One could say that there are actually too many Michelin star restaurants in central London. Yet what gives them their stars is their uniqueness. Many of these restaurants have their own special streak which gives them their particular claim to fame. However, when scrolling through the list of all the decorated restaurants, one thing stands out; many of them serve Indian food, or at least a version of it. So how do they compete with each other in a clustered market, especially when many of them are located within the same square mile? And more importantly, how do we as customers choose between them?
Two such restaurants, both of which boast a Michelin star, serve the same style of food, and are practically on the same street, are Benares and Tamarind. They have both been awarded Michelin stars for the quality of their Indian food, the efficiency of their service and their impressive general dining experience, but surely there is something which sets them apart which isn’t foretold by the Michelin star guide?
And on closer inspection there is. Benares serves what can be described as Anglicised Indian food. Created by celebrity chef Atul Kochhar, the menu has a distinct English influence leading to a rather Anglo-Indian affair which produces Indian flavours plated up as standard English meals. An example of this is their cold saffron soup served in what looks like a shot glass: something which you would never find in an Indian household. In a similar way many of the dishes take on traditional Indian flavours and then anglicise it, leading to a very different and unique experience for the taste buds.
In opposition to this Tamarind serves Moghal Indian food, harking back to the days before English colonisation and subsequent distortion of traditional Indian cuisine. The menu here is definitely Indian, but the food served is miles better than that cooked in my kitchen. In this way the menu is not only authentic, but better than authentic as the flavours of each intricate spice is rich and emerges at exactly the right time; many Indian restaurants make this claim to authenticity but Tamarind delivers. The vegetarian dishes are just as good as the non-veg options, a sign of Indian authenticity as many Indians are traditionally vegetarians. The secret to this success may be the North Indian-style traditional tandoor oven they use and in addition the menu is constantly updated by executive chef Alfred Prasad, which keeps it innovative and fresh.
So, food-wise your choice between the two would really depend on what you’re looking for: if you want to try something experimental and be surprised, Benares is the place for you. However, if you want to savour some good old traditional Indian food, then Tamarind is where you should be.
So the food pulls the two restaurants apart. But there is also one more glaring difference I noticed between the two, as for me the atmosphere is as much a part of the dining experience as the food. At Benares the decor, the service and the entire ambiance is perfect; there is a calming atmosphere created by the still lily-filled pool which greets the guests and this is maintained in the main dining room with the minimalist white walls. On the other hand, Tamarind’s main restaurant is located in the basement and the lack of natural light and sparse lighting reflecting off the bronze walls make the space seem smaller than it actually is. This atmosphere is actually well suited to intimate gatherings, and both restaurants have serenity to them, but for a light and airy feel, Benares wins.
When making a judgement based on the Michelin stars, there is nothing that seems to separate the two; however, on closer examination they both offer very different experiences depending on what type of cuisine and aesthetic experience you want. Both restaurants serve Halal food which makes them ideal places for Muslims to break their fasts during Ramadhan in a fine setting.
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.