Cambridge hot spots: a few reviews

I may call myself a food blogger, but I am shamefully bad at what food bloggers are meant to do, write reviews. You know, the archetypal wanker who takes out their phone at the dinner table and snaps a quick pic of everyone’s food before anyone is allowed to touch it. That used to be me! But recently I’ve been mostly posting recipes, a much more egotistical version of food blogging. So I’ve decided to cover a few staples of the Cambridge culinary scene. Some of the places I would be most likely to frequent when socialising, with the exception of the. Maypole pub, I don’t think it needs much more endorsement as I am probably single handedly financing it.

Catesby’s

Ok so shameful plug, this is where I work. But they do have a fantastic Welsh Rarebit which generally keeps regulars coming back time again. Their simplistic approach to lunch is perfect for when you are craving a light classic lunch and the homemade cakes are a welcome change from the manufactured coffee shop chains. Plus I’ve heard the service is excellent. 

Bills

Bills is a staple for breakfast whenever the parents are in town and they rarely fail to disappoint. I particularly recommend their vegetarian breakfast. It’s unusual to be able to find a veggie version that doesn’t just disappoint or try to replace meat with weak vegetarian versions, in Bills the meaty elements are replaced with tasty humours and guacamole, making it better ( in my eyes) than the original. Another highlight on the Bills menu are their cocktails. Not the first place you would think for a pre dinner drink but they have a modest menu of a mix of classics and more unusual cocktails. I highly recommend the Bramble Mojito, which (despite its bright purple appearance) packs a punch and carries a strong blackberry flavour without being too sweet (a fault happy hour cocktails often carry…). Of course when you have a drink there, you cannot fail but accompany it with some giant spicy tortilla chips, guacamole, tzatziki and salsa. The German Gal and I are addicted. So. Much so that I am ashamed to say on one particularly decadent occasion, we had one plate each to accompany our bramble mojitos… Crunchy, mildly spicy, giant, fried pieces if tortilla dipped in so creamy-you-won’t-believe-it’s-yoghurt tzatziki is fast becoming my idea of heaven. The one thing I have been let down on my Bills unfortunately is the main event, which seems a shame. When I went there for dinner with my family my chicken leg in a cremy sweetcorn sauce was tasty, but a meagre portion for £15 with no vegetables and barely any actual meat on the bone. Likewise when I came and had the chicken skewers with couscous salad and pitta on another occasion, the couscous salad was dry and lacked flavour. Maybe I’m just choosing the wrong things, especially when they get other things on their menu so right. 

 

Bills’s vegetarian breakfast

 
Cote

Cote is the posh dinner out for the Cambridge student, whether it’s date night, extravagent birthday dinner or parents in town. I recently went with a group of girl friends to celebrate the German gal coming back from Germany for the weekend. One of the main things that always confuses me about Cote is their insistence upon serving water in weighted bottles, which, whilst pretty, never seem to hold much water and also mean that you constantly forget you’ve run out of water as they always feel full. Cote usually get the food right though. They do a decently priced set lunch/ early evening which offers three courses for £11.90 or 2 for £9.90, one lunch there I had a buttery, sweet crumble with melt in the mouth vanilla ice cream oozing creaminess on the top.  

Apple Crumble

Back to the girls dinner.since Cote is ostensibly a french restaurant, I decided to go for the traditional cassoulet dish. I was not disappointed. There were large chunks of melting meat, especially the on-the-bone lamb fillet, and a thick comforting tomato sauce, full of punchy, meaty provencale flavours. My only criticism was that the pork belly was too fatty and would have benefitted from being roasted or flash fried before being added to the cassoulet so that you weren’t just faced with lumps of fat but scored morsels of flavour. The Queen soprano had opted for the Cote staple, pan fried steak with their signature chips, whilst there are many good steak houses in Cambridge (the best has to be Cau, closely followed by  Cambridge Chophouse) Cote definetly wins the price for simplicity and flavour. Their steak doesn’t apologise for being flash fried, medium rare as the Parisians like it and with the ultimate french fries, think as moreish as McDonalds after a night out, if they used less chemicals, less saltand gave you a real napkin. All in all with Cote, you know what you’re getting. They do classical french well, a chain that doesn’t feel like a chain. Having said that, they rarely change their menu which can mean that you feel a tad bored after the 5th visit in so many years.

