Amaya sparkles like the jewel it is, nestling on Motcomb Street in Knightsbridge. Candles flicker and reflect back at you a thousand times from the glass, mirrors and glossy tiles that offset the more grounding, rough-hewn bricks and elegant wooden features.
By 8pm the restaurant was buzzing with a mix of diners: friends, couples and work colleagues occupied the restaurant, which manages to serves as a great choice for any of these occasions. The open section of the restaurant with three Indian grills on display (the tawa, the sigri and the tandoor), provided interesting theatre (useful for an uncomfortable date!). The cocktail list we were given on being seated, was intriguing. Our enthusiastic host recommended a Mojito and the Anaar - made with berries and pomegranate, and about as close to perfection as cocktails come. It was an interesting mouthful: refreshing, pretty to look at and divine to drink. The wine list offered an extended selection by the glass and when I didn’t like my first choice the sommelier promptly brought me two more to sample.
Part of the Veeraswamy group, Amaya classifies itself as modern Indian and most of the plates come tapas-style in servings for 2 or 4, with a rotating smaller selection of full meals for one. A few smaller dishes followed one of these curries or biryanis is the traditional way to eat, but knowledgeable waiters also advised us that 6-8 of the smaller dishes shared between two, is equivalent to a two-course meal for each person. Persuaded by the detailed enthusiasm of the staff towards so many of the dishes, we chose the latter option. The smaller dishes were just that in portion size, but beautifully presented and made with high quality produce. Despite the size, about seven dishes with rice or bread should leave you feeling comfortably full (with room in the dessert stomach for one of the tempting puddings).
Dishes come “as and when they are ready”, but conveniently arrive in an appropriate order, albeit in very quick succession. Our starter of goats cheese and mandarin salad with bitter leaves was perfectly balanced and served as a refreshing and simple start to our feast. At just 207 calories according to the menu, I felt impressively healthy at this point until I started to think about all the non-salad dishes that didn’t offer a calorie count. Our King scallops were complemented perfectly by the thin minted yoghurt sauce that lapped the edges of the shell they were perched in. It was tempting to tip it oyster-style straight into your mouth to capture all the sauce, but savouring the scallop won out.
The next two dishes arrived at the same time: the celeriac galouti kebab and the grouper in banana leaf. The fish is marinated for four hours in mustard, chilli, peanut, yoghurt and more before being wrapped in the banana leaf and cooked on the sigri (charcoal grill). The result is that this meaty fish falls softly at the touch of your fork and is infused with sweet smoke and spice throughout. All galouti (we learnt later from the chef himself) are pureed so that the aged rich of India can enjoy the flavours of Indian meats and vegetables long after their teeth have given way. Personally I prefer some bite, but the delicious flavour of garam masala in this griddled disc of pureed celeriac, balanced the bizarreness of the texture.
The paneer was fairly uneventful, but gave us the opportunity to play chef at the table, with the two wet and two dry chutneys we had been given. The tomato with the rose petals was a unique and surprisingly addictive combination, though not everyone may agree with this distinctive set of flavours. The excitement of making our own experimental food combinations continued with the arrival of mixed Indian breads and creamy spinach (so creamy and beautifully infused with herbs, that my partner mopped every last drop from the bowl).
Next came the meatier part of our meal. The miniature grilled chicken portions packed far more punch in flavour than their size would suggest - a result of hours of marinating, followed by traditional grilling. The lamb chops that followed were wrapped in tender lamb mince, and were equally succulent though not as strong in its flavour punch as the chicken.
We ended our marathon of dishes with half a lobster in the shell. I couldn’t resist trying lobster Indian-style. A rich tomato cream sauce smothered the sweet and delicate lobster, but whilst the sauce was great and the lobster was perfect, the combination of the two didn’t quite grab us.
Completely stuffed (you might have noticed we greedily exceeded the guideline, obviously with a view to offering more to recommend!), we still felt compelled to sample the desserts. While we both wanted the Chocolate Heaven (who wouldn’t?), in the interest of variety (and on the condition he would share) I chose the chestnut crème brulee accompanied by date and tamarind sauce. This Indian twist added a good helping of zing to the creamy dessert. Chocolate heaven came with its own Indian variation: an intense slice of dark chocolate and cinnamon tart and a square of fudgy brownie accompanied by a shot of cardamom spiced warm chocolate sauce. For those of you so inclined there are plenty of delicious sounding low calorie options.
Amaya offers up divine food in an exciting and welcoming atmosphere, with its open grills on display and knowledgeable staff. It’s the kind of place you could return repeatedly, order a different dish each time, and consistently be satisfied with its delectable fare.
Halkin Arcade, Motcomb Street, London, SW1X 8JT
Tel: 020 7823 1166
Reviewer: Jennifer Earle