44 King Street, Margate, Kent
Review by Gavin Markwick
It would be a mistake to not be impressed with The Ambrette. The building is unassuming from the outside in fact we couldn’t find it at first. It lies on the corner of King Street but its entrance is in Cecil Street. But when you are inside the magic of the food takes over. King Street it’s worth noting is just on the edge of Margate old town. Remember those three words. In years to come you will be saying “oh yes, I knew the old town before it was so trendy it hurts”. The old town is where it’s at that’s for sure. With the Turner Contemporary gallery opening only 18 months ago and Mary Portas being parachuted in to revive Margates fortunes it is definitely on the up. She’s even done a deal with Network Southeast so you can travel by rail from London for £10 return at weekends until Feb 2013. Bargain.
We entered a full restaurant at 12:45. How often does that happen at Saturday lunchtime? The lunch menu has a choice of six dishes for starters and mains as well as a couple of sides. This beguilingly simple menu is easy to understand but doesn’t prepare you for the delights to come. Although the prices are set at £8.95 for one course, £14.95 for two and £19.95 for three you get a couple of amuse bouche as well. So it’s possible to have a substantial five-course lunch for less than Â£20.
Location was an ongoing theme for us. None of the dishes are specific to any region so it might be hard to relate to traditional Indian food
say a mild Kashmir curry or hot Madras. This makes choosing a little hard, but the staff, are excellent at talking you through what’s on offer. Between the four of us we tried chicken with cucumber salad and onion raita, potato cakes with spicy chick peas, crispy pooris and chutneys, and dosai with spiced nettles, potatoes, onions and an avocado and garlic chutney. That was just the starters. There is a deft hand in the kitchen overseen by owner and executive chef Dev Biswal who calls his food ‘culinary art’. This is not unfounded for as well as having a very subtle touch the food looks gorgeous.
My eldest son who nearly fourteen and very keen on Indian food commented, “Its like the difference between a pair of good and bad headphones, eating here has the cushioned quality which allows you to enjoy everything even at low volume.” I agree that the food somehow isolates you from what you’d expect from an Indian restaurant. The Ambrette produces or should that be ‘sculpts’ a genuine subtlety in their cooking which I find very appealing.
The starters were followed by a warming cup of ginger and vegetable soup with a slight autumn bite of root vegetables and a little spice. The mains trade heavily on local produce. A tender and juicy loin of Kentish pork with aubergine mash hit the spot. A Kentish pheasant with fennel tempted us but not as much as breast of chicken biryani with mace, cardamon, saffron and cinnamon. It sat on the plate in a small lake of sublime subcontinent sauce. A spice traders delight and all perfectly blended. Each of the different flavours coming through in the right proportion.
The interior is I feel a little plain and doesn’t do the food justice. It may be that at night with the lights a bit lower then it might be more atmospheric. In the day it has a feeling of falling between cleaned up pub and hotel dinning room. It does need to find it’s own character.
Desserts are playful fun here. The boys loved the chocolate samosas. A regular samosa but with a gooey chocolate filling, such a simple idea I’m surprised I’ve not seen it before. The blueberry sirkand had an indulgent creamy, dreamy way about it and the strawberry and vanilla rice had coconut ice cream, which was subtle (that word again) and very smooth.
Apart from our ineptitude at locating the front door of The Ambrette the experience was well worth the trek to Margate. The food is accomplished with a confidence that allows them to be a bit different. With the Mary Portas initiative in place it would seem foolish not to give it a go. Now, is it left or right to the train station?