Its ancient name, Kashi (meaning 'light' or brightness"), was associated with a kingdom of the same name some 2,500 years ago.
The Buddha gave his first sermon in nearby Sarnath in 528 BCE, and since ancient times 'The City of Light' has been an important center of Hindu devotion, pilgrimage, mysticism, poetry and music. The city has similar significance for India's Sikh, Jain and Islamic traditions. It is also known for its syncretic tradition of Muslim artisanship, including muslin and silk fabrics, ivory works,
perfumes and sculptures, and as a center of education.
The name Benares thus evokes the grandeur and diversity of Indian culture in a single word. And so, to experience the rich culinary traditions of the Indian sub-continent, it seemed only appropriate for us to make our own pilgrimage to Benares - a restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 13 featuring Modern Indian Cuisine.
On arriving we were served Zarate Albariño 2020 (Salnez Valley, Rías Baixas DO, Galicia, Spain) as an aperitif (along with a selection of beers we enjoyed throughout the meal). Wine Spokesman Jim Morrison noted that Bodegas Zarate is a recognized leader among Rías Baixas wine makers, having pioneered the production of high-quality Albariños in the mid-20th century. The eponymous unoaked Zarate Albariño is an "entry level" offering, made from grapes grown in 10 different plots in Val do Salnes with sandy granite soils and vines averaging 35 years old. It is characteristically crisp and refreshing, with high acidity that helps it hold its own over time. It received a 93 point rating from James Suckling.
Our Modern Indian Culinary Journey started with The Teaser: Chicken Tikka Doughnut served on Makhana Soil with Makhani Espuma. Food Spokesman Vernon Johnson, who was new to Indian food, wisely enlisted the support of a waiter to help with pronunciations and meanings as he reviewed the extensive menu. The presentation
of our first dish impressed Vernon as much as its flavors. The "soil" made of Lotus Seeds (fox nuts) and Espuma of butter together added richness to the classic chicken dish masquerading as a pastry (or doughnut hole).
Next up was Mushroom Infusion Soup with Pan-Seared Fine Mushroom and Onion. It was also an elegant presentation, with rich creamy soup being poured into a bowl containing lightly pan-seared mushrooms and onions. After a dash of pepper, Vernon found it very tasty, noting that some people would have liked some bread to mop up the remnants (little knowing what food was yet to come).
Those preferring wine to beer had the choice of Zarate Balado 2019 (Salnez Valley, Rias-Baixas DO, Galicia, Spain) or Corte Rugolin, Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore DOC 2015 (Italy) or both. Initially most had the Balado, deciding to save the big red for later meat and curry courses. Zarate makes several high-quality Albariño wines, each made from grapes grown in a single vineyard to showcase differences in terroir. The Balado
is one such wine, and Jim declared it "better" than the aperitif (a fact reflected by its higher price). "It is a powerful and vibrant white with a high acidity and freshness that wakes you up", and nicely accompanied the lighter seafood and chicken dishes. With 'bouches suitably amused' after the preliminaries, we were ready for The Opening Scene that consisted of Gold-Plated Tandoori Prawn and Green Herb Fish Tikka.
Just before the Mains, we were served a pair of grilled delights:
Chargrilled Chicken Tikka and Malai Seekh Kebab. Vernon was confused by the presence of soap suds on the plate, but as the waiter explained this was actually a lemon-flavored foam that nicely accented the grilled meats flavors.
As an interval before the mains,
we were served Lamb Chop Slow Cooked with Rogani Noodles and Sauteed Broccoli, along with a special treat from the Chef - Sikandari Raan. Vernon again called on his assistant, who explained that "rogan" refers to the juice produced as bone marrow is reduced in the slow cooking process, and that this juice is then used to cook the accompanying noodles.
The lamb chop was delicious and literally fell apart when touched. However, the signature Sikandari Raan, a spiced leg of lamb, was even more special - it was literally a dish fit for a king, "Sakandar" means "conqueror' and legend says this dish was served to Alexander the Great after he defeated King Porus in 326 BC at the Battle of the Hydaspes. Ironically, with even more food still to come, it nearly defeated a few of us.
Many thought it had been was more than an adequate lunch to this point, and were surprised when were served the Chef's Sparkling Sorbet to cleanse our palates in preparation for the next course.
No Englishman would consider an Indian meal complete without some curry as the Main Show. Not to be disappointed, we were served Chicken Vindaloo, Truffle Rogan Josh, and Dunar Murgh, along with Bombay Potatoes, Assorted Indian Breads and Steam Basmati Rice. A varied selection of many different flavors, only the simple family style presentation disappointed to Vernon. However, for others whose belts had already been loosened, it was a relief to enjoy as much or as little as they wished without leaving food behind on their plates.
Those who waited to enjoy the Corte Rugolin, Valpolicella Ripasso
The Final Climax was Baklava served with Vanilla & Cardamom Ice Cream, together with a choice of Masala Tea or Coffee. The sweetness of the dessert combined with the Tefreshing coolness of the ice cream perfectly rounded out the festival of flavors we experienced during our pilgrimage. Birthday boys Andrew McDowell and Tom Whitcraft, who had brought some Armagnac and Calvados, respectively, to complete finish the party, were chosen to express our gratitude and thanks to owner C.K. Singh, Chef Sunil, Chef Manager Ankit, and all their kitchen and service staff who expertly guided us on our culinary journey of exploration - a trip that we would highly recommend to others.