We dined at Amethyst, a very fancy Mayfair restaurant, shortly after 10 nights of eating out simply, yet satisfyingly, in south-west France. In Arcachon, dinner each night was unfussy yet always chic, because the French can’t help themselves. They can sling 10 large prawns at a plate and serve them with cold Orangina and still make a woman feel like Brigitte Bardot. Turbot was served whole, grilled, face glaring, with a bowl of fried baby potatoes and baskets of fresh bread with copious 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 eating is truly revealed.
Then, bang: it’s back to Saturday night in central London, for a dinner by Carlo Scotto, who has quietly and painstakingly revealed himself over the past few years as one of Britain’s most imaginative chefs. This Italian chef has flown slightly under the radar. His previous venture, Xier, in my opinion, had all the cut-and-thrust of a two-star Michelin restaurant, despite not winning even one. I remember a succession of tiny plates of beurre noisette gnocchi swimming in warm kombu tea, then half a single arancino on a sticky, kohlrabi jus, then stracciatella with dehydrated wild strawberries. Scotto is one of the new crown princes of the fancy, finickety, finest dining scene. Xier was easily as impressive as the likes of Core by Clare Smyth or even Le Gavroche.
I sent numerous people there who needed places to impress dates, get engaged or spend a client’s money – although clearly not enough people, because Xier has since closed. Now, though, Amethyst is here, named after Scotto’s birthstone, and serving a very long, 12-course tasting menu or, for people paying babysitters, a shorter, six-course one in a dining room that has a slight air of the bridge on the Starship Enterprise.
Before an open kitchen, an enormous, communal zigzag table dominates the room. Apparently, this allows customers to eat together while also eating privately, with the option of watching the chefs at work. Enforced communal dining with strangers is not really my bag, but then I am still deeply scarred by an eco-glamping trip in 2011, when every night was a laborious session of peapod-burgundy-fuelled oneupmanship and moans about the sawdust toilet. For the more antisocial among us, you can also eat in the dimly lit but lovely wine cellar.
Let me make no bones about this: dinner at Amethyst is not cheap. Six courses at £90 without booze came in at about £140 for one person, including service; a glass of zero-alcohol wine was £14 and a mocktail of fruit juice just short of a tenner. Scotto’s skills, however, have gone from strength to strength since Xier; Amethyst is certainly one of the UK’s best restaurants, whatever any lists that emerge during 2022/2023 may tell you.
From the initial course of a small, glossy, Moroccan-style briouat stuffed with a dark, fragrant stew of nettle and almond, then made sweet with a baharat honey glaze, we were entranced. That was followed by a plump, unforgettable croquette filled with liquorice, tarragon and parmesan, followed by a signature dish of salmon marinated in rose petal with sharp bursts of yuzu and the crunch of Piedmont hazelnuts. Next, a single, heartbreakingly good gyoza stuffed with melting braised aubergine in a myoga tea and sake broth.
Then, a dish of black cod, resembling a lump of coal while retaining its soft, yielding texture, scented with burnt hay and caramelised miso, followed by the finest Dexter beef with ras el hanout and beetroot sauce, with an intricately grilled and sesame-seed-encrusted medjool date. After a “palate cleanser” of sorbet, which was nothing of the sort – Amalfi lemon and violet liqueur together could probably rouse the dead – we finished with a peach poached in amaro Montenegro, served with a vibrant, green, herb sorbet.
The server had warned us we were going “on a journey” through Scotto’s experience and influences; she wasn’t lying. Amethyst was a whistlestop tour of Nordic and Japanese cuisine with French and Arabic influences, served seriously and never, ever simply, but with enough fun to keep things lovable. There are no baskets of bread, casually strewn crevettes or cheap and cheerful vin rouge here, but if you’re in the mood to be fancy, I can’t think of anywhere new that is better.
Amethyst 6 Sackville Street, London W1, 020-3034 3464. Open Tues-Sat, lunch noon-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 is released on Tuesday 9 August. Listen to it here.