 

Cassoulet

Steak and Chips

  

Jamie’s Pizzeria

I made a sneaky visit to Jamie’s pizzeria with an old friend when they came into town. Zizzi’s had failed me on a Saturday night, but the 17seater pizzeria upstairs in. Jamie ‘so was practically empty. It was a shame. It’s not outrageously expensive, it has a simple menu in the vibe of a rustic Italian trattoria and has decent wine served in short wine glasses in an eclectic fashion. Admittedly the pizzeria is tucked away upstairs and can be intimidating with the intimacy of the setting, but it more than makes up for it with some of the best tomato sauce I’ve tasted in a chain italian restaurant. The pizza base is that thin, scorched crisp bread variety which I last had at the pizza show in Rome.  ( literally what it sounds like, a five course pizza tasting menu for €10 – I love the italians the tomato sauce carried an incredibly punchy tomato flavour, I dispersed with dollops of half melted mozzarella for the authentic rustic Italian meal. This pizzeria lacks the finesse and diversity of the pizza express pizza but it is way more authentic and dare I say it, much more tasty. 

 

Pepperoni Pizza

 
Stickybeaks

Finally the to go venue for the yummy mummies of Cambridge. Stickybeaks is the ultimate kitsch home-made style cafe. The sort of place that students playing ladies who lunch would aspire to go. Which is exactly where the anthropologist professor,  Labours secret weapon and I went, in a break from choir rehearsals. (Admittedly it was more because we wanted a different scene to the monotonous chains of pret and Eat than we aspired or had the time to be ladies that lunch but you get the idea). It’s the sort of place where you share tables, newspapers and food magazines are offered as a courtesy and iced coffees are served in tumblers. However despite the fact Stickybeaks could very well adhere to this cutesie vibe and overcompensate with the food, the simple salads and warming treats (such as the sumptuous sausage roll, thick tortilla or layered coconut granola pot) are well made and fairly priced. We were never talking subway prices but you have to be be willing to give independent cafe a bit more, plus the ambience. My Chorizo and egg salad is the main reason I include Stickybeaks on the list, well worth the money, the salad was flavoursome, eggs cooked to order to perfection and served with crunchy croutons for a filling (healthy feeling ) lunch.  

 

Advertisements

Gin in a Pint Shop

Gin in a Pint Shop

The end of exams calls for a celebration and what better time to try out the most recent addition to the Cambridge restaurant scene, The Pint Shop. I have often popped into this relatively new addition to the Cambridge restaurant scene for one of their amazingly diverse gin and tonics, from the more classically flavoured  Junipero 49.3% 12 Botanicals, Strong Juniper to the exciting  NB Gin 42% Grains of Paradise, Orris Root, Cassia Bark. (I am yet to find out what Grains of Paradise are…) I am also reliably informed that you can have the pint of the name there as well, although that’s  not really my style. These Gin and Tonics are made even more exciting by the sophisticated presentation of a sliver of lemon peel, plenty of ice and juniper berries, Wetherspoons take notice.

IMG_1641

So directly after spraying U4 with champagne as the final finalist, the staircase crowd plus extras headed down for lunch in plainly decorated back room of the shop, the back being the restaurant, the front the bar. One of the most appealing aspects for the students round the table was the set price lunch menu, 2 courses for £10, friendly to the student budget. We were immediately presented with hefty chunks of sourdough bread and slabs of butter gratefully received by the majority of the party who had missed breakfast due to their own exam celebrations the night before. (My only gripe was that the butter was unsalted, but it was nothing a little sea salt couldn’t fix).

IMG_1640

The girl Muso, Phantom and I all started with the intriguing sounding spiced cauliflower fritters with yoghurt sauce. I was impressed. They were light, but less pungent than an onion bajii and went well with the neutral yoghurt sauce. However the classicist next to me made me immediately jealous, a roast cauliflower, Raddichio and walnut salad (cauliflower is clearly in season) which looked amazing and I was assured tasted as good. I later found out that this is a bit of a house speciality in various forms, missed a trick. Altogether the starters were basic but showcased their produce.

