Amaya in Belgravia: A true testament to the magic of the tandoor
Tucked away off the main street in a cultivated corner of Belgravia, Amaya is not a place screaming to be noticed. But don’t be fooled by its understated entrance: like a modest masterpiece, this contemporary bar and grill from MW Eat founders Camellia Panjabi and Namita Panjabi will leave a lasting impression. The Michelin-starred venture (another sparkling addition to a roster including the UK’s oldest Indian restaurant, Veeraswamy) is now in its 15th year, delivering a refined yet invigorating fusion of French fine dining and traditional Indian flavours.
In the rain, the courtyard is a gloomy grey, but the restaurant proves an oasis for the weary and windswept. The decor has a classic sophistication, wood gleaming, rows of glistening glass suspended like unravelled chandeliers, chairs upholstered in black leather and plush red velvet. And yet, at the bar, a cosy warmth blows in from the east: cushions sparkle like sequined saris, elephants roam vibrant paintings, a bassy soundtrack purrs in the background. The attentive service eases us in with a cocktail recommendation, the Plumb Fall – fresh plums, Courvoisier cognac, Xante pear liqueur and plum bitter. The two fruity co-stars mingle on the palette like old friends, the smooth sweetness of pear matched delightfully with the subtle tart finish of the plum.
As we enter the dining room itself – softly illuminated with natural light from above – India makes a more assertive introduction in the form of three burly copper-coated tandoor ovens. 80 per cent of the dishes are cooked by this traditional method, and if you don’t believe this you can see it for yourself: an open kitchen reveals chefs hard at work, armed with skewers and impaling defenceless broccoli. Behind them, intriguing backlit glass jars glow like lanterns, while on another side fresh fruit and veg pop with colour, enticing as a market stall. It’s hard to know where to look – that is, until the food comes to the table.
First to sail in are the King Scallops, nestled in shells amidst lakes of vibrant green herb sauce, simple yet striking. The scallops melt in the mouth, seared to perfection, while the fresh, silky sauce finishes every mouthful with a gentle heat, the creaminess cut through by intense dried tomatoes. The seafood continues to impress with the Tandoori Ocean Wild Prawns, impossibly juicy – a testament to their acute understanding of classic techniques – and marinated with rich tomato and notes of fiery ginger. The Char-grilled Fillet of Seabass, though not packing the smoky taste we expect, is wonderfully flaky, the fish taking the lead, its crispy skin imbued with unobtrusive hints of coconut and chilli.
If the fish flirts with our affections, the meat steals our hearts. The Black Pepper Chicken Tikka sings with a tangy marinade, the succulent chicken partnered with a rich, nutty sauce. It’s easy to see why this hasn’t left the menu since the restaurant was launched. The Smoked Chilli Lamb Chops are packed full of punch, not quite cooked the medium we asked for but nevertheless law-defyingly tender and coaxing us to forgo the cutlery entirely. We also try a Green Herb Chicken Biryani, steamed in a sealed pot to lock in every ounce of moisture and flavour. It’s almost a shame not to see the lid cracked into – it feels as if the drama happened behind the scenes – but the dish delivers nonetheless, partnered with an innovative take on raita, infused with delicate floral notes of rose and bursts of pomegranate.
But vegetarians have no fear, for the Chilli Paneer with Date and Sesame is another dazzling highlight. Prepared on-site, this iteration of the popular Indian cheese (made from strained curdled milk) is undoubtedly the best this reviewer has ever tasted: salty, spicy and enclosed in an unexpectedly sweet chargrilled crust reminiscent of a campfire-toasted marshmallow. The Tandoori Broccoli brings to the greens a beloved barbecue taste, offset with cool ginger yoghurt. As a side, the tandoor-baked Truffle Naan is buttery and light, an indulgent nutty accompaniment to any piquant protagonist.
If the other courses are minimalist on presentation, the dessert more than makes up for it, the highlight being a spectacular Chocolate Rasmalai Surprise. The Indian dairy sweet is encased in a golden chocolate dome which the obliging server smothers under decadent molten chocolate sauce with the rich aroma of fondue – a sensory triumph through and through. A more dainty elegance comes in the form of a trio of Small Festive Deserts – vibrant green Roasted Pistacchio Kulfi, an adorable Christmas Plum Pudding, and a jewel-laden Redcurrant Cheesecake – a perfect recommendation for the indecisive.
The success of Amaya is down to its trust in the timeless magic of traditional techniques. The tandoor is the undisputed pride of the restaurant, and the spices – specially crafted by suppliers in India – are respected to the point of reverence. These are chefs who know that complexity is not born from the number of individual elements you put on your plate, but the depth of flavour you can pack into one element. This is a grill that doesn’t shout from the rooftops because it knows that if you nurture your produce, a dish will speak eloquently for itself.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina and Rosamund Kelby
To book a table at Amaya, Halkin Arcade Off Lowndes Street Belgravia London SW1X 8JT, call 020 7823 1166 or visit their website here.