On my recent trip to London, I visited Benares, in Mayfair’s Berkeley Square, for the first time for an evening of spiced cocktails, wine and Indian street food. For those who want to try Benares’ innovative and modern Indian dishes, without paying fine dining prices, I recommend booking a table in their lounge bar and order the Street Food Menu.
Named after India’s holy city (Varanasi), Benares blends Indian traditional recipes with British ingredients. The food pays homage to the various regions of India and their distinctive street food characteristics. It is considered one of the best Indian restaurants in London.
We started the evening in the lounge bar with two of Benares Signature Cocktails. My brother tried the Green Spice Martini: Wyborowa Vodka Shaken with Coriander and Cumin Syrup, Fresh Root Ginger and Fresh Lemon Juice, Elderflower Cordial. The cocktail was garnished with a dehydrated red chilli and, as expected, spicy and full of flavours. My brother described it as “curry in a glass”. This description might not sound appealing, but the cocktail was delicious. My brother loved it and kept raving about it!
I tried the Passion Fruit Chutney Martini, which was sweeter and less spicy than the Green Spice Martini (and more appealing to my sweet taste). The cocktail was a combination of Homemade Passion Fruit Chutney, Wyborowa Vodka, Fresh Lemon Juice, Sugar and a dash of Passion Fruit Juice.
Indian Street Food Menu
For guests of the lounge, Benares offers an exclusive menu of five “street food” style dishes. The menu is priced at £40 and the portions are designed to be shared between two people and to be eaten by hand.
The first dish is Gol Gappe with Kaanji fermented Black Carrot Water, a take on panipuri, the highly popular (and one of my favourite!) Indian snack.
The crispy puri you get on the streets across India is typically filled with masala water (pani), while at Benares it’s served with kaanji, a fermented drink made with water, black carrots, beetroot, mustard seeds and heeng. It requires a long process to make and adds a punch to the puri!
The second two dishes were: Samosas and Momos. Samosas don’t need introductions: they are a classic street food of India. These ones offered at Benares were filled with Spiced Potato and served with a Mint & Coriander Chutney.
Momos are a type of dumplings popular across the Indian subcontinent and the Himalayan regions of South Asia. In their Street Food Menu, Benares include a portion of three Free-Range Chicken Momos with Smoked Tomato Relish. My brother and I both agreed that they were fantastic!
As we moved on to meat-based dishes, we swapped cocktails for wine. The Benares’ sommelier recommended us two differend red wines by the glass, based on our preferences. A glass of Klein Constantia Estate red wine from South Africa for my brother; and a glass of Ceciclia Beretta “Soraie” from Veneto for me.
The last two dishes of the Street Food tasting menu came to the table in traditional metal tiffins. There was Crispy Wild Fish Kempu, tasty small bites of fried fish; and Keema Maska Pao, spiced Venison Mince served with Buttered Soft Rolls for you to fill yourself.
The fish nuggets were my least favourite dish of the menu; perhaps it’s because I had already eaten some meat and was drinking red wine, so I wasn’t really in the food for a fish snack.
On the other hand, I loved the keema maska pao! The bread rolls were soft and pillowy just like the pao buns in Mumbai. I loved them filled with venison mince. Venison isn’t an authentic filling that you will find in India, so consider this dish as more of a take on something Indian (ie. the vada pao) for the taste of British (and International) guests.
Overall, my brother and I really enjoyed our evening of drinks and Indian street food at Benares. I also thought the service in the lounge bar was great: very attentive and knowledgeable.
The Indian Street Food Menu is available from lunchtime until the evening from Monday to Thursday. It is also available with only vegetarian dishes.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of the restaurant. All views are my own.