You're not still eating out at restaurants of more than two syllables, are you? Umu, Nobu, Ozu, Deya, Vama, Kiku, Noto, Ikkyu, Roka, Zuma - it is short and snappy restaurant names such as these that are chronicling the Asianisation of contemporary dining.
And now we have Amaya, a bravely three-syllable word meaning the "end of delusion" in Sanskrit. Amaya is modern and Indian, two words that tend to make me shiver when combined in the one sentence. Modern food is admirable and Indian food is wonderful, but my last few encounters with modern Indian food have been of the individually plated, sauce-squiggled, bland and not exactly blissful variety, reminding me of nothing more than the try-hard French food of the late 1980s.
I may now have to eat my words. Amaya is the latest collaboration of Ranjit Mathrani and Namita and Camellia Panjabi of Chutney Mary, Veeraswamy and Masala Zone. It is certainly modern, with its sleek, glowing bar, bling chandeliers, glass-gabled roof, Italian leather chairs and Kerala rosewood tables. But there, at the rear, is its reason for existence: a spotlit kitchen stage lined with chefs standing behind various traditional Indian grills, griddles and ovens, transmitting warm spices and lightly aromatic smoke.
The idea is an intriguing one, revolving around the grilled street food of India, cooked either in the tandoori clay oven, on the tawa iron grill, or on the sigri open-flame grill. Separately, each one represents a very old cooking technique, but the idea of bringing them together is undeniably modern, akin to Rainer Becker's upgrading of traditional Japanese robatayaki cooking at Zuma and Roka.
As a very capable waiter explains, you start by sharing a selection of grill dishes, before moving on to a more substantial curry, or biryani, or both. It may sound simple, but it takes me a while to develop a suitable ordering strategy that covers the three different grills. From the sigri comes a dori kebab of finely minced lamb, and hamour (spotted groper) in pandan leaf. From the tawa, there's a minced nizami chicken shikampur (chicken kebabs) and flash-grilled rock oysters. Then, from the tandoor, we have tandoori broccoli and naan.
OK, revise ordering strategy for next time. Instead of being plump and steamy, the "flash-grilled" rock oysters (£8.50) are pale and softly crumbed, replaced in their shells and bathed in a Goan-inspired fragrant creamy ginger and coconut moilee sauce. Good sauce, but it's a bit like putting your canapé in your soup. Four nubs of spotted groper (£5.50) come wrapped in scorchy curls of pandan leaf speared by a thin bamboo stake. They feel a bit pasty with the mustard, chilli and peanut marinade, and are inconsistently cooked.
Everything else works a treat. Tandoori broccoli (£5) is barely touched by the tandoor's heat, deliberately left crunchy and forest-green, sitting in a humdinger of a tamarind-flavoured yoghurt sauce. Classy little chicken kebabs (£4.50) are round, finely minced patties sitting inside little cones of pandan leaves, magically encasing runny centres of raita.
Then comes the "don't try this at home" category, as Amaya stretches the boundaries of what it is to be modern Indian. The party trick of the night is the dori kebab (£9.50) which looks for all the world like a foot-long hot dog with string sticking out of one end. Pull the string and the whole thing unzips and opens up into a long intestinal tube of spreadable, squishy, warm lamb paté, so light it is impossible to eat unless spread on a round of irresistibly crisp/soft, smoky naan (£1.75).
It is all good, action-packed fun, but I could have done better. The tandoori duck looks amazing, and my neighbours' grilled chicken-wing lollypops and masala lamb shanks make me jealous.
Luckily, I have ordered Kanauj ka khas gosht (£15.50), a lamb shank curry from the central Indian town of Kanauj. It is the single best Indian dish I have eaten all year. With its acutely balanced, deeply complex tan juices and cute little cross-sections of shank, like miniature osso buco cuts, every mouthful is surprisingly delicate and harmonious. Cleverly (and on the advice of the wise waiter), I add a pretty pomegranate raita (£2.50) and a steamy, sealed clay pot of kathal biryani, a wonderfully light, fragrant Northern Indian rice dish studded with jackfruit. Also adding to its charms is a perfectly matched velvety Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache from South Australia (£27.50) chosen from the smart, spice-friendly list put together by wine writer Matthew Jukes.
There are a dozen desserts including a nice-but-who-really-needs-it plum compote and a lovely and light Jaipur rose sorbet (£7).
Two hesitations: I don't particularly like eating from large glass-tile plates, because I keep thinking I'm in the shower; and you have to seek guidance when ordering, or you could overdose on slightly pappy patties. But the idea works, the quality of produce is excellent, the over-sized tables make sharing a pleasure, and the open kitchen gives the place heart and soul. It is a very intelligent approach to being both modern and Indian.
15 Amaya Halkin Arcade, Motcomb Street, London SW1, tel: 020 7823 1166. Lunch and dinner daily. Around £120 for dinner for two, including wine and service. Less at lunch.
Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
Second helpings: More mixed grills
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E-mail Terry Durack about where you've eaten lately at firstname.lastname@example.orgReuse content