With the first month of 2018 finally over, the few people who have stuck to a ‘dry’ and healthy January might be wondering if it was all worth the effort. We were thinking the same, until an unexpected invite to one of the best-rated restaurants in London came our way…
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One of the main complaints for those trying to get into good habits at this time of year is the lack of alternatives. Zero-alcohol beers have been increasing in popularity over the last few years, but are still to find their way onto dinner tables at parties and more formal events.
Chef Atul Kochhar has teamed up with Heineken and curated an unexpected evening with a unique twist on his Michelin star-winning dishes at restaurant Benares. Here’s what happened when we attended the evening full of alcohol-free moments…
‘It’s great to be a part of changing consumer perceptions around alcohol-free beer,’ Kochar said. ‘We wanted to create unexpected moments of delight throughout the evening, with a menu that people might avoid within a healthy, balanced lifestyle.’
Kochhar is renowned for his modern take on classic Indian cuisine and as such is the perfect man to bring this evening together. His food rarely (if ever) relies on alcohol as an ingredient and none of the dishes we sampled were dependent on a specific side drink to serve as a pairing. We did get some dishes that included Heineken 0.0 as an ingredient in the food itself, but these were as part of an experiment on the part of the chef and, as we were about to find out, the experiment worked.
Good intentions at the start of every year tend to last up until the first pay day. At that point, party invites start rapidly rolling in and nights out seem to be back in fashion following the post-Christmas lull. This evening had the feeling of a typically decadent and luxurious night out, but knowing that it would remain an alcohol-free evening meant that there was a relaxed atmosphere from that start. To be honest, the promise of a four-course meal personally prepared by an award-winning chef certainly helped.
Indian food isn’t always the healthiest option when deciding on what to eat, at least not within the context of the typically British version of the original dishes. However, as anyone who has visited India can attest, if you avoid the overbearingly sweet puddings and desserts, you can actually enjoy a well-balanced diet when eating out. It’s not all fiery curries and several pints of lager.
After an amuse-bouche of an Indian-style gobi patty with a lightly stir-fried side of vegetables, we were on to the fish course starter. Heineken-cured tandoori salmon with an edamame quinoa salad was a sizeable opener and one we would have been more than happy to receive as a main.
The main course itself, however, was something that looked daunting on paper. Would the mishmash of venison, chocolate curry sauce and yellow dhal actually come together on the plate?
Although not quite hitting the highs of the salmon we previously had, the main course was still a thoroughly enjoyable dish. Perhaps the slight issue is with the taste of venison, which to be fair is an acquired taste, although the recipe we received afterwards does suggest that any lean meat would work just as well. The one element that worried us the most before the dish arrived was actually the best part: the chocolate sauce. It was quite simply an outstanding accompaniment and we will be looking to have it again.
Finally, it was time for dessert, and this is arguably the toughest part of any menu to deliver without alcohol and maintaining an element of healthiness to it. Well poached pear might not be on the level of low-fat yogurt and granola in terms of low calories, but it’s not a bad way to finish off a meal. The addition of a coconut ice cream and ‘Goan Delight’ (a very sweet twist on panna cotta) might be too much for some, but worked wonderfully for us as a closing dish.
It’s unlikely that any future unexpected dinner we get invited to will be come courtesy of a Michelin star chef, but at least now we know that we’ll be just fine if alcohol is off the menu.