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

Rasoi

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)

Lasan

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)

Zaika

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)

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Life and Style
Customers look at the new iPhones on display at the launch of the new Apple iPhone 6 and iphone 6 plus at the Apple IFC store in Hong Kong
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week