Amaya opened in 2005; it is owned by a company called MW Eat, founded by a lady called Deborah Jeffs in 1988 . Amaya is sister to Chutney Mary and the venerable Veerswamy (which MW Eat acquired in 1997), and also to the Masala Zone chain.
Amaya has very smart décor, with the inevitable stripped wood flooring, but also sophisticated lighting. The kitchen, or at least some of it, is laid out along one wall, so customers can see the tandoors in action, salads being tossed etc. There is a small, attractive bar area in a corner of the main dining room. Amaya has an unusual menu for an Indian restaurant, offering just grilled or tandoori food, followed by biriani, with not a curry in sight, no popadoms and just a couple of bread options. There are also some unusual dishes, such as lightly spiced grilled foie gras. I have had several meals here over the years, and it is one of the best Indian restaurants in London, albeit rather expensive. Notes from some of these meals now follow.
I made brief notes on a meal 2012. Black pepper chicken tikka is essentially malai tikka, and was very tender indeed (5/10). Tandoori quail was conveniently off the bone (4/10). A diver scallop in its shell was nicely cooked though as a minor point the flesh not properly trimmed (3/10). Fish tikka had a lively marinade (3/10), and the chicken biriani was as fragrant as ever (5/10). Naan bread was reasonable (3/10).
Below are brief notes from a lunch in October 2009.
Chicken biriani was very well made indeed. The chicken, rice and sauce are part-cooked separately first, then combined in a pot which is sealed with dough, and then finished off in the oven; the seal is removed before serving. Personally I prefer the theatre of being able to cut open the seal and enjoy the aromas of the dish, but it is more important that the cooking itself is good. Here the rice was light and fluffy, suffused with spices, and the chicken (thigh meat) was marinated before being cooked, and had retained a pleasing moistness (it is easy for the meat in a biriani to dry out). The overall effect was very good indeed (easily 4/10).
Here are notes from a meal in May 2008.
It is over three years since I first visiteld Amaya. My memory was of good tandoori cooking and a smart room, but with a few inconsistencies and a bill that was just too high to justify the level of food. Tonight was a much better experience, still with high prices but with food that generally justified them. There are no popadoms here, and a menu that involves a number of smaller dishes being brought in quick succession, ending with a biriani.
Black pepper chicken tikka (£9.15) was a revelation; though not mentioned on the menu, this was the malai style where there is a marinade involving cheese, resulting in the chicken being particularly soft. In this case the spices were very well balanced, and indeed the only version of this dish I can recall that was better was at the Leela Palace in Goa (5/10). Jumbo prawns from Madagascar with chilli herbs and lime (£18.50) were quite tender given their large size (the piece I had was a fraction overcooked, but only a fraction), again with a well judged marinade (3/10).
Grouper in a pandan leaf (£12.50) was cooked with, mustard chilli and peanuts, and although pleasant I think it would have been better with a higher quality fish such as John Dory (a good 2/10). Grilled lamb chop (£20) was excellent, cooked with ginger, lime and coriander (4/10). Tandoori organic broccoli (£8.50) was a bit of a let-down for what seems to be somewhat of a signature dish, and I gather from a regular diner that it can be better than this (2/10).
Boned tandoori quail (£10.25) was again very tender, having a sweetness from the apricots it was cooked with, but with the spices meaning that it avoided being cloying (4/10). Biriani was excellent, served in an iron pot and sealed with pastry as it should be, the rice fragrant and the meat retaining moistness, so often the Achilles heel of a biriani (4/10). Breads were very good, with nice soft texture (3/10).
Slices of the new season Alphonso mango from Mumbai are an ideal way to finish an Indian meal. We drank mostly beer though there is a pleasant wine list. Service was a strange mix of pleasant, arrogant and inept. Our waitress was lovely, but the booking process apparently resembled the kind of bureaucracy more normally associated with the Indian civil service. Moreover when we arrived and order drinks we were the only people in the bar and yet our simple drinks order seemed entirely beyond the multiple bar staff, who lost track entirely.
