Amba Bar And Grill (2005)
Hotel restaurants can be funny places: Lone diners dotted around the place like nervous impala on the Serengeti, lights bright enough to guide in any small passing aircraft. Gordon Ramsay and his kin apart, they can be a depressing experience for the unwary traveller.
No doubt with all this in mind, designer Michael Attenborough's colour scheme of black and orange has given the new Amba Bar And Grill in the May Fair Hotel a warm, inclusive feel. The restaurant itself is big, but banquettes along two of the walls help draw the edges in, and it is cosier than it could have been. It is also resolutely masculine, but with the majority of diners in hotel restaurants male, it works.
The big open kitchen at Amba is a blessing, removing that hushed morgue-like air that can hang over empty restaurants, and giving it a sense of purpose and noise that is less deafening than silence can ever be. Tables are large and well spaced, which makes a nice change, and the seating is again above-average comfortable. The one gripe is the air conditioning. On a busy Saturday night, with the open kitchen, that air con would be a blessed relief to staff and customers alike, but on a quieter night you are blown swiftly from rainy old England to one of the milder outposts of Siberia.
The menu stays pleasingly, seasonally British, even offering Cottage Pie (how comforting on a rainy night when you're stuck in a hotel on your own). It's so easy to go all international, especially in a hotel, so to find one firmly cricket and crumpets was a nice surprise. Autumnal seared pigeon breast comes on a tender round of beetroot and Swiss chard leaves and is satisfyingly butch and earthy. And the sweetest King scallops with girolle mushrooms are accompanied by a faintly lemony, spritzy dressing. For the main event, Loin of pork arrives with juicy braised red cabbage and savoury grain mustard sauce. Duck breast is pinkly perfect, with Savoy cabbage and a peppery bacon and shallot potato cake. Prices are also on the fair side, considering the location; starters are around the £8-£10 mark, mains around £17, and desserts are all a crowd-pleasing £6 - no more than the average gastropub in the area.
Don't leave Amba without sampling their Bread and butter pudding -- creamy, defiantly hot, plump sultanas, with a bowl of glorious rum and raisin cream to dollop liberally on. Almost reason enough in itself to return. But has Amba successfully managed to break the hotel restaurant mould? With the thought that has been put into the menu and décor, the answer is a resounding yes. The home-away-from-home cooking seems to be mostly spot on, and, in the end, those prowling staff beasties aren't so much lions as friendly Tiggers, which helps the ambience no end. Hopefully, this place will be packed out soon -- it deserves to be.
Amba Bar and Grill
W1A 2 AN
Tel: 020 7915 3892
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