Chef Dev Biswal had a vision – to create a modern Indian restaurant with a difference. And, he achieved it with The Ambrette, based in Canterbury, Kent, and Margate regions of England.
For this award-winning diner, nondescript curries on the menu are a strict no. Owned by Dev and wife Emma Biswal, The Ambrette’s trio of restaurants have established a reputation for authentic Indian regional dishes with a fusion touch, combining the seasonal ingredients of the local region and influences from France and Southeast Asia.
Biswal brings years of international experience to establish his own mark in a rather hospitality industry of the UK. Born and raised in , he began his career as a chef at the age of 16 and went on to train at the Dubai Sheraton. In 2003, at the age of 26, he moved to London to pursue his culinary passions.
“I live and dream of food. Having lived in India, I have grown up around food. My mother, who lives in India, we speak daily and our conversations are all about food. It is our life, and it reflects in our work,” shares Biswal, who was recently named Asian Chef of the Year at the 2019 Asian Restaurant .
For the Biswals, the community is at the heart of their business. At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the restaurant teamed up with homelessness charities Porchlight and Catching Lives to provide hot cooked meals to those living in emergency accommodation.
The restaurant also employs local people and works closely with the catering school at East Kent College. Adapting to the new normal and constantly changing guidelines, The Ambrette stepped into uncharted territories to add on a takeaway service during the .
The chef reflects: “We operated for the first time as a takeaway service. This is something we never have done before, nor would have done as we are a fine dining service. It was a very bumpy process to begin with, but we got there in the end. The service is very popular, and we will continue with it."
And as part of adapting to the new normal, the restaurants' much-loved cookery classes will also be making a comeback, with a virtual twist.
“Our cookery classes are very popular. At these classes, we focus on techniques and how to use ingredients. We are currently working with a media company to introduce an online class.”
On the festive winter season front, The Ambrette will be closed for Christmas: “We decided to close as a way to say thank you to our staff for all their hard work. We believe they should be at home with their families enjoying Christmas.”
And, plans for at The Ambrette includes an Indian fusion feast as well as classical Indian entertainment like the tabla and harmonium to keep the guests entertained.
Curfews and lockdown
For the hospitality industry, the government guidance for all businesses to close at 10 pm has been met with much criticism both within and outside the sector.
Biswal notes: “I am not sure how the curfew works well for restaurants; our busy time is around 8-8:30 pm. It’s putting huge pressure on us to get people out quickly, and it takes away from that whole experience of dining out.
“We do not have the issues of drunk and disorderly, which bars and pubs may face. To put the whole industry under one banner isn’t right.”
Acknowledging the reality that the changes for the industry are probably here to stay for some time, he adds: “We are all in this together. At , every member of staff is responsible for their own stations.
“It has been very sad to see both the customer and provider of the service struggling in this situation, as they cannot greet one another as they used to. We are missing that human element, but at the same time it is a compromise to protect ourselves and others to keep the business going.”