Amaya also has the dubious privilege of joining the rarefied ranks of just three restaurants who have even refused to give me a copy of the menu (the others being Girardet, which exuded Swiss aloofness, though even they offered to sell me a copy, and Le Manoir Au Quat Saisons, who eventually palmed me off with an out of date menu). I can only think of a few reasons why someone might ask for a menu at the end of a meal: they might want to recommend it to their friends afterwards, they are foodies who collect menus, or they are writing a review. I am thinking that in all three cases it may be in the restaurant’s interests to give the diner a menu. In Michelin 3 star places the chef often appears in person and signs the menu, so pleased is he that a diner cares that much. But not here. It is a shame that the service detracted from what was very good cooking indeed.
What follows are notes from a much less good meal in December 2004, by way of comparison.
They are “too posh to popadom” here and indeed the whole menu idea is a bit precious. It is styled after the supposed habits of Indian noblemen, who would eat a bunch of grilled meats and then finish things off with a biriani. Well, I can’t say I have ever encountered this particular way of dining in India, but even if some rich guy a hundred years ago used to do this, does that mean we all have to? Anyway, this twist gives them the “dining concept” no doubt desired to set them aside from other Indian restaurants.
The dishes (except the biriani) arrive haphazardly, and this is not good, as we ended up with a dry potato dish with no sauce at all, and a bread basket arrived with no dishes whatever to eat it with. Oddly, though no popadoms are allowed, there are some remarkably ordinary chutneys: tomato, plum and some mango powder. These were quite nondescript. Having finally navigated the menu, the first dish to arrive was a chicken tikka (with a marinade of black pepper; one with paprika is also available). This was actually very good, the four pieces of chicken very tender and picking up spicy flavours from its marinade (3/10). Next up were a pair of scallops, served in their shell with what was supposedly a green herb sauce but in fact tasted exactly like a spicy coconut sauce. This worked very well, the chilli edge to the coconut base an unusual and effective one; the scallops themselves were diver caught and nicely timed (3/10). A giant tiger prawn was also carefully cooked, again served in its shell with a little hint of a similar spicy green sauce (3/10). The diced potato dish that arrived was pleasant but was not that warm, and needed something to go with it (like another dish). 1/10 only for this. Similarly a dhal was adequate but not a patch on the one at Yatra, lacking any great flavour (1/10). Breads were a plain naan, a roti and a naan flavoured with mint, and these were rather ordinary, suffering in particular from a complete lack of salt; to be fair, when we asked for some salt this appeared without demur from the helpful Dutch waiter.
Finally a dish of minced chicken served in a banana leaf was pleasant but lacked any real interest (1/10). The biriani is served with some ceremony in an iron pot over a little burner, and it is correctly prepared with a coating of pastry to seal the flavour. In this case the biriani was vegetarian, of artichoke hearts and chickpeas, but while the rice was pleasant the artichoke hearts were cooked ultra-lightly (on the verge of raw) and the rice lacked the fragrant flavour that the best birianis have, so was again 1/10 (for a good example of biriani without going to Hyderabad try Madhu's at Southall). There was a set of desserts offered, and I tried a granité of lime, a lychee jelly and a granité of plum, which were all pleasant enough (2/10).
There is a quite respectable wine list with a somewhat esoteric set of New World choices, and some eccentric Old World ones (one Gewürztraminer only, and this was from Italy?!?) but I had Cobra beer at an extortionate £3.85 a half. That’s £7.70 a pint. Indeed the bill is the big problem here, because for over £70 a head with just four beers and one glass of cheap wine between us, you’d have to ask would you not rather have two rather better meals at Haandi in Knightsbridge? They are clearly aiming at the Cinnamon Club set of people who want to eat Indian food in a posh setting, and commercially this seems to be working, with almost a full house on this potentially dead-end Thursday between Christmas and New Year. I must admit that when I found out the ownership was the same as the dismal Veeraswamy and the erratic Chutney Mary my heart sank, but this is much better than either of them. However at this price I can’t see myself returning in a hurry.
To book on-line at Amaya follow this link.