IMG_1643IMG_1644

The main courses were pretty much along the same vein, basic but showcased seasonal produce. My mackerel with potato salad cannot, I’m afraid, be referred to as the best dish I ever had, but it was well seasoned and the mackerel melted in the mouth. Apparently those who had the pork were not so lucky. While the pork with roasted apple and mustard sauce was nice, the whole dish was severely let down by the rather odd large pickled fennel which was taking up most of the plate. Initially I thought that the girl Muso was exaggerating…but after tasting I can definitely say fennel is one of the few things that shouldn’t be pickled ever.

  IMG_1645IMG_1646     

Of course the real winner was Leporello, who decided to treat himself off the set menu. His steak with fried egg and bone marrow looked impressive and judging by the empty bone and plate it was pretty damn good. His and U4’s meals were accompanied by the sort of food I would normally have after 3am post clubbing but turned out to be an inspired choice. The Pint Shop is the only place I know that can elevate the humble chips with curry sauce to a sophisticated side order for lunch.

IMG_1648

All in all the Pint shop is a great place to go, but stick to the classic pub food, they do that best. Their cricket ball sized scotch eggs are next on my list, apparently they’re worth the trip to Cambridge.

The Lobster Quadrille: The Yorkshireman part 2 – Brown’s Brasserie

The Lobster Quadrille: The Yorkshireman part 2 – Brown’s Brasserie

In my last post I described the beer cake. It had one of the best responses to a cake I’ve had, simply because I walked in the room for the sparkling wine drinks, the birthday boy and gathered assembly were drinking large pints. However following the drinks we all headed over to Browns to continue the celebrations.
It was a little surreal approaching the restaurant for their weekly lobster night to walk through a throng of hand horns and placards being thrust in our plates by protestors protesting against lobster killing, but luckily once you got in the restaurant the regular blasts of horns and shouting dispersed into vague background noise.
I was quite hungry at this point and there was just one starter calling out to me and my neighbour, the sharing plate. This I would strongly recommend! I particularly enjoyed the calamari which were crisp but not chewy inside and went well with lime and chilli mayonnaise, which lacked heat but was tasty nonetheless. The honey mustard chicken again lacked a huge hit of the promised flavour but was still tasty and very well cooked. I really liked the prawn cocktail, chunky prawns and a hit of marie rose sauce which didn’t try to pretend it was anything other than what it should be, mayonnaise, worcester sauce and ketchup (it may have been more fancy then this but I loved it’s lack of pretentiousness). Again I really enjoyed the duck crispy chilli duck which was full of flavour but perhaps should’ve been described as hop-sin duck because that is what it was in reality. The chorizo sausage roll was very good and definitely lived up to its description, as did the lavish breadsticks which were so much more than breadsticks, more like morish buttery pastry sticks (this was not one for the figure conscious) which went so well with the rich lime and chilli mayonnaise for absolute decadence, carried the actually quite spicy harissa houmous and were complimented by the more plain and light aubergine caviar. Altogether perhaps browns could do with rewriting their description, but the finished product was delicious, although most definitely for sharing, perhaps we were a bit ambitious only sharing between the two of us…

 For the main I was told that I absolutely had to have the lobster surf and turf and was even offered sponsorship to order it (which of course I gratefully accepted -don’t judge, food lover+student – all donations accepted). The problem I had with the main was that having advertised this as a dish for lobster lovers, the lobster was significantly smaller than others I’ve had in the past (see dubai and Brussels) and was slightly overcooked and lacked flavour. For £25 you would have thought they could at least have run to a sauce for either the steak or lobster. Having had my rant the turf bit of my meal was lovely. I do like my steaks virtually mooing on the plate and I know a minute steak is quite hard to cook medium rare so I really should’ve asked for rare. Despite this they managed a good medium rare which I was impressed with and the fluffy thin chips were really good especially when dipped in Brown’s homemade ketchup, which I have had before and absolutely adore, it is so much better than Heinz (which for the record I love on brunch – this just goes the extra mile!) The steak doesn’t quite beat Cau, but at the moment that is a tough act to follow.

