Amaya. Rich pickings.
I feel like I’m five, says C, waving his arms high in the air and simulating an exaggerated knife and fork movement. The chairs in the raised section of the restaurant are too low or the tables are too high, it doesn’t matter which. Obviously, I point this out and the maître d’ suggests I might like a cushion. C is a man and therefore unable to accept the offer of a cushion without simultaneously having to kill himself.
Amaya is a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant bang in the heart of Belgravia and is one of the founder members of the modern Indian fine-dining tribe comprising, inter alia, Trishna, Tamarind, Gymkhana, Rasoi, and Benares.
We Brits do have a love affair with Indian food and it has been popular for much longer than you might imagine, the first curry house opening over 200 years ago. I particularly like the sound of that restaurant, the Hindostanee Dinner and Hookah Smoking Club. Their advert ran thus:
“Saik Deen Mahomad, manufacturer of the real currie powder, takes the earliest opportunity to inform the nobility and gentry, that he has …….. established at his house, 34 George Street, Portman-Square, the Hindostanee Dinner and Hooka Smoking Club. Apartments are fitted up…. in the Eastern style, where dinners, composed of genuine Hindostanee dishes, are served up at the shortest notice; … such ladies and gentlemen as may be desirous of having India Dinners …sent to their own houses will be punctually attended to by giving previous notice…”
The Morning Post 2 February 1810¹
I am gratified to discover that one could get an Indian takeaway in Central London as long ago as 1810.
As we sat down, the menu was “explained” by the waiter, but his exposition was so complicated that we were more confused than if we had simply read it without any further guidance.
On my first visit I was very pleased to be with a veteran Amaya-phile, who took over the ordering process. Wave after wave arrived, particularly memorable being the minced chicken parcels with batons of crisp apple; goats’ cheese-filled red peppers and some luscious fat char-grilled king prawns. I also liked the chicken lollipops, spicy deep-fried chicken wings, the chicken-meat puffed into a ball at the top of the bone. The tandoori lamb chops, gloriously spiced and cooked to perfection are worthy of special mention.
On my subsequent visit with C, I had to negotiate the menu myself.Not easy.
The menu is grouped into four separate sections: poultry, seafood, vegetarian and meat. There are a number of set menus for those whose brains may have started to bleed whilst trying to work out what it is they should be ordering. I have to say that I was tempted, just for a moment, but I’m not fan of the crowd-pleaser safety menu. I had no idea whether I had ordered too little and I had to ask. This is not a situation with which I’m familiar.
Memorably good were the chicken kebabs with turmeric and tarragon, moist and crisp, with a creamy turmeric-based sauce. Tip: Order more than you think is acceptable. The dal was the consistency of soup, so, having not ordered any rice and being given no spoons, we had to use a bread product to shift it from bowl to mouth. My conveyance of choice, the wholewheat roti, was not worth the carbs and C didn’t offer to share his fluffy puffy naan.
A fig and spinach patty was unexpectedly delicious. Also very good was the Madagascan prawn, a monster of a crustacean, the meat extracted, stir-fried with delicate spices and re-inserted back in the shell. I had thought I was ordering the king prawns, but I wasn’t disappointed.
That soon changed with the arrival of the sticker-shock £48 lobster, a mere nipper, again with the meat scooped out cooked and reinserted but this time the meat was completely overpowered by a heavy-handed tomato-based masala sauce. This, the least successful dish by far was, naturally, the most expensive, as is the way of things. And it was not much bigger than the monster prawn. It would have been good to know that the two dishes were quite similar.
Slow-baked aubergine was also disappointing, four meagre pieces of aubergine, smoky and intense but really only four small mouthfuls. Not worth the £12.
I’ll gloss over the lime tart, C’s choice. Tasting slightly medicinal, this is not something I’d ever order again. I had wanted kulfi. Just saying.
Judgement: I thought that around three quarters of the dishes were top-notch; well spiced, using good quality ingredients and with interesting combinations. I don’t think that it’s quite as inventive as it thinks it is and the room looks a little dated. I actively hate the square glass plates they do nothing to display the food and are annoying to eat off. A few dishes were a little over-spiced and the pricing was wildly ambitious, even for Belgravia. With a little judicious ordering you could probably get away with around £50 a head but not if you’re having a drink. And bring a cushion if you’re under 5ft 8, in case they seat you at the grownups’ tables.
¹ Source: http://www.historyhouse.co.uk/articles/first_indian_restaurant.html<a title="