Hospitality is back, which means Amazonico is back! We’ve been anticipating the moment that restaurants could open again for months now, counting down to ‘Super Saturday’, the day when restaurants flung open their doors again to the public. And of course I made sure I was the first person in the queue for Mayfair sensation Amazonico.
According to Handbook readers, the Berkeley Square Brazilian, Peruvian, Spanish, Mediterranean and Japanese fusion restaurant (it’s a broad church) is the one place you most wanted to visit the moment that lockdown ended. So it was pure altruistic journalistic endeavour that led me to sample a four course sharing menu on Super Sat, y’know, in the spirit of research…
The first thing that strikes you about post-Covid Amazonico is how much like pre-Covid Amazonico it is. Which is definitely a good thing.
The restaurant is a special space, the decor is rich and beautiful, evoking jungle scenes without going full-on Rainforest Café. I was quietly panicking, as I walked up from Green Park this Saturday, that the immense charm would be somehow cheapened by one-way systems marked out in gaffer tape or endless wipe-clean signs reminding you to keep away from your infectious co-diners.
Every member of staff is wearing a black face mask... Think very high end bank robber, rather than dazed ICU doctor...
So what a relief when none of that materialised. Any notices were discrete and in keeping with the surroundings (and the only ones I saw were in the gents politely advising that the middle (of three) sinks was out of service), while everything that we know and love about Amazonico was firmly in situ.
Which isn’t to say that changes haven’t been made, the live band has become a DJ and staff spent a week planning the reopening with safety as the first priority, but the changes are subtle and nuanced, as you’d expect from a graceful restaurant like Amazonico.
There is one difference that you will notice, however. The staff are all wearing masks. It’s not compulsory for restaurants, according to the government guidelines, and another above-and-beyond move is that all staff have had blood tests in the last week to be sure that they are in tip-top health, but to underscore Amazonico’s commitment to guests’ health every member of staff is wearing a black face mask.
The effect is smart and businesslike, not clinical. Think very high end bank robber, rather than dazed ICU doctor.
I’m not going to pretend that you don’t notice it, but it does add a certain frisson. It’s a bizarre feeling when you realise that you’ve been chatting to the same waiter for the past two hours and you don’t actually know what he looks like! But hell, I’d rather get to know someone’s eyebrows than be called in five days time by a track and trace team (all guests have to give their contact details, as per government instructions).
Tech also steps up and augments the dining experience. Starting with a cocktail in the bar, the waiter doesn’t bring a menu but instead puts down a smartly branded piece of card emblazoned with a QR code. Hover your phone and, presto, the cocktail menu pops up on the screen.
I plumped for the Leche de Panthera and enjoyed the very first cocktail Amazonico’s mixologist had (officially) made since March. He’s not lost it.
It was also the first professionally made cocktail I’d drunk since March, and this take on the pina colada was like ambrosia (the food of the gods, not the custard).
The drink contains Belvedere vodka, Trois Rivieres Agricole rum, Manzanilla sherry, lime, white chocolate, spiced pineapple, coconut and turmeric and it was divine.
If cocktails signified anything, it was that things are right back on form at Amazonico, and everything was going to be okay. Led to my table (diners are angled so as not to be directly facing each other), another QR code revealed the dining menu.
Amazonico is best enjoyed when you’re sharing, which in the middle of a pandemic might feel a little counter-intuitive but given you’re only dining out with people from your ‘bubble’ or from one other household, it’s Boris-sanctioned and therefore A-OK. Which is a shame because you’ll want to hoard it all to yourself.
Biting into food you haven’t cooked yourself after three months in captivity really is special. Even more so when it’s Ensalada Amazónica, a mango, avocado and tomato salad with kalamansi citrus along with a Hamachi Tiradito, which is thinly sliced yellowtail, passion fruit, shiso leaves dressing.
The salads were refreshing not just in their post-lockdown novelty, but bringing together surprising and fresh flavours like yellowtail and passion fruit.
Passing up the opportunity to sink my teeth into frogs’ legs (a testament to the breadth of cuisine at Amazonico and a nod to the Mediterranean influences that vye with the South American and Nikkei flavours), we moved onto a main of chicken rolls, steak and corn.
Daintily dipping my lettuce-wrapped chicken rolls into the mint and yoghurt dip I started to appreciate how huge hospitality reopening is for Londoners. There is nothing even ball-park equivalent that I could produce at home to match Amazonico’s tequeños and it’s extraordinary to think we haven’t had access to our rich restaurant industry for so long.
Of course being bereft of posh cooking is hardly the biggest trial of lockdown, and it would be ridiculous to suggest it was, but we have been missing an important part of London life. Sure, you can order deliveries, recreate signature dishes at home or queue for takeaways, but these are pale reflections of the reality.
But however big this all feels to diners, it’s huge for the restaurants themselves. Tucking into melt-in-the-mouth entraña, chimichurri marinated skirt steak, it started to hit me just how big a deal lockdown was for the industry.
Amazonico launched to great fanfare in Autumn, one of the biggest openings of 2019, and a few months later they were forced to shut down overnight. The same went for every restaurant in the entire country. Government intervention has provided a lifeline to the sector in the form of furlough, grants, rates holiday and VAT deferment, but for everyone who works in hospitality this has been a knife-edge few months, and not every restaurant has or will make it to the other side intact. It’s a huge testament to Amazonico that they were ready to go and at full pelt and without any dip in quality the moment the government lifted restrictions.
It takes less than a stunning pudding of Chocolate al Moctezuma (hot chocolate fondant served with avocado ice cream) and a Pina Rostizada (roasted caramel glazed pineapple, corn cake and coconut sorbet) to realise how big this moment is for us, Londoners, for restaurants like Amazonico as well as for me, this is the first restaurant review I’ve written since February. Welcome back.