All in all in Brown’s, choose wisely and you will be rewarded. (I probably chose a little unwisely as I should’ve remembered Cambridge is as far from the sea as humanly possible.) Sometimes the most expensive choice isn’t necessarily the best, but what they know well they pull off well. (And trust me they know chips, calamari and breadsticks very well apparently)  

Steak take 2 – Cau

Steak take 2 – Cau

This is a little belated given this jumps all the way back to the parents visit, but what can I say, I’ve been busy. Cau has got to be one of my best recent eating out experiences. Not only is the food really good (especially the traditional argentinian dishes, we tried the flatbreads which were nice but didn’t blow pizza express away), but the argentinian wine is worth remembering. The only issue here is that I forgot to take pictures, we were a little too busy enjoying the food.

We started with Empanandas, like little cornish pasties with slightly more exciting flavours. We ended up trying all three, through a slight communicative error with our waitress but it was good to try all three. The first, spicy ground beef and onion, was actually my least favourite, ironically probably the most similar to a cornish pasty but it lacked interesting flavour, better for the less adventurous. The next, spanish chorizo and cream cheese was my favourite, spicy and creamy at the same time, good flavour/texture balance. Finally the spinach, ricotta and date which was also really good, the date adding a sweet edge to an otherwise classic combination. We found half of each of these and a chicken skewer was perfect for a starter. We went for the chicken with guacamole (you may be noticing an avocado trend in this blog) which had some of the best guacamole I’ve had in a while, so creamy and delicious – even my dad (who is generally spice phobic) enjoyed the balanced flavours in the guacamole, and very well cooked chicken,  not over or under done.

For mains we all went for steak (why not?) My dad and sister (the mother was off doing her job back in Oxford) both had the thinly sliced tapa de cuadril which was apparently very good and suited both of them perfectly, they aren’t generally so keen on the bloody steak. My sisters salsa style chimchurri sauce was ok but my dad’s garlic and herb aioli fought off stiff competition of any aioli I’ve had before. Likewise dad’s chunky chips were good but my thinly sliced ones were better, and definitely much better than McDonalds while retaining that addictive tendency. I enjoyed the red juices oozing from my perfectly cooked medallions and they were complimented by the creamy and salty mustard sauce which I am ashamed to say I wiped off my plate with the chips, it was that good.

After such a feast we were all quite stuffed, no matter how valiantly I tried to fit dessert in. Luckily my dad had the answer, sharing the Dulce de leche pancakes. I am so glad he forced this on both his daughters as I haven’t had such amazing caramel sauce, really ever. I may just go back for these pancakes they were that good.

I think the picture below speaks for itself, that is a satisfied table – while Cau will never be cheap cheap, it is better value for money given the quality of the produce and wine then most places. Ive never tasted Argentinian food before but I will definitely be trying it again (maybe just at Cau).

If you go down to the woods today…

If you go down to the woods today…

So as you may have realised from this blog I am generally not very good at spontaneity. Of course this is a benefit when it comes to cooking elaborate 5 course dinners…. but generally as a student I am learning to juggle everything with a tight schedule and a bit of spontaneity every now and then is a welcome stress release. Of course spontaneity can vary from taking a long cycle ride, heading to the museum or in my case soaking gummy bears in gin….
It was one of those weird afternoons following brunch when I wanted a snack because I can’t cope with only having two meals a day, so stopped off for a healthy cereal bar. Of course I met my friend who suggested tangfastics were a more juvenile approach and I should probably start acting like the kid I feel like inside rather than the mature soon to be graduate I actually am. Upon spotting the gummy bears I mused that I had always wanted to try gummy bears in vodka having read they grow to about 4 times in size, he suggested we actually try it. Of course I only had gin (being more a g and t girl than a vodka coke) so we used that instead. A few days later and all I can say is that half a packet of gummy bears engorged to the size of a key with gin, makes for rather good pre-drinking.

