a new venue with an updated concept, it could well be worth a visit. Until then, stick to cheaper and more reliable curry haunts in the East.