[Rye, East Sussex] The Ambrette
It was a place we felt we had to try, if for no other reason than to see if what they were trying to do actually worked. And what they seem to be trying to do is take local ingredients, put them on a menu written in a very westernised style, serve them up on a very westernised looking plate, but have South Asian influences running through the food.
So, it’s not your run of the mill high street curry house, But, unlike many of the places trying to do different from the curry house, the spicing is very restrained and there’s little of the vibrancy in the food, that you might expect. It’s the sort of Indian restaurant to which you’d happily take your granny – although we’re now so used to South Asian food that granny probably enjoys a good rogan josh. As the old joke goes “How’s your naan?” “Very well for 87”.
And, because of trying to be westernised, there’s a couple of amuse – a cube of spicy potato and a coffee cup of lentil soup. Both OK.
A sweet potato and tapioca cake was a veggie burger by any other name. Soft interior, crispy outside and a blob of yoghurt on top. Alongside a really nice crisp puri stuffed with potato. There was also a little tempura purple sprouting broccoli which somehow they’d managed to render inedible. It was, literally, impossible to cut or bite through.
And, for another old joke, there’s nothing like a good masala dosa – and my starter was nothing like a good masala dosa. What came was a soggy pancake filled with bland, turmeric coloured mash, that had the occasional mustard seed running through it. There were three chutneys – coconut, pea and mint – all of which tasted good, although they were more dry paste than chutney – no doubt so they be moulded into the dainty quenelles.
Amberette’s take on a vindaloo saw local pork loin taking centre stage. The meat was expertly cooked, just past medium and full of flavour. Canola shoots and mildly spiced chickpeas decorated the plate, as did a little vinegar, garlic and wine sauce which had been slightly sweetened. I quite liked this but, then, it’s a rare evening when I don’t enjoy a plate of piggy that’s been put in front of me.
Beef stew could have passed for almost any European beef stew. Again, good meat, cooked long and slow and served up with a tasty thin gravy, which had a vague hint of chilli. The masala mash and coconut chutney from the dosa dish turned up on this plate, along with some wilted Alexander stems.
A couple of small naan came with the main courses and we’d also taken additional orders of rice and bowl of crispy okra shreds – the latter being a welcome texture contrast and, certainly, very different from the slimy offerings you get sometimes.
We passed on dessert but were served a pre-dessert of mango granita which was not aided by the inclusion of a large helping of popping candy.
So, to conclude, it was a meal that was pleasant enough. And, certainly one that was reasonably priced. But not close to the puffery of the restaurant website which describes their work as “culinary art”. I wouldn’t feel the need to go back next time I visit Rye but, if I was a local, it’s the sort of place I might want to come back to a couple of times a year.