Benares 10th Anniversary Meal

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of his restaurant, chef Atul Kochkar invited a group of London’s most ravenous foodie bloggers to taste his recent menu at Benares.

We met in the bar, exchanged business cards and slurped down a spicy passionfruit and chilli martini. Taking our seats at the prestigious chef’s table, we chatted about our recent culinary experiences whilst admiring the busy kitchen staff frying, tossing, plating and garnishing with great precision and speed.

A delightful personalised tasting menu awaited our palates, and while the food arrived a knowledgeable sommelier offered glasses of carefully paired wine.

To titillate initially a tiny chicken tikka cone… it was a little odd eating pureed chicken but no-one could deny the wonderfully aromatic taste. Fennel-infused lamb chop was rich and flavoursome, presented with a majestic mustard-marinated king prawn; pan-roasted wild sea bass with vermicelli, coconut and curry leaf sauce was a light and fragrant next course. Roasted rump of cornish lamb with shoulder samosa, potato and broad beans was a delicious mix of British ingredients, Indian spices and innovative Atul Kochkar creativity.

Wines were selected from all over the world to ensure the body and flavour perfectly suited the food.

Just before dessert we had a mouthful of lime sorbet, a moment to pause and reflect before the final sweet course. Rose and raspberry Bhapa Doi with pistachio Burfi was a creamy fruity pudding, a wonderful mix of ingredients which soothed my palate after all the rich spicy savoury food.

Atul never ceases to amaze me with his inspirational Indian cooking, and ten years after opening, Benares is better than ever. In a country where this exotic cuisine is so popular, Atul provides food of the very highest calibre.

More info here: www.benaresrestaurant.com

Read about my first trip to Benares here.

You can also read about my trip to Atul Kochkar’s other restaurant, Indian Essence.

Indian Essence, Pett’s Wood

Atul Kochhar’s Indian Essence advertises itself as your favourite local Indian… but what it offers is much, much more than this. In the heart of Petts Wood, the restaurant showcases traditional Indian Cuisine with a creative menu that is sure to excite a discerning clientele as well as satisfying traditional palates.

“Atul Kochhar’s unique talent as a twice Michelin starred chef has changed the way people perceive and experience Indian cuisine. Taking inspiration from his native India while continuously researching regional dishes, Atul has managed to combine his heritage with his love of British cuisine and created a unique and innovative modern Indian cuisine. As the very first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star, accomplished during his time as Head Chef at Tamarind in 2001, he then went on to open the highly acclaimed Benares Restaurant and Bar for which he was awarded his second Michelin star in 2007.” I experienced his exquisite delicate Indian food at Benares a few months ago so was eagerly anticipating my meal at his new, more casual eatery, Indian Essence.

After a lengthy journey from West London, we were relieved to arrive at the restaurant, which is thankfully close to Petts Wood train station. The meal began with miniature poppadums and three homemade fruit chutneys to whet the appetite and introduce a few Indian flavours. We chose several cocktails from the select list: Rose and Lychee Martini was girly and sweet and the Pineapple and Ginger Mojito was refreshing and exotic.

It was a challenge to pick from the menu of tempting dishes… Atul has combined favourite ingredients with typical Indian flavours and methods of cooking to present appetising recipes. It was a meat heavy first course: Lamb chops marinated in fennel, pepper and cream were supremely tasty, falling-off-the-bone soft lamb with an aromatic crumbly marinade. so good I felt the need to gnaw at the bone to obtain any last morsels of meat. Basil infused chicken tikka fillets was presented three ways, each with a different spicy coating, but all equally delicious. Crispy fried squid, was made with a light batter and sweet sticky sauce, not too chewy but with a good bite… we weren’t quite sure how they fitted in with the Indian cuisine but they tasted too good to dwell for long on their authenticity.

For main course we chose a mix of traditional Indian dishes and Indian influenced British classics. Slow cooked Lamb neck curry was the special of the day and also a favourite in the restaurant, recommended enthusiastically by our waiter we had high expectations. The meat was again amazingly tender, softened perhaps by the vibrant spices and herbs. The sauce was light and fragrant, and surprisingly not too rich. Tandoori chicken tikka in creamy tomato and fenugreek sauce was my favourite. Even the accompaniments were divine, the pilau rice and garlic naan were without doubt the best I’ve ever tried. The more familiar steak choice was the only disappointment of the day, a Goa style sirloin cut with pepper coconut sauce and coriander chips. Though the flavourings were intriguing, we found the steak too chewy and the chips too heavy.

