Madrid already has its fair share of Indian restaurants, most of them found in the vibrant streets of Lavapies but in September something special is happening, and it promises to tickle the taste buds of anyone lucky enough to get a table.
The Local was invited behind the doors of the new Benares, a spin-off from Kochhar’s Mayfair restaurant (which won a Michelin star in 2007) for a sneaky peek ahead of next month’s opening.
Close to open my own restaurant in Madrid, culinary capital in Southern Europe.Very excited with my new project: @benaresmadrid coming soon!
— Atul Kochhar (@atulkochhar) May 26, 2015
On the upmarket street of Zurbano, just around the corner from the ruling Popular Party headquarters, workmen are busy transforming the site into a colonial style extravangza that promises to transport diners to the bank of the Ganges.
At front of house will be a cocktail bar with a modern twist on the sort of décor one might have found at an Officers’ club during the Raj – chequerboard tiles, rattan furniture, heavy on the palms – with Indian street food style tapas.
The colonial style cocktail bar at Benares will serve Indian style tapas. Photo: Benares
“I’m going to enjoy playing with the tapas concept drawing influence from street food from all across India,” Kocchar explained.
Moving into the restaurant itself and there is a chef's table alongside the open kitchen where diners will be able to watch Kochhar’s team in action preparing his particular style of cuisine.
It’s hard to pin Kochhar down on his style but he rejects the term 'fusion'.
“I was born in east India, moved with my family to north India and studied in south India so I take influence from all over. It’s more pan-Indian but it also takes into account locally-grown produce, so Madrid will be different to my other restaurants.”
One of the biggest challenges, he accepts, is to cater for the Spanish palate. “It is a challenge I am really looking forward to. Spanish palates have become a lot more discerning. Spaniards have become more experimental, more open to learning about ethnic food.”
Asked if he is going to tone down the spices for a Spanish audience he insists that won’t be necessary. “Spaniards may not be used to spicy food but in fact my food has always been more about flavours rather than the heat from spices, so I think we’ll be fine.”
But he is going to be trying out new ingredients. “It is very important to adjust to what is available locally and Spain has a huge variety of ingredients that are new to me. I am really looking forward to trying out dishes with octopus and hake, which I haven’t used before.
“Also pork and beef, which I haven’t used in London, is so prevalent here that I will be creating dishes with those meats,” he said. “It’s a chance to get a bit more into the Spanish mindset.”
Diners will be able to watch the team preparing dishes in the open kitchen. Photo: Benares
For intimate occasions there is a private dining room located within the bodega, and diners will be urged to sample some of the 150 labels on the “small wine list”, about half of them Spanish wines alongside wines from the new world including from India itself.
One of the restaurant’s ambitions is to challenge diner’s preconceptions about what to drink alongside a curry.
“Once upon a time people thought only beer went with Indian food. But we will be offering a lot more,” explained general manager Vicente Górriz, a former sommelier. “Indian food actually goes really well with champagne, with heavy white wines, like a New Zealand chardonnay. But red wine is also a very good accompaniment.
“Right now people want to taste new flavours and they want a sommelier to guide them,” said Górriz.
The ceiling of the main restaurant recalls the wooden slats beneath parasols. Photo: Benares
And while sipping their wine and dining on the exquisite flavours provided by Kochhar’s team, diners will be spirited away to the banks of the Ganges.
Stretching the length of the restaurant above a shallow pool of flowing water, a film shot from a barge floating past the ghats of India’s holy city of Varanasi will be projected onto the exterior wall.
“The idea is to recreate the feeling of Varanasi, the light, the sights, the smells,” mused Kochhar. “I think people will enjoy it.”
The 44-year-old chef won his first Michelin-star at his London restaurant Tamarind in 2001 before earning another with his Mayfair restaurant Benares in 2007. Could he be set for a third in Madrid?
Benares opens in September at Calle Zurbano, nº5. For reservations call: 913198716 and follow the restaurant on twitter: @BenaresMadrid