OWe dined at Amethyst, a swanky Mayfair restaurant, shortly after 10 nights of simple, yet satisfying dining in south-west France. In Arcachon, dinner each evening was simple but always classy, as the French can’t help it. They can toss 10 large prawns on a plate and serve them with cold Orangina and make a woman feel like Brigitte Bardot. The turbot was served whole, grilled, face blatant, with a bowl of fried new potatoes and baskets of fresh bread with hearty salted butter. Dessert was a scoop of homemade ice cream, or maybe two if you were feeling a bit more. A simple meal is where the pleasure of eating is truly revealed.
Then, bang: it’s back Saturday night to central London, for dinner by Carlo Scotto, who has quietly and painstakingly emerged over the past few years as one of Britain’s most imaginative chefs. This Italian chef has flown slightly under the radar. His previous company, Xier, in my opinion, had all the cut and thrust of a two-star Michelin restaurant, although it didn’t earn a single one. I remember a succession of small plates of brown butter gnocchi swimming in hot kombu tea, then half an arancino on a sticky kohlrabi jus, then stracciatella with dehydrated wild strawberries. Scotto is one of the new crown princes of the fine, delicate and refined culinary scene. Xier was easily as impressive as Clare Smyth’s Core or even Le Gavroche.
I’ve sent many people there who needed places to impress dates, get engaged, or spend a client’s money – but clearly not enough people, as Xier has since closed. Now, however, Amethyst is here, named after Scotto’s birthstone, and serves a very long 12-course tasting menu or, for people paying babysitters, a shorter six-course menu in a hall. dining room which has a slight air of a bridge. on the Starship Enterprise.
In front of an open kitchen, a huge communal zigzag table dominates the room. Apparently, this allows customers to eat together while eating in private, with the ability to watch the chefs at work. Forced communal meals with strangers aren’t really my bag, but I’m still deeply scarred from an eco-glamping trip back in 2011, when every night was a laborious session of one-upmanship fueled by peapod-burgundys and whining about sawdust toilets. For the more asocial among us, you can also eat in the dimly lit but charming wine cellar.
Let me not hide this: dinner at Amethyst is not cheap. Six £90 non-alcoholic courses cost around £140 for one person including service; a glass of non-alcoholic wine was £14 and a non-alcoholic fruit juice cocktail just under a ten. Scotto’s skills, however, have only gone from strength to strength since Xier; Amethyst is definitely one of the best restaurants in the UK, whatever lists emerge in 2022/2023.
From the first course of a brilliant little Moroccan-style briouat stuffed with a dark, fragrant nettle and almond stew, then sweetened with a baharat honey glaze, we were delighted. Next comes a plump, unforgettable croquette filled with licorice, tarragon and Parmesan cheese, followed by a signature dish of rose petal marinated salmon with lively bursts of yuzu and the crunch of Piedmont hazelnuts. Next, a single, heartbreaking gyoza stuffed with melt-in-your-mouth braised eggplant in a broth of myoga tea and sake.
Next, a dish of black cod, resembling a lump of coal while retaining its chewy, chewy texture, flavored with burnt hay and caramelized miso, followed by the finest Dexter beef in ras el hanout and beet sauce, with a finely grilled and sesame-medjool dates encrusted with seeds. After a “palate cleansing” of sorbet, which was none of that – the Amalfi lemon and violet liqueur together could probably wake the dead – we finished with a poached peach in Montenegro amaro, served with a vibrant green herb sorbet.
The waiter had warned us that we were going “on a journey” through Scotto’s experience and influences; she wasn’t lying. Amethyst was a whirlwind tour of Nordic and Japanese cuisine with French and Arabic influences, served seriously and never, ever simply, but with enough fun to keep things sweet. There are no baskets of bread, casually strewn prawns or cheap and cheerful red wine here, but if you’re in the mood to be fancy, I can’t think of any new better place.
Amethyst 6 Sackville Street, London W1, 020-3034 3464. Open Tuesday to Saturday, lunch 12pm-2pm, dinner 6pm-8.30pm. Six-course menu £90, 12-course £135 (chef’s table experience £150), all plus drinks and service.
The next episode of the third series of the Grace’s Comfort Eating podcast is released on Tuesday, August 9. Listen to it here.