Call me lazy, but I never try to find out too much about a place before I go there, apart from the obvious basics of what type of food it does, and where it is.
That’s not saying I turn up blind, but I do try to pick and choose restaurants on recommendation rather than extensive internet trawling. I’d already been tipped off about Margate’s Ambrette when I bumped into Jacqui, an old colleague who lives in the town.
“I’m thinking of going out for a meal when we’re in Margate for the weekend,” I said, “I can’t remember what it’s called though, something beginning with A, it does Indian fusiony type food.”
“Oh the Ambrette,” she said, as quick as a flash. “It’s amazing, definitely go.”
And that was that. I was booked. And hooked. Because she was right. It was amazing.
So if you’re short for time, then please stop reading. You’ve already got the gist: I really liked it and think you should go there.
Oh hello, you’re still here? Wonderful. Then I shall continue.
I never think that Monday lunchtime is a terribly auspicious time and day to go out for a meal. It’s just not as buzzy as, say, a Thursday is it?
Especially in Margate, which is said to close on Mondays due to the Turner Contemporary having the day off to dust down its Mondrians.
When we walked in to the restaurant my worst fears were confirmed - we were the only people there. Still, the menu looked good and it meant the service was speedy and super attentive.
But within 15 minutes a party of three arrived, then a foursome, then a couple celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, another foursome and one more couple – Margate wasn’t shut, we’d just got there a bit early.
The lunch menu was nice and simple, offering one course for £8.95, two for £14.95 and three for £19.95. We’d eaten out the night before at The Minnis Bar & Restaurant, so thought we’d go for the £14.95 option.
I couldn’t resist the mushroom samosa with chargrilled Portobello mushrooms as a starter, while my wife went for Kentish sausages.
What we didn’t bargain for were the amazing appetisers that floated on to our table before each course. This extra special treat started off with some spiced dumplings in a mango chutney sauce – just the right size and flavour to get those taste buds into gear.
And so arrived the sausages, which wholeheartedly confirmed the restaurant’s philosophy of taking local produce and transforming it through the best of the world’s culinary styles.
This perfectly lovely pair of sausages came with an eye-catching selection of Asian purees, the hot tangy tastes perfectly complementing the familiar, almost earthy tones of the bangers.
We were there with our daughters, four and two (their ages, not their names), who helped my wife tuck into the sausages, but thankfully left my starter alone. Mostly because I told them they wouldn’t like it. I know, I’m an awful dad. But I loved it and for once I just didn’t feel like sharing.
Appetites sated, we sat back to wait for the mains only to be surprised by yet another amuse bouche – this time a small cup of spicy lentil soup. It was a bit too spicy for the girls, so I did my fatherly duty of eating theirs for them. It’s just not right to send essentially untouched food back to the kitchen, is it?
The main courses didn’t fail to impress – chicken leg biryani for my wife, a shared Ambrette lamb pie for Four and Two (as I now call them) and fresh aubergine with Kentish goat’s cheese, cumin spiced marrow and lentils for me.
And so it happened, the steady slide from two courses to three. What else could we say to “would you like to see the dessert menu” apart from “yes please”?
Again there was more fabulous fusion on show in my Rhubarb and star anise crumble, while the younger members of the family opted for the traditional ice cream, and my wife went down the inevitable route of Milk chocolate delight.
As we finished licking the front, back and sides of our dessert spoons we all agreed that the meal had been a triumph from start to finish. The flavours were delicately balanced, and each dish packed a surprise or two.
One of the greatest surprises was that just about all of the dishes were gluten free, which is fantastic when you have someone with Coeliac disease (a lifelong autoimmune disease caused by intolerance to gluten) in the family, as we do. They even made Four her very own gluten free naan bread, which was a lovely touch to an amazing meal.
So yes, go there. Tell them Jacqui and Ian sent you.
• The Ambrette, 44 King Street, Margate Old Town, Kent, CT9 1QE. 01843 231 504
• Lunchtime meal for four (excluding drinks, and with two children sharing two courses) £54.85