By Cat McGovern.
Normally when I hear the word pop-up, I immediately think of children’s pop-up books and this is what I kind of expect to see when I go to a pop-up restaurant. Disappointingly, this is never the case as adult pop-ups are high profile restaurants, sometimes within other high profile restaurants. Although from the outset, it is nowhere near as thrilling as the book, it is still an opportunity for lowly, poor people (like me) to experience fine dining for a fraction of the price. This is where Atul Kochhar of Michelin starred Benares steps in. For the duration of May, he has set up shop in the serene surroundings of Meza, which is found on Soho’s hugely busy Wardour Street.
As we supped on the gluttonous passionfruit & chutney martinis and slinked back on brown leather sofas, we noticed that Kochhar, in full chefs get-up, was furiously pacing in and out of the kitchen, and looking more than a bit stressed. I was tempted to give him a small wave and ask for a picture, but he seemed a bit preoccupied to pose for photos. Instead. I took pictures of the bar and all the beautifully coloured drinks the barmen were making.
Whilst taking photos, I took one of a waiter with a tray of booze. He asked if he could see the picture and then asked for a second try. He approved and went on his way. This resulted in him coming over with the drinks tray all evening. Note to self, if you want lots of drinks, make friends with the person who supplies them.
The Benares mojito was the next cocktail I was offered and it definitely bit back at me. The snapping power of the chilli, placed at the bottom of the glass, really took me by surprise and kicked started the night, so much so I grasped another.
Feeling a bit snacky, we spied the canapés and made ourselves known. The nibbles on offer were an array of Indian delights of a quality I hadn’t experienced before. The Rajathani crisp okra, which was lightly battered, gave the okra new depth and intensity and went well with the tang of the harrisa mayonnaise.
The most impressive bite was the Kadhai cottage cheese. Normally I associate cottage cheese with dieting and sad times; however this creation, which was deep-fried, made the experience more palatable.
What is impressive is that none of the dishes go over a tenner, meaning that Joe public can have a Michelin experience without straining the wallet. Kochhar is onto a winner here and if this wasn’t a launch, I would reserve a table straight away. So book soon before Kochhar’s delectable dishes are back at his (Benares) restaurant for normal price. You definitely won’t regret it.