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benares, london

i was there for a business dinner with lots of people, so we tried the whole menu.

horrendous: i don't think so much has been paid by so many for so little joy. and it didn't help my temper that the room was ridiculously loud.

honestly, the standard of cooking was at the bangla curry house level. butter chicken was sweeter than dessert, the lamb in the rogan josh was dry as a drought and entirely tasteless (at these prices you think they could source goat, but alas). kaali dal was ehh. the paratha/roti/naan came cold to the table. faux french style dishes were ridiculous. the so called paneer dish was laughable ... i could go on, but whats the point?

somebody please explain to these misguided one star michelin types that punjabi food is a lustful, joyful, all embracing cuisine: it is not food for gussying up and 'presenting'. kaali dal, butter chicken and paratha are truck stop specials in punjab, utterly delicious and heart warming. they've been stripped of all of that at benares: you get the muzak version of rock 'n roll.

avoid with extreme prejudice.

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  1. Thanks for the review. I have to say I've always been suspicious of "posh" indian restaurants like this which try to cater to western audiences, or mix indian and western foods. Nevertheless Benares was on my to-do list, just to see what it was like. After reading that it's getting crossed straight off. It really sounds like everything you hated is exactly what I feared, but worse. I mean I thought it'd be dull, but at least pleasant and refined (it's got a Michelin star).

    BTW, where would you say serves the best punjabi food in London?

    6 Replies
    1. re: chief1284

      the best punjabi food is at moti mahal (great queen st) and at gaylords (mortimer st). the bombay brasserie for weekend buffet lunches.

      for pakistani punjabi, tayyabs and needos for seekh kebabs and rotis only. i've also had good kebabs at raavi kebab house in drummond street, but the quality there is wildly variable.

      1. re: howler

        Tayyabs and needoo were also both on my list. So I'll step that up.

        Actually I've been to Moti Mahal in Delhi, really fantastic. I've also hear whispers about Gaylords a few times, will seek it out.

        1. re: howler

          howler

          Is the Raavi still open? Or do they only open in the evening? On my last 2 trips to London, I've tried to got there for lunch, based on your recc, and it was closed. Drummond Street is really handy for me, with it being just round the corner from Euston.

          1. re: Harters

            i was just there last week - for lunch - so yes, by all means go check it out. perhaps you went during a religious holiday?

            1. re: howler

              Ta. I'll be back down in a few weeks and will give it another try.

          2. re: howler

            Very enjoyable lunch at Raavi yesterday (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/902445).

            Foodwise, I'd rank it way up there: just behind Lahori Nihari (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/897802) and Tayyabs, but above Needoo Grill.

            Service-wise, *definitely* above all those other Pakistani places: I was served by one Pakistani and one Bangladeshi, and they can't be more pleasant and personable. Ambience-wise, it's also significantly cleaner and better maintained than those other places aforementioned.

        2. I see you have avoided the chef's name, so I'll do the same. This is disappointing news, but thanks for the warning. It was on my list, too, for some future meal.

          5 Replies
          1. re: zuriga1

            atul kochhar? he really should be ashamed of himself. for example, starters included a sample of bombay street food: samosa, ragda patties and a version of pani puri. the offerings were mingy, gussied up and uninspired: the tiny patties over the ragda was just floppy starch and not that vibrant, toothsome foil to the chickpeas underneath, the pani puri had been taken from the street and into the realm of 'fine dining' by leaving the pani in a tiny glass and topping its mouth with the puri etc.

            shocking, cynical. ZERO soul and the noisiest room i've been to in a while.

            1. re: howler

              I wonder if Atul is pandering to the tourist trade. As for noisy rooms, I find that too many good restaurants here.. and in NY, also, are just so loud that it ruins the meal. I don't remember eating out being such a deafening experience years ago, but maybe I am getting crankier now.

              1. re: zuriga1

                i rarely get as angry as i got after yesterdays meal.

                and i still don't get this desire to faux frenchify an indian cuisine when you can't even get the basics straight. look at quilon - its starred too, but there they know what they're doing - the chef went to home kitchens to see how dishes were done and the results speak for themselves.

                kochhar is a giant fake.

                1. re: zuriga1

                  "I wonder if Atul is pandering to the tourist trade"

                  I wonder if he's pandering to the likely views of the Michelin inspectors.

                  1. re: Harters

                    thats probably it, but my are they easy to pander.

            2. I have never eaten at Benares but many colleagues who have said much the same as Howler, it is a very noisy room, and the food doesn't inspire.

              I believe there is a place for high end Indian food, but the basics need to be good. The much maligned "Cinnamon Club" gets some of the basics right, and is good if you order carefully, I like the quality of their ingredients which I feel makes a significant difference; although it doesn't justify the price.

              My favourite in he UK is "Lasan" in Birmingham which pushes the boundaries a bit, it has it's roots in good solid cooking techniques, and they have great goat. Quilon is good, and I am surprised by how overlooked the Bombay Brasserie is, as Howler says their weekend lunch buffet is worth trying (although I don't like the newly renovated room).