Ayurveda is a holistic medical system that believes the universe is connected through the elements: earth, water, fire, and space. A combination of these elements make up a dosha, of which there are three. Doshas are the energies, or elements within us. As the elements in the world shift, so do the ones inside us. It is advised to eat in accordance to the doshas, to balance the body's needs through food.
That's exactly what Chef Sameer Taneja has done at Benares. This winter season, he has built a menu in accordance to the Pitta dosha (fire and water), using warming herbs and spices to bring harmony to the mind, body and soul this season. This is so much more more than a dining experience, this is a delicacy.
It’s all about fire here in the Ayurvedic menu. So let’s see what’s heating up.
What's the vibe?
You can spot Benares from a mile away thanks to its bright orange banner covering the entrance door. Although, the inside proves a much darker ambiance than its outside identifier. The bright orange quickly becomes a dark amber. Think ultimate mood lighting levelled throughout the space.
A flight of stairs will take you to the main area, where the bar and dining space has been separated by a pond with red lotus flowers. The bar is low level plush seating. It’s sultry, and spiritual. They serve food here too, in case Mayfair is your favourite neighbourhood to drop into for drinks. Be sure to add Benares to your regulars list.
The main seating area keeps the dim light but with a more defined fine dining layout. The walls are wooden lacquer with a beige stone backdrop. When you pair the lighting with the pops of vermillion red throughout the space, Benares proves the perfect place for a little romance. Or perhaps a family celebration. But who am I kidding, when food is this good, you don’t need an excuse to come. Let’s dive into the details, shall we?
What to order?
We let the chef guide the way, and we’re glad we did. Dinner started with an amuse bouche of vegetable broth and spices: coriander, chives, turmeric root, ginger and clove. This may sound like something you can create at home, but I promise you it's not. Its other worldly. The taste is similar to a smoked dhal. My partner, who's family is from the Gujarat area, said "This is my home in a cup." Chef Sameer transports you from the first taste.
The second course was a samosa, only instead of being entirely covered in crust, it appeared more like a cupcake, with a flakey bottom and outer layer. They filled it with chicken and a roasted chestnut and celeriac mouse. It warms you from the inside out. The main was a winter squash in turkey bone marrow juice and Nihari spices. The flavour has the kind of creativity that people would travel miles to experience. This is only Mayfair, so you have no excuse but to attend.
In terms of drinking accompaniments: you can’t go wrong. Their signature passion fruit chutney martini goes down like refreshing candy. Or go for something more classic, like their aged negroni with raisin infused campari. It makes the balance of bitter to sweet more of a treat.
If alcohol isn’t your thing, Benares proves a haven. Do try a lassi. If fruit is your thing, stay in the mango region. The salt lassi is like drinking the sea out of a piece of palm tree. The sweet lassi is a frothy treat - less intense, just as palm tree-esque.
Plus, there’s teas, digestifs, and plenty of herbs to balance your stomach after the meal. We finished off with a turmeric toddy, for a little immunity boost before heading back out to the cold.
What’s the damage?
The chef’s four course tasting menu can be experienced for just 49 pounds per person Monday through Saturday during lunch hours or during the early dinner seating. With the healing properties in the food, I'd say this is more of a reverse damage type of situation. Who said Michelin star can’t be done on a budget?
Anything else to note?
Chef changes the menu seasonally, to reflect the needs of the body. It's Ayurveda season until early Feb. So make sure you book in soon if you want a taste of that fire. Plus, they have four private dining spaces, so it's an optimal place to entertain. You'll heat up faster in a group.
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12a Berkeley Square, London W1J 6BS; Benares