Amanzi equals amazing for Lee Trewhela
WHEN a restaurant refuses to bring the dish you've ordered because they've cocked it up, but you ask to taste it anyway and it's one of the greatest things to pass your lips for some time, you know you're somewhere special.
That's Amanzi – formerly Clarks – in Arwenack Street, Falmouth.
Clarks was a good solid restaurant with a loyal fanbase in the town – I ate there once (before the current owners had it); decent food but nothing particularly memorable except Cornwall's most cynical man, James Walker – as featured in a recent What's On review – made a fuss about the white wine not being cold enough.
Ian and Carolyn Turton took over Clarks in 2010, building a reputation and links with local suppliers.
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After a rethink, a nod to their homelands in Africa and a funkier refurbishment inspired by the continent, Amanzi opened its doors last month. It means water in Zulu, by the way.
It's already being talked up as an "African restaurant" though that's slightly misleading as there are currently only a handful of items on the menu that come directly from that part of the world – though they hope to add more given time.
Ian said: "Although our inspiration is our African roots, our dishes will be an infusion of flavours from across the globe. We have secured a wide range of Cornish suppliers so we can literally offer people the opportunity to 'eat local, taste global'."
Ian was born in Zambia and Carolyn in Malawi. He owned a restaurant in Johannesburg with his brother for five years before joining Hewlett Packard.
The company offered them the chance to live anywhere in Europe, so the couple chose England with the dream of coming to Falmouth, as Carolyn's parents and family roots are in Cornwall.
Amanzi does seem to be at the vanguard of a sea change in Falmouth – for a few years the town was looking tatty and rundown, but it has a new energy about it.
Sitting in a window seat at the restaurant, one couldn't help be caught up in the nighttime buzz on the streets. With Events Square attracting an audience, a plethora of superb eateries and pubs, and people of all ages streaming through town, Falmouth is the place to be.
It makes Truro at night, for example, look like tumbleweed central.
So what of Amanzi's food?
My starter could have been a disaster – a collision of flavours and ideas that wouldn't necessarily work: piri-piri chicken liver pâté with sweet chilli jelly and rosemary croutons (£6). However, work it did, the beautifully creamy pâté given a light kick but not overpowered by the piri-piri.
The Nurse went all vegetarian on me – well, if you had to insert catheters, you probably would too. Her falafel discs, houmous and mixed leaf salad (£5) was superb with the houmous in particular having a lovely honeyed flavour. Hopefully, it won't see her join the ranks of our pale and interesting friends. Sorry, vegetarians, don't attack me ... weakly.
Now comes Amanzi's huge disaster – in their eyes.
We were both drawn to the trinchado; beef cubes in a chilli, garlic and red wine sauce with handcut chips and olives (£14). Being a gentleman, I deferred, only for The Nurse to be told to order again as they didn't want to bring it out!
Why? Because the meat had fallen apart and wasn't cubed. I asked to taste it though – absolutely gorgeous, a spicy, warming stew with meat that melted on the tongue.
If this was a bad version, I have to return to savour it properly. She had to make do with roasted bacon wrapped chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella, tomato and pesto and served with root vegetables, new potatoes and a roated red pepper sauce (a very reasonable £13). It more than made up for the trinchado trouble.
My main was from the excellent seafood menu.
Was it to be Newlyn sole, olive crushed potatoes, rock samphire and caper butter or monkfish, tiger prawns or langoustines with a tomato, pineapple and coriander couscous with saffron sauce?
Neither actually. I wanted to get messy. So out came the crustacean crackers and two Singapore chilli crabs in a soy, chilli, ginger and garlic sauce with crusty bread (£18). Absolutely delicious and an interesting way of cooking a Cornish staple. Prepare to get covered though, warn other diners to duck and apologise to your partner for taking so long – it's an intense but slow experience.
It's heartening to find a restaurant that tries something new on the all-important dessert menu.
Take, for instance, Amanzi's Turkish coffee jelly with pistachio halva (£6) ... strong flavours and being used to the crumbly halva made from tahini, this more gelatinous version favoured in North Africa, was a new taste sensation. A pudding for men.
Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the biltong, spicy African-cured Cornish beef. You have to try it.
An impressive addition to Falmouth's dining vista. Amanzi = amazing.
For further information head to www.amanzirestaurant.co.uk or ring 01326 312678.
Top, trinchado, below, piri-piri chicken liver and, below left, Singapore crab.
The Amanzi team – Carolyn Turton, Ian Turton, John Salome, Mark Horrell and Tamsin Heim.