Monday, 5 July 2010



Well, here I am still in the UK but the time is drawing ever nearer for me to be off! I am actually going to fly to France now on July 23, spend a few days quietly with Ian and then travel back with him the following week with the van to pick up all my belongings. I can scarcely believe that I am nearly there!!

I wanted to use part of my blog for restaurant reviews and I think I will kick off this section with a review on a recently visited UK restaurant - Benares in Berkeley Square.

Pat and I had been really looking forward to our visit to Benares and we decided to try the set menu - there was a choice of three different starters, three main courses and two puddings.

On arrival at the restaurant we were made to feel very welcome and the staff remained absolutely delightful throughout the whole experience. It was worth a visit just to be treated like royalty!!

We were shown through to our table even though we had arrived a tad early but I suspect, as we were dining at lunchtime, the restaurant was happy to accommodate us as they weren't fully booked.

For my starter I chose the carpaccio of beetroot with goat's cheese, decorated with nuts, and a spicy dressing. Pat chose summer mutton salad with a spicy dressing.

Before the starters arrived, we were presented with an amuse bouche of finely sliced, marinated radishes - something new for both of us but absolutely wonderful. Simple but wonderful.

We were each then given a glass of Pear Bellini which I decided not to drink as I am not a great lover of fizzy drinks with a meal so Pat had the two and I ordered a glass of red wine. I have to say, I have rarely tasted such good red wine and it was actually a lot cheaper than in nearby wine bars. Pat tucked into the Bellinis with great relish!

Then our starters arrived. I had expected small portions as we had the set menu but we actually got very good portions. My beetroot was exactly as I had expected it and the spicy dressing just hit the spot. Pat's salad was equally as good and I tried some of her mutton and found it to be very tender and the dressing was perfection! Hot and spicy. What was great was the fact that as each course was placed in front of us the waiter/waitress explained what everything on the plate was. Added to that was the presentation which, I have to say, was second to none!

Then our next course: for me it was sea bass on a bed of Israeli couscous which had been "cooked" in a curry stock, served with hard green peas and a side dish of coconut curry sauce. Pat had tandoori chicken served with spicy green beans. There was also a side dish of naan bread. Again, the food did not disappoint - Pat's chicken was very tender and tastey and my fish was superb. The only thing I didn't like were the hard peas. I felt that perhaps the meal would have been better without but that was a personal choice and some people would probably like the crunchy texture complimenting the softness of the other ingredients. Have to say though, I fell in love with the couscous and the coconut sauce was to die for!

The portions were again quite large and, although we struggled with the pudding, we managed somehow to manfully plough through them! Pat had mango panacotta with mango sorbet and sesame brittle and I had iced coffee parfait which sat on a thin layer of chocolate suace, served with flavoured cream chantilly and roast hazlenuts. I am not normally a pudding person but I do love my ice cream and my dessert was just right. Pat also thoroughly enjoyed her panacotta and our two empty plates, despite being full, was evidence of our enjoyment!!

I then chose to have coffee and Pat had tea and we were then presented with some home made sweets, the best of which were the salty chocolate almonds. Absolutely superb.

After our meal we got talking to all the members of staff and we were shown around the restaurant. Pat had a little chat with the chef (not Atul!!) who was in the process of inventing a new amouse bouche using cheese. There was a side room for private dining overlooking the kitchen and I have to say I was very impressed by that kitchen. Gleaming, immaculate and, quite honestly, what I would expected in a restaurant run by Atul. Obviously all the staff are just as enthusiastic about the restaurant as Atul and they seem to take great pleasure and pride in it.

I was then taken into another side room where you could have a meal and have a wine tasting. The whole room was surrounded by bottles of wine with just the one table in the middle - diner's and drinkers' paradise indeed! How I would have loved to have tried that room for real.

I ended up buying one of Atul's books which had been signed but I chose not his latest book but an earlier one because it contained the recipe for the coconut curry sauce I so loved. I chose it also because the latest booked was dedicated to fish dishes and I preferred a book which was a combination of meat and fish. No doubt it will get a lot of use when in France!!

To put the icing on the cake, Pat actually treated me to this meal because it is soon to be my birthday and she couldn't think of a gift that would please me more than actually having a meal in a great restaurant. I have to say, I wasn't disappointed in any way and it was a delightful gift!!


Now, this is an old review but I thought I would like to include it in my blog because it was the most unusual, funniest and great evening I had experienced for quite a long time!

