Let’s face it, most of us receive a fistful of emails every day, trying to get us to part with our hard earned cash in exchange for discounted meals at all manner of restaurants.
There’s no denying the fact that people inherently like a good deal, but in many cases I’m not convinced that’s what’s actually on offer.
These days it’s rare for us to even open these emails, let alone click-through and book. On occasion though, one slips through the net. This time it was Bookatable’s £35 for three courses at Atul Kochhar’s Michelin starred Mayfair restaurant Benares. The deal also included a free Champagne cocktail and a cookbook, so we thought we’d give it a try.
Benares would be a great place for a business lunch. Before you even enter the quiet and formal dining area, you’re greeted by the impeccably presented (and mannered) staff. At the top of the stairs, there’s a large, showy water feature, it’s all achingly corporate. This definitely isn’t your typical curry house.
Like most restaurant deals, this one was only available off-peak so we duly arrived before 6:30pm on a weeknight. The set menu was limited to three choices per course; one fish, one chicken and one vegetarian. For us that effectively meant there were only two options for each (don’t judge us). It also included either rice or tandoori bread and a lentil side dish. This seemed like a good offer, especially when you see the prices on their a la carte menu.
We started with the wild fish kebabs and lamb liver and kidney masala pie. The pie was easily the better of the two. It was basically a spiced shepherd’s pie, made with offal. My fellow diner The Hog is a bit of an offal-skeptic but the spicing worked well and we both enjoyed the dish.
The fish kebab on the other hand may have looked pretty but it was uninspiring in the extreme. I don’t know what Michelin inspectors would make of it, put it that way.
One of the traps people often fall into when ordering from cut-price menus is ordering additional dishes and pushing up the price of the bill. We tried to keep this to a minimum but we were sucked in by a side of squid rings with passion fruit dressing. I’m glad we were too because they were the best thing we ate all night. The passion fruit dressing was vibrant and fresh, bringing the dish alive and the squid was soft and tasty.
When it came to the main courses, none of the options on the menu particularly appealed. In the end, we settled on the roasted organic chicken supreme with bok choi sag aloo and the South Indian style baby sea bass en papillote with semolina cake.
The chicken dish didn’t really look much. It was essentially just a well cooked, spiced chicken breast with a few dabs of sauce and some steamed greens. Despite this, it was the better of the two mains. The sea bass was a real disappointment. Unfortunately it was dry and overcooked and the semolina cakes were strangely stodgy and soggy.
I think that perhaps my biggest gripe with the food at Benares is that none of it has any discernible heat. This was a real shame because we both like a bit of chilli. This makes me think that Benares is aimed at stuffy businessmen, rather than people who actually like Indian food.
For dessert, we had a selection of kulfi and a cardamon rice pudding. If you like cardamon (which we do), you’ll enjoy the rice pudding. It was creamy and comforting and I also enjoyed the cumin infused berry compote on top . The kulfi was absolutely fine but nothing to write home about.
Despite us only having a few beers and adding on only one side, the bill still came to a little over £100. This leads me to wonder exactly how good a deal this was. £35 per person may sound cheap but when you factor in service, you’ve effectively spent almost £80 before you start.
The menu was so limiting that I seriously doubt that we sampled the best of Benares. I hope not anyway because on this evidence they’re lucky to still be part of the Michelin starred club.
If you genuinely can’t (or don’t want to) pay premium prices to eat in top end restaurants, I don’t think these ‘deals’ are for you. We’ve had some brilliant meals this year for less than £100 so there really is no need to look for discounts. They invariably leave you unsatisfied and still out of pocket. You could probably have four meals at Tayyabs for the same as we spent at Benares. I think that says a lot.
Total cost: £102
Address: 12 a Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, London, W1J 6BS
Reservations: 0203 6417605