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Amaya (London), the new Indian cuisine

Georges Rouzeau-2006-06-30

In Sanskrit, Amaya means the tearing of the ‘maya’, the veil preventing us from acceding to the truth.

The restaurant Amaya sets out precisely to unveil a modern, understated and light, yet ‘authentic’ version of all the tastes and cooking techniques of Indian gastronomy.
After China, it’s India’s turn to take part in globalisation, conquering the world. Its cuisine is no exception: Indian gastronomy is carving out a prominent place in the capital of the former British Empire, which has become a capital of gastronomy full stop. 
Located in the very chic Knightsbridge district, Amaya, which has just obtained its first star in the Michelin Guide, proposes to allow us to taste the very essence of Indian cuisine. Aficionados of traditional, often indigestible curries, should try somewhere else...
Amaya is the creation of the sisters Camellia and Namita Panjabi, two personalities who have contributed over the past forty years to changing the image of India in the West and that of Indian cuisine in London.
Since she started in the hotel business in India after the war, Camellia has never ceased to conduct research on Indian cuisine in an immense country where each region has its culinary traditions. From street cooking to that of the palaces of the Maharadjas without forgetting family cuisine, she has collected a myriad of recipes. Using this unique experience, she has trained hundreds of cooks in the restaurants of the hotels she managed in India. She has published a best-seller cook book, 50 Great Curries of India, that has been published in half a million copies since it came out. In London, the Panjabi’s also own other restaurants: Veeraswamy, the oldest Indian restaurant in London, bought in 1997, has become the reference for traditional Indian cuisine; as for Masala Zone, it proposes quality Indian cuisine at an affordable price at three highly popular addresses. Amaya is the jewel blazing in this crown.  
Gourmet decor
With its modern and understated decor, the restaurant juxtaposes tradition and innovation: sculptures in Bengal terracotta; Italian style brown leather chairs; paintings by Babu Xavier, a contemporary Indian artist; red Agra stoneware on the walls; rosewood tables... During daytime, the room is bathed with zenithal light from the glass roof at the back.
In the background, the entirely open-plan kitchen resembles a sushi bar behind which toil chef Karunesh Khanna and his team, their dark silhouettes standing out against the imposing bottles of oil with marinating spices. Several cooking techniques are used.
On the left, the tawa is a metal griddle grilling vegetables and seafood on medium heat – nothing special in itself, this cooking recalls royal hunts during which princes liked to roast their game in the middle of the forest. In the centre, the sigri is a coal barbecue very widespread in India on which vegetables and meats are grilled.
On the right, lastly, here are the three tandoor amphora-shaped ovens, each set to a different temperature. Traditionally buried in the ground, these large jars were used to cook bread. Since the 1950s, restaurants have cooked food in them. Legend has it that tandoori chicken was thus first served in Delhi. Karunesh Khannais for ever praising this series of ovens in which he can tenderise meats to the maximum without drying them out.  
An à la carte meal
Abandoning the classification ‘starter, main course, dessert’, the menu is divided on the basis of how food is cooked and the dishes: tandor, sigri, tawa, salads and vegetables, breads and rice, curries and biryanis. The gourmet you are can pick and choose freely but you are invited to start with a kebab, in other words skewered meats and vegetables grilled immediately, then taste the various breads before finishing with a curry or a biryani, a dish that requires longer and more complex cooking. In any case, at Amaya, the client does not give a definitive order, but can add a new savoury or sweet dish any time, to what he has just tasted: the portions are little it must be mentioned. A supreme pleasure, you are even allowed to eat with your fingers.
To begin with the sea platter is a miracle of lightness and sensuous tastes: Scottish sea scallop in herb green sauce, sautéed oyster with coconut sauce, or else sautéed tiger prawn and tomato and ginger tandorish. Vegetarians will make one mouthful of the anjeeri spinachi tikki, a delicious spinach cake stuffed with figs, or the slow roasted and spiced aubergine with hints of caramel. Lovers of meats grilled on the sigri can choose from a wide array of lamb and chicken preparations, marinated and spiced, with green lemon, coriander, ginger or cinnamon. The meats melt in your mouth while the spices release each of their fragrances in turn.
Entirely made from fresh produce cooked at the last minute or on the contrary roasted gently,  Karunesh Khanna’s cuisine is light and lively, far from the ‘cooked to death’ (as he likes to say) dishes served elsewhere...
Halkin Arcade, Motcomb Street, London SW1X 8JT, Tel. 020 7823 1166.
Open every day 12:30-14:30, 18:30-22:30 (23:00 on Saturdays).

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