WWe dined at Amethyst, a very chic Mayfair restaurant, shortly after 10 nights of simple but satisfying dining out in the South West of France. Dinner in Arcachon every night was no-nonsense yet always chic, because the French can’t help it. They can throw 10 large shrimp on a plate and serve it with cold Orangina and still make a woman feel like Brigitte Bardot. Turbot was served whole, grilled, with a radiant face, with a bowl of baked baby potatoes and baskets of fresh bread with abundant salted butter. Dessert was a scoop of homemade glace, or maybe two if you were feeling a little extra. Simple dining is where the joy of food is truly revealed.
Then, bang: it’s back to Saturday night in central London, for a dinner from Carlo Scotto, who has quietly and painstakingly revealed himself in recent years as one of Britain’s most imaginative chefs. This Italian chef has flown a bit under the radar. His previous venture, Xier, had all the realms of a two-star Michelin restaurant in my opinion, despite not winning one. I remember a succession of small plates of beurre noisette gnocchi swimming in warm kombu tea, then half a single arancino on a sticky kohlrabi gravy, then stracciatella with dried wild strawberries. Scotto is one of the new crown princes of the chic, fussy, best food culture. Xier was easily as impressive as Clare Smyth’s Core or even Le Gavroche.
I’ve sent countless people there who needed places to impress dates, get engaged, or spend a client’s money – although clearly not enough people, as Xier has since closed. Now, however, there’s Amethyst, named after Scotto’s birthstone, and serves a very long 12-course tasting menu or, for those paying babysitters, a shorter six-course meal in a dining room with a bit of the look of the bridge on the Starship Enterprise.
In front of an open kitchen, a huge communal zigzag table dominates the space. Apparently this allows customers to eat together and also eat privately, with the opportunity to watch the chefs at work. Forced communal dining with strangers isn’t really my thing, but then I’m still deeply scarred by an eco-glamping journey in 2011, when every night was an arduous session of peapod-burgundy-powered one-man art and moaning over the sawdust toilet. For the antisocial among us you can also eat in the dimly lit but beautiful wine cellar.
Let me be clear: dining at Amethyst is not cheap. Six courses for £90 without drinks came to about £140 for one person including service; a glass of non-alcoholic wine was £14 and a fruit juice mocktail just under a tenner. Scotto’s skills have only grown stronger since Xier; Amethyst is certainly one of the UK’s best restaurants, whatever the 2022/2023 lists may tell you.
From the first course of a small, glossy Moroccan-style briouat filled with a dark, fragrant stew of nettle and almond, then sweetened with a baharat honey glaze, we were entranced. This was followed by a thick, unforgettable croquette filled with liquorice, tarragon and parmesan, followed by a signature dish of salmon marinated in rose petals with sharp bursts of yuzu and the crunch of Piedmontese hazelnuts. Then a single heartbreakingly good gyoza filled with melting stewed aubergine in a myoga tea and sake broth.
Then a dish of black cod, which resembles a lump of coal but retains its soft, yielding texture, scented with roasted hay and caramelized miso, followed by the finest Dexter beef with ras el hanout and beetroot sauce, with an intricate grilled and sesame – seed pickled medjool date. After a “palate cleanser” of sorbet, which was nothing like that — Amalfi lemon and violet liqueur together could probably raise the dead — we finished with a peach poached in amaro Montenegro, served with a vibrant, green herb sorbet.
The server had warned us that we were going “on a journey” through Scotto’s experience and influences; she didn’t lie. Amethyst was a piece of cake through Scandinavian and Japanese cuisine with French and Arabic influences, served seriously and never, ever simple, but with enough fun to keep it amiable. There are no baskets of bread here, casually studded crevettes or cheap and cheerful vin rouge, but if you’re in the mood for luxury I can’t think of anything new that’s better.
Amethyst 6 Sackville Street, London W1, 020-3034 3464. Open Tues-Sat, lunch 12pm-2pm, dinner 6-8:30pm. Six course menu £90, 12 course £135 (chef’s table experience £150), all plus drinks and service.
The next episode in the third series of Grace’s Comfort Eating podcast will appear on Tuesday, August 9. Listen here.