Follow that chef – along the street

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Dev Biswal at the Ambrette's new home in Rye. He opens Saturday night - with 70 bookings

There are 502 reviews on Trip Advisor for The Ambrette Rye: 349 rate it as excellent, 102 as very good. Of the top 30 restaurants/tearooms listed for the town, it has been reviewed more times by a very long mile. But in the space of just seven days it has been uprooted from the White Vine House in the High Street and has travelled what must seem like a very long mile up the road to a new home at 6 High Street.

The cause is not clear. Both sides are remaining fairly tight lipped. Javed Khan of the White Vine House hotel – which has its own rating of 195 excellents on Trip and where a “superior” room costs £160 a night – said he could not comment as the Ambrette’s directors were suing. Emma Biswal, one of the restaurant’s directors and wife of chef Dev Biswal, would say only: “We left the White Vine House due to an ongoing dispute with the landlord. We are taking legal advice regarding this dispute.”

Reports of a falling out between the hotel and restaurant surfaced on the web. Hospitality and Catering News reported that the Michelin-listed restaurant had closed “following a breakdown in the relationship with the landlord”. When I walked down to the hotel on Friday of last week, the closure was evident. Outside, Khan was talking to Louis Swann of La Maison, also in the High Street.

“Come in,” Swann invited. “We’re decorating. Watch the paint.”

While I minded the ladders and pots of colour, Swann announced his plans: “An antiques centre will open in this space on March 1, a wine bar on March 15 and, as soon as we can after that, a private members’ club.” The idea of a private club was later scotched by Khan. It would not suit the hotel, he said. If the club took over the cellar that would be fine, but not the ground floor.

The Ambrette, meanwhile, was determined to reopen for Valentine’s Day. “We are opening for dinner service on February 14,” Emma Biswal said. “We have customers coming from Brussels, Bromley, London, France who booked before we left White Vine House. They have all booked Valentine weekends in Rye and have been unable to get tables anywhere else . . . so we decided to work through the nights to ensure we do not disappoint them.”

The nine members of staff, who were put on paid holiday leave when the restaurant made its exit, are all transferring to the new home.

The Biswals met in 2008. Since then the Ambrette brand of adventurous food, a fusion of local and Indian dining, has expanded quickly. They opened the first Ambrette in Margate in February 2010, Rye opened in November 2011 and Canterbury last summer. The couple squeezed in a traditional wedding in India in March of last year.

1502antiqSwann’s intentions are clear from the signs outside White Vine House. Other antique dealers are taking space in his space. The names are well known, like Wish Barn Antiques and HA Gasson. But unless he is the prospective owner of the monastery on Conduit Hill, Rye, he might face some competition. The rumour is it’s to be an antiques centre, too. But agents Rush Witt & Wilson were unable to confirm a sale. The property, an ancient monument, was until recently advertised online at £550,000.

Elsewhere: the Tuscan Kitchen in Lion Street is under new management. The Gazette on January 22 reported that the Tuscan Kitchen Ltd “be wound up voluntarily” and that CMB Partners of Sun Street, London EC2 “is hereby appointed liquidator of the company for the purposes of such winding up”. The restaurant is now reportedly under the wing of Roger Payne of Shaka Zulu, Camden, London.

The takeover at Tuscan has been seamless. Tony Macis, front of house, chef Agostino and the other staff continue as before.

Louis Swann's new space - for antiques and wine
Louis Swann’s new space – for antiques and wine

Photos: Tony Nunn