Kulfi is a popular Indian frozen dessert made with semi-condensed milk. My brother particular enjoyed the pistachio and mango varieties on offer at Indian Essence, a light and refreshing ice-cream that cleanses the palate after spicy savoury courses. I opted for the interesting sounding Chocolate and peanut butter parfait with sugarcane ice-cream, a wonderful combination of flavours.

On the tedious journey to Pett’s Wood, I declared I’d never visit this faraway area again, my return trip was spent searching for a slot in my diary to return. Indian Essence offers exceptional Indian food that will appeal to everyone, I was impressed with every detail of Atul’s inventive menu and culinary execution.

More information here: www.indianessence.co.uk

Benares Chef Season, Mayfair

Atul Kochhar’s fine Indian restaurant Benares is pitched just right. And although I can’t vouch for the regular a la carte menu, I was very impressed by the Chef Season miniatures I tried there last week. Since opening in 2003, Benares has offered modern,stylish and refined Indian cuisine. Atul is passionate about redefining the common perceptions of Indian cooking and with the Chef Season, he welcomes some of the country’s leading cooks to create a series of fusion menus to be served at the sophisticated Benares Bar.

Each chef works closely with Atul to prepare a menu of small plates reflecting a combination of both Atul’s famous flavours and their own signature style. Culinary masters such as Anna Hansen (The Modern Pantry), Richard Corrigan (Corrigan’s) and David Thompson (Nahm) have all been involved.

I was lucky enough to visit and taste both Dhruv Baker’s menu and the few special dishes created by Atul.

Dhruv’s Menu

Seared Pigeon Breast with Spiced Pea Puree and Tamarind Sauce

Mussalam Lamb, Saffron Pomme Anna and Beetroot Chutney

Squid Stuffed with Fennel Seed, Chilli, Salmon and Prawn Mousselline

Pan Fried Bream with Compound Butter, Saffron and Cumin, Buttered Crushed Potatoes

Crispy Aubergine with Truffled Honey and Bhartha Puree

Pan Fried Duck Breast, Black Cardamon Plum Sauce and Pickled Carrot Puree

Dhruv’s Feature Cocktail:

Bacardi Oakheart, fresh Cloudy Apple Juice, freshly squeezed Lime Juice, Angostura Bitters, Dhurv’s homemade Spices Syrup.

Atul’s Menu

Blue Cheese, Fresh Figs, Quince Chutney on Naan Bread

Apricot, Yoghurt, and Stuffed Spinach Patty

Chicken Tikka Parcels, Damson Chutney

3 dishes for £21.00

The tapas-esque portions arrived in trio sets, presented on smart dark wooden trays. The food exceeded my expectations, and I can’t remember enjoying a Michelin star tasting session quite so much ever. The small quantities allow guests to indulge without feeling gluttonous, and food always tastes better when you are left wanting more. The refined, compact flavours of each recipe had been finely tuned to achieve spectacular dishes. From Dhruv’s menu the crunchy crackling aubergine crisps were stand-out… I even begged the waiter to explain the recipe and process in the hope of creating these clever canapés at home. I also particularly remember the lamb and duck, both of which were cooked immaculately with innovative and inventive seasoning to perfectly match the qualities of the meat. The accompanying cocktail was surprisingly delicious and well suited, a rum based kind of Daiquiri flavoured with a unique spices syrup.

Atul’s menu was equally tasty and even more wacky. The Indian inspired pizza was a hit with my guest and I loved the soft richly flavoured spinach patty, but it was the chicken tikka parcels that really had the wow factor. Warm and buttery chicken encased in the lightest crispiest filo pastry, totally divine.

And just as I was dreaming about the prospect of a sweet mouthful, a little afterthought arrived at our table… petit fours of biscuit, chocolate and fruity rice crispy squares.

This Chef Season menu was absolutely delicious, with the finesse of French cooking, the boldness of British cooking and the essence and flavours of India. I’m desperate to return to review the full Benares menu now.

Visit the Benares website here for more information.

http://www.benaresrestaurant.com/