“You can’t sell me on fusion food. It’s just what people do when they aren’t good at either.”
So went my old opinion. I expect I regurgitated this from something that I read or heard from another food writer because it is exactly the blanket vague strong opinion that snobs would make and I would repeat to mask my naivety or inexperience of the wider restaurant world. In defense of this point, there are a lot of shoddy restaurants that go for a buffet-style extensive menu which shows a lack of focus and thus a likely lack of skill. How can a place do good spaghetti and good sushi, for instance? In Germany and Austria I was appalled by the number of Thai-Vietnamese-Japanese restaurants, most of which served a lot of rice with overseasoned protein. Fusion seemed to be a marketing ploy to cater to the indecisive by restauranteurs who cared for money rather than quality.
Saying this, I did go to and like Nanban in Brixton, though again I was drawn to it being owned by a Masterchef winner and sometimes you have to wonder to what extent you like something because you like it or because you are told that you should like it and therefore like it as a result. Of course, this is how you can grow to love a great many things. For instance, since turning 24 I have taught myself to actively enjoy coffee, lamb, asparagus, and rare steak. Unfortunately, I am yet to find a way to dislike sugary and fatty trash, but there are many more years of my life left.
Indian cuisine is one of the cuisines that I am most actively ambivalent (if there can be such a thing) towards. The doctor told me to avoid spicy food, but to hell with the doctor.
On one of my many menu-browse procrastinations, I came across the Ambrette, which proudly has a sign outside announcing its 2015 Kent Food Award wins.
“Let it go, Ambrette, it’s 2017 now,” was Hans’ response to this.
On Hans’ birthday, without Hans, I went on an impromptu development tasting. Nothing beats an impromptu development tasting, except perhaps an impromptu development tasting which doesn’t take four hours to complete. The price was £24.95 for 10 courses, but sitting for so long and finishing so late was a complaint for diners who have jobs during the day. It did bring a “blitz spirit” for the diners who all enjoyed complaining together, while also complimenting the food. Very British, very good.
If you do not equate time with money, the capital saving is worth it; the usual tasting menu weighs in at £69.95, and for £24.95 you can get a three course set lunch.
The restaurant is housed in the old Beer Cart Arms building and retains, or gives the impression that it retains, several of the original features. Wood panelling, wood tables, a piano in the centre of the room, spacious, good toilets. Beer Cart Arms used to be a rock bar that apparently used to do a good Halloween party, and where some friends picked up napkins to soak up the blood of my cut foot when I fell in the river. How times change.
As with my other “foodie” fusion (my how I dislike both of those words) experience, the flavour palate was quite unlike anything else that I had tasted before, in a good way. There was one course which I didn’t like – a weak popping candy grenita – several courses which were good, and standouts from a dosa, a seafood salad, and a wood pigeon wellington (I think, I have since thrown the menu away).
Indian food often falls into the unrefined culinary camp, but this is fine Indian fusion, dammit. Complex, well-thought spicing, Classical techniques, and plates that are a thing of beauty – for the most part; after several courses some of the plates looked a little worse for wear and the staff were clearly overwhelmed.
Have I become convinced of fusion cuisine you may ask? I would reply that this is a lazy and inaccurate question, for fusion encompasses a great many things and I stand by my general reluctance to fusion. In the case of The Ambrette, however, the guides are right (or I think that the guides should be right and am convincing myself that I like it) and it is worth a stop off if you’re in the mood for something finer in Canterbury. The other options are the Abode and other more ‘traditional’ Indians such as Kashmir or the Ancient Raj, but these comparisons are apples and oranges.
The Ambrette, 14-15 Beer Cart Lane, Canterbury CT1 2NY, +44 (0)1227 200 777.