It’s Curry, Jim, But Not As We Know It
Michelin starred Amaya, in a little passage off Motcomb Street, is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of London’s most chic and sophisticated Indian restaurants. Forget flock wallpaper and lurid pictures of elephants, here it’s all about a contemporary vibe, dark and very softly lit. As such, it has the reputation of being one of the capital’s most romantic restaurants, though it might not be an ideal choice for a first date because it’s so popular, buzzy and noisy, that there’s no chance of whispered sweet nothings being heard by your paramour. Tables are comfortably well spaced out but even so, you have to be of good of voice to conduct a meaningful conversation.
Be forewarned, this is no curry house where you might pitch up after a beery Friday night. For a start, it is imperative that you book well in advance to have any hope of a table but, more pertinently, any desire for onion bhajis is guaranteed to be thwarted and you won’t find your favourite Vindaloo here. The menu is mouthwatering, for sure, but essentially this is top of the range western food, seasoned with Indian spices and cooked in one of three subcontinental styles, Tandoor in a hot clay oven, Sigri over a coal flame, or Tawa seared or griddled on a very hot plate, all of which can be watched from your table with a view of the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant.
The Lovely Husband, as always my steadfast dinner companion, and I, chose the regular Tasting Menu to keep things simple and get a good overview at the same time. After all, what can be better than a selection of tastes recommended by the chef?
Our first three courses were beyond exquisite. The Crispy Cabbage and Noodle Salad was fresh and crunchy, the pomegranate seeds, nuts, bamboo shoots, finely shredded cabbage and crispy noodles a perfect combo of texture and flavour, leaving us hungry for more. The Rose Chicken Tikka was the tenderest, juiciest I have ever tasted, a real melt in the mouth moment, with a good kick of tandoor spices elevating essentially boring chicken to all new pinnacles of taste; the Chargrilled Seabass, served on a banana leaf, the crowning glory in its mindblowing succulence and subtly layered spices. These were the height of culinary bliss, of deliciousness exceeding all expectations, the stuff that dreams are made of.
The Goats Cheese and Yoghurt Kebab were not so much kebab, as little fried mushy cakes, light, tangy and tasty, but somehow, so very un-Indian, that, delectable as they were, they seemed out of place in this line up. Still, they went down without a murmur of dissent.
The joy of eating Naan lies in that buttery spongeyness, that allows for getting down and dirty with curries and sauces, the tearing and mopping and sensuality of eating with your hands. Here at Amaya, I found them disappointing. They were far less doughy and much more crispy than expected and, although they came accompanied by some nice enough condiments, they were bereft of anything saucy to revel in. In my naïve expectation of further delights yet to come, I prematurely ordered another batch at a whopping £4.50, which, however, never met their match and remained redundant.
They, in turn, were followed by Wild Venison Seekh Kebab, two lightly spiced cigars of venison mince filled with, what I assume, was sweet potato puree. Nice if you like mince but wasted on me, as I am not a fan.
Four firm grilled spears of green asparagus, enhanced with a rich curryish kind of hollandaise, made for a good contrast to previous dishes but, again, for my tastebuds, a little too European in their aim.
Finally, the Chicken Biryani with a Pomegranate and Boondi Raita. Ah, now I have been spoilt for life by a Biryani I had on a recent trip to Oman, which was truly the food of the Gods. Sadly it made Amaya’s version a little bland and unremarkable in comparison. The Raita of thick yoghurt and barely any taste of the chickpea boondi lacked tartness and liquidity to give the all important zingy lift to its Hindi rice partner. Such a shame.
Neither the Lovely Husband nor myself are keen on chocolatey desserts, so we were very kindly offered a cherry topped cheesecake instead. The small slice came prettily presented, with two plump and juicy black cherries and the now so ubiquitous edible flowers for decoration, a yummy morsel of a finale.
Amaya in Hindu and Arabic is a girls’ name meaning Night Rain. Anyone who has ever lived in the tropics, will appreciate the refreshing qualities of a much longed for shower at night, breaking the stifling heat of day and painting nature with a lush and colourful new palette. The very same can be said for Amaya, the restaurant. It brings an exciting and different slant to Indian cuisine in London, with its often unexpected take on classic dishes. There’s nothing sticky or cloying about the food here, nothing heavy or challenging to digest, it’s all elegantly spiced and beautifully cooked, caressing the discerning palate. If you’re doubtful about conventional Indian food and enjoy a high gourmet experience, Amaya offers a fabulous symphony of Indian inspired European adapted cooking which will ring your every sensory bell. If, on the other hand, you are a bit of a Luddite, as I am, and you relish the thought of a mundane hot and wet curry, that gets your mucous membranes going, and that is eaten enthusiastically Indian street style with your chapatti, paratha or naan in your hand and oil dripping down your chin, then Amaya may just be a little too refined for you. Nonetheless, I had an excellent meal here, which made a very pleasant change from the usual.
Our bill came to £163.69, including a £37 bottle of very nice Indian Sauvignon Blanc, a second portion of naan, an Americano coffee, service charge and VAT, which, though by no means cheap, seems acceptable for superbly high quality food in a Michelin starred restaurant in London. Service was highly professional, discreet and friendly.
What I wore
Silk dress ordered on the internet from EZpopsy, strappy red sued Dolce & Gabbana sandals, dark red vintage (1940s) crocodile handbag handed down by my mother.
Dear Readers, I’d be delighted to find out more about you, so please feel invited to leave a comment below or just say ‘hello’. If you enjoy reading my blog, please like, share and follow it. Thank you!