Columnist and Restaurant Reviewer Riccha Grrover in an exclusive review of the iconic Mayfair london restaurant Benares and in conversation with their Executive Chef extraordinaire specialising in nouvelle Indian cuisine-Sameer Taneja, for Asian Lite International.
Chef Sameer spent many years working mainly with French chefs such as Pascal Proyart (2003-2009), Michel and Alain Roux (2009-2010), Joel Antunes (2010- 2011) and Pierre Koffmann (2011-2012).
The much lauded chef Sameer is originally from Delhi, India. He received his degree in culinary arts from Mangalore, on India’s South-West coast. Prior to moving to the UK in 2003 he worked at The Oberoi Rajvilas in the pink city of Jaipur in Rajasthan which is consistently ranked amongst the top hotels in the world by Tripadvisor and Conde Nast.
RG- Tell us about your journey as a professional chef, across kitchens and cuisines? Did you always plan to be a chef or did you dabble into the profession as an extension of a hobby?
ST- Honestly speaking, I have had a challenging but satisfying career journey so far in the culinary world. I have had my fair share of ups & downs, few successes and some failures in my journey as a chef, but surely with plenty of learning!
Interestingly I never really planned on being a professional chef and nor that cooking was a hobby…my interest in food concepts, experimenting, innovating, cooking professionally came by chance and I each day I Thank God for it as this is surely my passion!
This is the second best thing that happened to me in my life – first are my children!
RG- What is like working for a big brand name restaurant kitchen of Benares? How is benares different from all the other high end indian restaurants in central London in terms of what unique food experience you offer?
ST- Benares is an institution in itself. It is a top indian fine dining brand. For me it is a dream come true to be able to cook here. Benares has its own style of food offerings. Our ethos of serving Indian food to discerning diners lies in simplicity yet innovation.
RG- What are the top five dishes you would recommend a first time diner to try ?
ST- I am biased! I like each dish that features on the menu but Oyster & Seabream Chaat, Baked Scallops, Venison, Spatchcock (Butter Chicken Roast) and Mashed Aubergine are very close to my heart and I cannot recommend these enough!
RG- Do you have a seasonal menu too or is it always a fixed ala carte menu? Where does your menu take its inspiration from?
ST- We have a seasonal pre fix 3 courses menu which changes often, a Tasting Menu (7 courses) which changes seasonally and A La Carte menu which is also refreshed seasonally. My menu is always inspired by the good ole home-cooked food from various indian households across the subcontinent and also regional eats offered by street hawkers. I then give it my own spin to showcase it in a globally acclaimed kitchen for the perusal of evolved and seasoned palates of diners in london city who love to dip into those flavours!
RG- Tell us about the decor, interiors, drinks selection, music and the overall vibe you have created- how does it compliment the meal experience at Benares?
ST- Benares restaurant exudes the beauty and the vibrancy of the holy ‘City of Lights’ in India while creating a strong impression with its striking contemporary design. Guests enter an elegant lounge with hand-crafted India inspired furniture and is complimented by a beautiful pond decorated with fresh flowers, creating a luxurious aesthetic. We have a unique cocktail menu with some Benares signature cocktails along with our Wine selection where styles meet spices! All the elements compliment the meal experience at Benares. It’s all about the balance. Drinks are led by my very talented colleague Jeepson Lopes.
RG- Tell us about some of your highs and lows in the journey as a chef. What keeps you motivated and what’s been your mantra of success? What advice would you give budding chefs?
ST- Highs and lows have been in plenty and have helped me to grow. They are too many to mention! But most importantly for me I try to find positivity in everything; I am in my element when surrounded by smiles. My family and my team support keeps me going. I am far from success, miles to go so I’m still working on my mantra as I discover it!
My only advice to young chefs would be- head down, focus, push and repeat!
RG- What is your personal favourite from the benares menu? What’s your favourite cuisine and restaurant when you go out to eat ? If you weren’t a chef what would you have been doing?
ST- My absolutely favourite is Oyster & Seabream Chaat. This dish is inspired from street hawkers of India, every mouthful tingles your tastebuds with salty, sweet, sour, spicy, umami, bitterness.
I love, love, love it!
I have a soft corner for any home cooked food and It has always been my weakness. I like fish & spice – can I call this my favourite cuisine?!
There are many restaurants I like, but to name few Hoppers, Sabor and Corner Stone.
And oh …I would probably be a Stand-up comedian if I was not a chef!
RG- How has the pandemic affected the meal experience at Benares? How have you kept the restaurant going and what changes do you need to incorporate in your restaurant in a post covid era?
ST- The pandemic have not only effected Benares but the whole FnB industry in general.
Here at Benares we are complying with all the Government regulations for a safer yet the original, gratifying and classy meal experience.
Indian Fine Dining Restaurant with British Flair in the Heart of Mayfair is a food destination, a culinary extravaganza, a lavish food experience to cherish. A food experience here can make any mealtime special and a special occasion even more special! The service is impeccable, the class-act unmatched, the food is worth writing home about, and the passion of the chef along with his team clearly shines through!
Benares Restaurant and Bar since its opening in 2003 has been considered one of the finest Indian Restaurants in the city.
A meal at this Mayfair jaunt is a memorable one, the delectable food memories linger on!