The Ambrette at Rye, White Vine House, 24 High Street, East Sussex


Rye, one of the south coast's historic Cinque Port towns, has a long and colourful history of smuggling. And this week's restaurant is very much in the local tradition. Nothing about The Ambrette is quite what it seems. Chameleon-like, it hides behind splendid Georgian frontage on one of south-east England's prettiest historic high streets, looking as quaint and genteel as any of the area's myriad tea-shoppes. The name bespeaks generic Frenchified refinement.

But appearances are deceptive. The Ambrette is a modern Indian restaurant, with a mission to bring bold ideas and big flavours to this picture-perfect small town.

Chef/patron Dev Biswal comes to Rye from Calcutta, via London and Margate, where he launched the original Ambrette, recently named the area's best restaurant in the Taste of Kent awards. The sister restaurant in Rye opened last year, partnering with upmarket B&B White Vine House. On his website, Biswal waftily describes cooking as an art form with no rules, but he's clearly a canny businessman, judging by his restaurants' punter-snagging offers, including discount cards for senior citizens.

Rye – or Tilling, as devotees of EF Benson's peerless Mapp and Lucia books will prefer to think of it – was heaving with Bank Holiday shoppers when I scriggled into the Ambrette for a spot of luncheon with a young male companion, the Georgie to my Lucia. The restaurant was fairly busy, too – two of its three rooms filled with diners, not all of whom qualified for a senior citizens discount card.

We were seated in the smallest room, the Club Room, which holds just four tables, and feels both grand and rather snug. With its ancient, monumental fireplace, slate floors and floor-to-ceiling scrubbed oak panelling, it's a reclamation merchant's dream. But any resemblance to Miss Mapp's drawing room at Mallards is dispelled when the menus arrive.

This is Anglo-Indian food that Benson's Major Benjy wouldn't recognise. Breast of Kentish pheasant with foraged wild fennel and potatoes; spiced feather steak of Sussex beef with mango salad; chicken breast marinated in fresh pomegranate; Malibu-infused gram flour caviar. Even local pork makes an appearance, driving home the message that this is not your typical Indian restaurant.

The genre-bending promise of the menu wasn't quite fulfilled by our lunch, which offered consistent pleasures rather than thrills and spills. Biswal may boast that The Ambrette doesn't serve curries, but much of what we ate would be perfectly at home in a good-quality curry house. Take a starter of dosai – a crisp, paper-thin pancake rolled around a spiced mix of potatoes and onions – which was good, but pretty much as you'd find it in any southern Indian restaurant, albeit served on a much bigger, whiter plate.

Our second starter was more evolved, a crisp-skinned, spiced fillet of locally-caught gurnard partnered with a dense little fish cake and various chutneys and raitas. The knob of caviar which topped the dish off struck us as a redundant ornament, particularly given The Ambrette's unexpectedly low prices – at £14.95 for two courses, it is, as my friend pointed out, cheaper than Pizza Express.

If we hadn't known that The Ambrette doesn't serve curries, we would have described both our main courses as such. That breast of Kentish pheasant came diced in a tomato and ginger sauce that forensic analysis would surely reveal to be a close relative of tikka masala. South Indian-style beef stew, mild and aromatic, featured notably tender meat, but came with the same masala potato mix as made its debut in the dosai starter. Sides were good, including fresh, puffy naan breads, and crunchy 'chips' of fried Jerusalem artichoke.

Puddings were both a considerable notch up from your average Indian restaurant. We particularly liked the chocolate samosas, crisp little mouthfuls filled with melting chocolate of superior quality, and served with a cardamom-scented sauce. Passion fruit and pomegranate srikhand was blousily floral – imagine crème brûlée flavoured with Glade air freshener – but oddly moreish.

With a couple of glasses of wine each, our lunch was good value at £40 a head, and we enjoyed it well enough. But we really wanted to love The Ambrette, and couldn't. Something about the place doesn't quite add up. The elegant rooms, fancy plating and fine-dining adornments – complimentary dishes between courses, drizzled sauces, and scatterings of fresh pomegranate seeds – don't quite square with the perfunctory wine list, or the work-experience school of service.

Is The Ambrette worth making a special journey to Rye for? No. But if you live nearby, or are visiting Rye, absolutely yes. It may be sending out wildly mixed messages, but in a town famous for its fictional eccentrics, it certainly fits right in.

The Ambrette at Rye, White Vine House, 24 High Street, Rye, East Sussex (01797 222043). Set lunch: £14.95 two courses, £19.95 three courses; à la carte around £30 a head before wine and service

Food ***
Ambience ***
Service ***

Tipping policy: 'Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary. All tips and service charge go to the staff'

Side orders

Indian royalty


Prepare to fit snugly into this Michelin-starred cavern in the underbelly of a well-heeled Chelsea townhouse. For those who like their textured Indian cuisine with added foie gras.

10 Lincoln Street, London SW3 (020-7225 1881)


All the lamb and beef at this elegantly simple eatery is free-range and sourced from the UK's finest farms. Order the seared breast of duck with caramelised onion and bell-pepper sauce.

3-4 Dakota Buildings, James St, Birmingham (0121 212 3664)


Try the grilled lobster tail with seafood foam and maple-fennel bread in this grand former bank building.

1 Kensington High Street, London W8 (020-7795 6533)

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil