It's a lovely, sunny day and we head past the meccas of conspicuous consumption in Knightsbridge to a restaurant that's received several accolades - Amaya. It's the brainchild of the team that created Chutney Mary, Masala Zona and old-timer Veeraswamy.
I've heard about Amaya time and again and have never really thought I would be able to afford to eat relaxed-ly at this place, given its location, pristine reviews (it seems to be one of the most talked-about Indian restaurants) and (what I expected to be) a champagne-lifestyle price tag. Which is why, when I heard that it ran a vegetarian set lunch platter for £16.95, I convinced the boyfriend R, his mother S and her dear friend A to accompany me to a meal at Amaya.
S and A arrived this morning looking like true Sloaney-ponies; S with her French beret angled jauntily and A with her super-trendy sunglasses and designer necklace. R and I looked a lot more dishevelled. We walked into Halkin Arcade, past the lovely window of Patisserie Valerie and entered Amaya's rather elegant and sophisticated dining room. We were seated by the three main grills (tandoor - clay oven , sigree - charcoal grill and tawa - hotplate). The restaurant doesn't serve starters but mainly grills various items of your choice from the menu. We ordered a bread basket (at a whopping £9); A and S ordered drinks while R and I were too taken aback by the prices (£6 for lemonade) to ask for anything other than a jug of tap water.
The breads were cooked in the tandoor by expert chefs right before our very eyes; they arrived a few minutes later and let out small puffs of steam as we broke into them --- oooo, perfectly cooked (one topped with sesame seeds, another with herbs and the last made with wholewheat). They were served with 4 dips, the most unusual of which was made with rose petals, a rather exotic (and mild) option. I enjoyed the tomato dip best; the sharpness of the tomatoes was the perfect foil for the mild, warm and fresh breads.
The drinks arrived; S thought her cocktail was excellent. R and I contented ourselves with big glugs of water. I still couldn't get over the £6 lemonade (hmmm... I'm clearly not in the same salary league as most fine-diners). Noticing that the skewers and ovens seemed to be sending out plates of grilled meat by the dozen, I asked our waiter about cross-contamination and whether it would be possible to make sure my meal was vegetarian in entirety. Unfortunately his response, though politely phrased, was that "we cannot guarantee that there is no cross-contamination because our cooking utensils are the same, especially the grills and the tandoor". He, very charmingly offered to notify the chef so they could try and wipe down the relevant skewers at least, before they cooked my meal; a nice gesture.
Our veg platters arrived with asparagus and broad bean biryani (rice which has been stewed in rather royal spices), tandoori paneer kebabs (grilled spiced pieces of Indian cottage cheese), parsnip and turai (Indian ridge- gourd ) mini-pancake, spinach and fig flat roll, grilled pepper topped with goat's cheese, beetroot-topped raita (yogurt), daal (tempered lentils) and a Cox apple and micro-leaf salad. The salad which arrived first, was served in a beautiful tea-cup like bowl. It was the perfect palate cleanser and was dressed to perfection. 10 out of 10 for that. The platter itself was beautifully presented and the plate was lined with a bamboo leaf and a Japanese leaf whose name sounds like "kei-shi" (it tastes a bit like lemongrass and I've never eaten it before) that sat under some of the grilled delicacies.
The paneer cheese itself was of an extremely high quality; the seasoning was a bit too mild for my liking though. The biryani had been stewed in all the right spices and although the portion looked small, it was incredibly filling. Next up was the spinach and fig roll, an item that I was sceptical of. It reminded me very much of an Indian dish known as a hara-bhara kebab (a mixed blended vegetable grill that's been marinated in a few spices) for those of you who've eaten that before. It was very nicely cooked, was a wee bit too spicy for my liking and was definitely very popular with my guests, who had a good laugh that the only person of Indian origin at the table was finding it difficult to stomach the spices while the Caucasians were getting through it easily. I must admit that, surprisingly, the fig complemented the spinach and spices perfectly. The daal was simple and very authentic. The raita (which I didn't try) was raved about by A.
The spiced-pepper with goats cheese was a tiny little homage to the ultimate fusion of Western and Eastern flavours, the sharpness and flavour of the cheese complementing the grilled sweet-spiciness of the freshly roasted pepper. Ammmmmazingly good ! Across the piece the chefs had managed to master the art of procuring top-class ingredients and allowing these ingredients to speak for themselves, thus providing us with a beautifully-presented, delicately-cooked and outstandingly-spiced meal.
When the pudding menu came around, we were all rather full. But S and I made space for an Eton Mess and a single scoop of pineapple sorbet respectively. When it arrived, S's Eton Mess looked delectable with a tiny silver leaf adorning it. Not surprisingly this beautiful concoction of meringue, berry sauce and cream was so attractive that everyone at the table had to have a spoonful while ooohing and aahing, although I did notice S zealously guarding the bowl thereafter !! My pineapple sorbet was light, fresh and zingy, absolutely beautiful and garnished with a single rose petal.
All through the meal, the service was helpful, unobtrusive and elegant.
We left Amaya, sated and very willing to recommend this place to friends and family - the true test of a good restaurant. I'd really like to see them make more provision for vegetarians though and seriously too!! It would be good if a restaurant of this calibre started to do right by veggies.
I would also say that you should aim to go for times when they offer the platters or other set meals unless you are loaded !!!!! But Amaya is certainly a restaurant one ought NOT to miss.
Amaya, Halkin Arcade, Motcomb St SW1X 8JT
Ph 0207 823 1166