Jane booked a table at Benares Restaurant for my birthday after we saw the chef/proprietor Atul Kochhar on television.
He was on a SkyTV show in which the best chefs in Britain prepare, cook, debate and present what they consider to be the Greatest Dishes known to man. In the first episiode he was competing with Gennaro Contaldo, Alexis Gaulthier and Angela Hartnett to produce the best starter in the world and his Galawati Kebab won out over Soffritto Napoletana, Soup with Black Truffles and Frogs Legs Mouselline.
The meltingly delicate Galawati kebab was apparently created for a toothless Nawab of Lucknow, but it won our hearts as well so we had to investigate further.
When Kochhar was the head chef at the Tamarind restaurant he was the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star and Benares is certainly a class act. The decor is quite dark and the ambience is very cool, with a series of water-filled pools decorated with gerbera flowers and lillies.
We were a little bit disappointed to find that the Galawati kebab was not on the menu.
I had Subj Bahar - cumin scented pan-fried potato cakes, grilled pickled paneer, tandoori closed cup mushrooms & tomato with basil oil & garlic vinegar dressing - to start, and then Parda Biriyani - a pastry sealed pot of fragrant rice and lamb served with raita. I also ordered a black dal.
The waiter, very politely, over ruled my red wine choice and steered me to a Napa Valley Zinfandel which certainly did complement the spicy food wonderfully well.
It was a great gastronomic experience. The Benares website says, "the presentation may be lean towards modern European, but the heart of each dish can be traced to individual households across India" which is pretty much on the button. (I also found myself wondering whether or not there is any French/Indian hybrid cooking, maybe from around Ponicherry?)
Kochhar's book Indian Essence: The Fresh Tastes of India's New Cuisineis now winging its way to me from Amazon and I am looking for some chums to come along and take one of his master classes with me. Any takers?