Amaya is now in its eleventh year of welcoming discerning lovers of contemporary Indian cuisine. Having opened to critical acclaim in October 2004, it has moved from strength, gaining a host of awards including a coveted Michelin star. The MW Eat group of which it is a part also delights in the success of sister restaurants Chutney Mary and Veerswamy, as well as the Masala Zone chain.
Discreetly located in the Halkin Arcade off Motcomb Street, Belgravia, Amaya oozes a style and sophistication to match its SW1 postcode. The small but glamourous cocktail bar gives way to a spacious dining area with stripped wood flooring, rosewood panels, terracotta ethnic statues, a water feature and bright, colourful murals. At lunchtime, the tinted glass roof gives a spacious, airy feel in contrast to the cleverly designed spot lighting which helps to create the intimate yet spirited ambience in the evening. Leather seating around well-spaced, dark wood tables is elegant and comfortable. The communal long table for solo or quicker dining is dominated by a glittering array of long crystals, adding real glamour to the room.
Undoubtedly the most attractive feature of Amaya is the open kitchen on the far side of the restaurant. Its multi-coloured wall of jars of condiments and utensils forms a dramatic backdrop to three open grills – the tandoor (clay oven), sigri (charcoal grill) and tawa (griddle). With the chefs at work in a busy service, all this adds an element of spectacle, especially when huge flames leap up. There is also vibrant salad bar with a well-lit display of seasonal produce. This visibility, with no hidden tricks in the preparation or cooking, might account for the restaurant’s name which in Hindi means “free from cunning or deceit.”
Chef Karunesh Khanna has created a wide, seasonally changing menu of Awadhi dishes supplemented by other Asian influences – witness the wok stir fries – and a few European ones such as tandoori foie gras or mandarin and goat’s cheese salad. In true Indian gourmet style, small sharing plates encourage “grazing” before a more substantial biryani or curry is attempted. The menu categories of Salad, Seafood, Poultry, Meat and Vegetables also identify “early,” “mid” and “later” arrivals to the table, giving an indication of their respective cooking times. Menu descriptors also include fashionable references to grams of fat and numbers of calories. Tasting and Gourmet menus supplement the extensive carte with good value set lunches also available.
An exciting range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails is available in addition to a select wine chosen by wine author Matthew Jukes.
However, what really sets Amaya apart from other high end Indian restaurants is its very limited selection of curries and biryanis, (which change monthly), and its overwhelming emphasis on grilled dishes. This requires skilful marinating, the deft balancing of spices, and precise timing of cooking to avoid dishes becoming dry, bland and burnt. In these essentials, Amaya scores very highly indeed as a visit for dinner in January amply proved.
Cabbage & Noodle Salad had pleasingly crisp and soft textures, with a scattering of pomegranate seeds adding colour and sweetness. A dressing of almond, lemon and sesame enhanced the dish, the amount of sesame, in particular, being well judged.
Large diver caught King Scallops were precisely griddled to produce a caramelised crust with delicate melting flesh. Served in their shells, these delectable bivalves worked well with a light, fragrant sauce of mint and coriander.
Tandoori Black Pepper Chicken Tikka bore no relation to the garish specimens encountered in the ubiquitous high street Indian eatery. Tender in texture and well balanced in its spicing, these nuggets of chicken were accompanied a thick dipping sauce. This bestselling dish owed its success to a rich pepper and cheese marinade which made the chicken particularly succulent.
Tandoori Ocean Wild Prawns were equally well executed, the sweet, firm flesh being complemented with dressing of tomato and ginger.
Nalli Barra, an Indian version of lamb osso-bucco, featured the shin marinated with a special blend of warm spices. It benefitted from slow cooking in the tandoor and a finishing masala glaze. As a result, the unctuous meat simply fell off the bone.
The star of the whole meal, amongst a host of memorable dishes, was the Wild Venison Seekh Kebab. The gently smoked ground meat, lightly crusted, moist and well flavoured, was made doubly delicious by a lively pepper sauce piped into the centre.
The two more substantial dishes were models of their kind.
In Prawn Lime Butter Masala, the sauce had a sharpness which showcased in the seafood to its best advantage. Pomegranate and Boondi raita softened the heat of this deeply spiced curry.
The delicately refined dish of Methi Chicken Biryani comprised succulent thigh meat and sauce beneath fragrantly spiced and fluffy (one year old) Basmati rice topped with crispy onions. These elements were finished in the oven in a traditionally pastry sealed pot.
Simple desserts of granita and kulfi completed a memorable meal. Service, overseen by a restaurant manager was welcoming, efficient and knowledgeable, the last being essential given the multiplicity of dishes.
Overall, it is clear why Amaya continues to enjoy its success as a leader in cutting edge Indian cuisine. The cool ambience, exciting buzz and smart décor, combined with the quality of the cooking, both in breadth and depth, make it popular with well-heeled locals as well as those from further afield who rightly see it as a destination restaurant. No wonder Amaya is packed every night. All this comes at a not inconsiderable price, but it is a price regular and special occasion guests alike consider worth paying. Fine Dining Guide enjoyed its visit to Amaya immensely and will follow its progress with interest.