Restaurant review: The Ambrette in Canterbury

Inside The Ambrette Canterbury

Inside The Ambrette Canterbury - Credit: Archant

Fancy a change from turkey and sprouts? Then add a bit of spice to your life and sample the delights of the new Ambrette in Canterbury

Fans of Dev Biswali’s Indian restaurants in Margate and Rye will be delighted to know that his new Ambrette in the heart of Canterbury raises standards to even greater heights.

And let’s face it, Dev himself has quite a few fans of his own and is worth the trip alone. Bollywood-handsome as ever (though recently married, sorry ladies) and even more svelte: the kitchen is on the first floor and that’s a lot of stairs to run up and down when you’re personally cooking a seven-course taster menu for the editor of Kent Life and her mate.

The latest addition to this growing empire of very modern Indian restaurants opened this summer and has already attracted a legion of new fans.

Set in a former Irish pub the ground-floor restaurant is spacious (100-plus covers) and attractively decorated in slate grey with white panelling, wooden floors inlaid with intricate patterned tiles and feature walls in vibrant red, green and cream.

Low ceilinged and softly lit, the overall feel is Georgian with a contemporary twist. It’s as far away from the traditional High Street curry house as you could imagine.

You won’t even find curry on the menu, although you will find pork – something almost unknown in the UK’s 10,000 predominantly Bangladeshi-owned south Asian establishments. The short, eclectic, daily changing menu features exotic treats such as freshwater Nile perch, plus, of course, locally sourced game and seafood.

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The menu at The Ambrette (named after the Indian flower known for its culinary and aphrodisiac properties) is staunchly seasonal and features a mix of local, often foraged produce (kelp, sea purslane, Marjoram) and unusual ingredients.

Dev’s cooking style is strongly influenced by regional Indian cooking but he also references other global cuisines such as French and South East Asian.

The style of service is just like him – friendly, informative and professional.

Dev had decided in advance that My Work Colleague and I would be sampling his six-course Taster Menu (note: this must be pre-ordered when reserving your table), so we really were in for a special evening.

We began with refreshing ‘mocktails’ of ginger ale with fresh pineapple and white grape juice while nibbling hot little spicy potato and cauliflower dumpling appetisers with a shot of mango and ginger warmed with star anise. Delicious.

Our concerns that we wouldn’t be able to manage every course (well, not mine: when has that ever happened?) were diminished when we realised how elegant the portions are and how subtle Dev’s touch is

Dosai (a south Indian crêpe) with gently spiced potatoes, mustard and onions, for example, came served with a variety of chutneys, including a fresh green pea purée that magically cooled everything down.

My Work Colleague, who is not a fan of fish, was convinced she wouldn’t enjoy the soft shell crab served with tempura of rock samphire, sea purslane salad, crab raita and home-made crab and beetroot cake – but it proved the star of her show. Indeed, we both loved it; sea-fresh, light, quirky, it was a triumph on an elegant white plate.

Meaty choices included breast of Kentish pheasant with cinnamon-poached peach and a coriander sauce, Kentish venison loin pan-seared and served with local pears, fennel potatoes, apricot chutney and a tamarind, apricot and ginger sauce.

In between these courses we each sipped a teacup of red lentil and celeriac soup, which provided a spicy, broth-like pause for our tingling tastebuds.

I’ve never been a fan of Indian desserts, but put your preconceptions to one side and place yourself in Dev’s hands. A mixed fruit granita with saffron jelly and popping candy had the joyous appeal of a funfair and heralded the master’s dessert platter of saffron jalebis, white chocolate silk, rose and vanilla crème brûlée and blackberry and cinnamon ice cream. It will change forever your thoughts on Indian cuisine.

Head to ancient Beer Cart Lane and give your tastebuds a festive wake-up call. n

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