For those who don't know about these sorts of "restaurants" the idea behind them is that someone who can cook well turns one of their rooms at home into a very informal dining room and then, by whatever means they choose, they either sell off tickets at a pre-set price to potential diners or diners book a place and then contribute what they think the meal is worth.

The Underground Restaurant we chose was one recommended by word of mouth and also because the hostess was becoming well know via newspaper and TV interviews and it all sounded very intriguing.

Here goes with a description of our evening (I was joined by my friend Pat, and another friend, Dot. In fact the evening was a Christmas present from me to Pat and the theme really appealed to us).

It was an Elvis evening celebrating his 75th birthday but what we hadn’t anticipated was that the hostess had researched the kind of food that Elvis loved and the evening was a tribute to Elvis and his appetites!! I would like to say from the outset that practically nothing on the menu was what I would have ordered under normal circumstances, but what a treat we would have missed!

I will set out the menu as I remember it and then go into details about each course.


Squares of deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches with chilli sauce
Deep fried dill pickles, with chilli sauce
Warm corn bread and honey butter
Blackened cat fish with collard greens
Corn on the cob
Fried yams
7-up “salad”
Smokey baked beans
Sour milk/ordinary milk
Straight and round cup chips (apparently how Elvis always demanded his chips!)
Last, but not least was what Pat called a “deconstructed” apple pie (more about this later)

We were made very welcome as soon as we entered the premises and were told to sit anywhere, which everyone quickly did. The room was lovely, warm and airy and there was a wonderful atmosphere right from the start.

From that moment onwards, the food flowed very quickly and in huge supplies!! The squares of deep fried peanut butter and banana were excellent, much to my surprise and I think I ate three of those in all. The chilli sauce was hot and good.

The deep fried dill pickle wasn’t to my liking but that’s mainly because I am not that fond of dill pickle anyway. But I helped myself to lots of chilli sauce!

The corn bread was one of my favourite things but I chose not to have the honey butter but dipped the corn bread into my chilli sauce. Heaven indeed! ok

Out came plates of blackened whole catfish (heads and all) with the collard greens and this dish was one that I would have chosen anyway if I saw it on a menu. We weren’t disappointed. It was wonderful.

I think the hostess appreciated our appreciation because she sent two more whole catfish to our table!! Superb.

Out came dishes of fantastic smokey baked beans (another of my favourites’) and a strange jelly called “7 up salad”. And it literally was a jelly made from 7 up, coloured green and cottage cheese tipped into it. Apparently it was one of Elvis’s few nods to “healthy food” but, I admit, I thought it was great! Not to everyone’s taste but I absolutely loved it.

Dishes of fried yams came up, corn on the cob and a choice of sour milk or ordinary milk. I declined the dairy and stuck to my glass of wine!!

Then dishes of straight cut and round chips came out – again, one of Elvis’s quirks was that he loved both shapes on his plate.

By this time we were absolutely stuffed because the portions were so big, the food so unusual but great and we tucked into absolutely everything we were presented with.

Then came the grits. I have never ever had grits before and I was amazed at how good they tasted. But, being so stuffed, we sadly just managed a taster. sadfacesadfacesadface

The very last course, which many people struggled to eat because of being so full was also very good and I managed to eat most of mine! I don’t give in easily. Basically, and both Pat and I can’t really remember fully what the dish was, there was a thin layer of pastry onto which there was a scoop of ice cream. Pat thought there was peanut butter under the ice cream and I am happy to bow to her taste buds! There were warm apple balls around the pastry and there was also some fruit sauce - blackcurrent or raspberry. Whatever was on the dish, and at this stage we can't be sure, I thought it was great!

All in all, I think Pat and I could say that we thoroughly enjoyed the evening, were truly happy with the menu because it had contained a lot of things that we had never eaten before and we can’t wait to return to this particular venue and try a totally different menu.

The hostess was very charming, friendly and warm and said that Pat and I could take “doggy bags” of baked beans. But, because of a last minute hitch with our taxi and my trying to sort it out, we totally forgot! sadfacesadface

We were grateful to find very interesting people seated at our table and the conversation flowed between the five of us. In fact, one of the people was an American from New York and she assured us that the food was true to the South in every way. So, what a testament to our hostess. ok

Because of the bad weather, I think there were 3 or 4 “no shows” and they hadn’t bothered to inform the hostess which I thought was very poor form but it did mean that Pat and I (and the rest of the table) got extra catfish!!!

So, there you have it. My first experience of Underground Eating and a great venture into the unknown!