Same friend, different experiment. Following on from the successful gin gummy bears, we decided to try the much talked about skittle vodka. Deciding that skittles wouldn’t make our final vodka enough like sours, we used skittle sours. Trying not to eat too many we skilfully divided all the skittles into colours, this was the fun part, brought out the ocd in us, I think all Cambridge students have it a little. We then downed 5 bottles of fizzy water and filled up with vodka, I’ll keep you updated on the results

In another note, same friend and I headed to chophouse again (I am not normally this decadent) and had the exciting sharing plate. I have been wanting to try this for a while but this plate is rather difficult to share between four…much better between two.

 Venison Pate with sweetcorn relish and brown sourdough, possibly my favourite part of the dish , meaty and chunky, balanced by the tangy relish. Then there was the pork crackling, crunchy and salty – not quite up their with the maypole’s but then the maypole is specifically tailored for drunken munchies. The cheese, I was assured, was very good cheddar, as detailed many times, I am not a cheese fan. Likewise personally I wasn’t such a fan of the gammon although that is more personal taste as it was smokey and I’m sure hit the spots for more of a gammon lover. I am always a big fan of cured salmon, especially beetroot cured and this was good, although I think it was sliced a little thinly, I think cured salmon tastes better a little thicker so you can taste how much meatier it is than smoked salmon and not so salty but they still did well, plus good value for money, we were stuffed.

St John’s Chophouse

St John’s Chophouse

It might be only me, but when anyone offers me an all expenses trip to a restaurant all I can think about is STEAK. So the inevitable termly visit from the parents is centred around a decadent 3 course meal at none other than the St John’s Chophouse. Not only is this probably the best steak I have ever had, every time I go, but they also play Blackadder in the loos, what more could you want. This time round it was especially exciting as my aunt was up (she’d treated me to a romantic meal at Pizza Express on Valentine’s day – giving me something to do, couldn’t have spent it better) and even my busy london-lifestyle sister was gracing us with her presence. Turns out I’m not the only one who thinks the chophouse is an excellent choice as the whole place was packed, probably a good thing we’d booked on a saturday night…
Since I’m not very good at spontaneity (I’m working on it) , I had of course already perused the menu and was set on starting with some of their interesting sounding Three Squirrels English Sparkling Wine. This turned out to be only one of a set of excellent choices I’d already made before I sat down – yes I had looked at the menu that much. While sipping a glass of the bubbly stuff with distinctive notes of elderflower, we ordered a diverse range of starters much to my internal blogger’s delight. My aunt and mum went for the special, a salmon gateaux, layered with creme fraiche, beetroot cured salmon and smoked salmon. My dad, the quirkily retro prawn cocktail, with slightly more flavour and less acidity than its namesake but still served in a cocktail class. My sister had the cured pigeon and beetroot salad, which indulged every meat lovers dream, the pigeon melting in the mouth due to the curing process, while still maintaining the flavour of a piece cooked rare.

I opted for the poached egg on toast with mushroom/ mustard sauce – tempted by the similarity to my favourite breakfast treat, eggs benedict – the intense flavour and saltiness of the sauce was balanced by a perfectly cooked poached egg, the yellow yolk oozing lusciously from the centre.

We accompanied our main course with a lovely red wine served in big goblet glasses, something I can’t wait own when I have a full set of glassware for dinner parties (although the crystal glasses from Oxfam given to me by my parents for my birthday do look rather good on my cupboard shelf).

 Of course for me this course was what I had been looking forward to pretty much all term, a sirloin steak, brandy and pepper sauce, bashed butternut squash and chunky chips. As any foodie should, I like my steak rare and bloody, and the chophouse didn’t fail me. Likewise the chips crispy and fluffy at the same time as expected, which I used to soak up the deliciously savoury brandy sauce. However the pleasantly surprising highlight of the dish was the butternut squash, it worked so well bursting with sage, I only wish I got more than one spoonful. They say all great women turn into their mothers, and that must be the case as my mum and I unwittingly chose exactly the same main course.

While regaling us with tales of her business course in London, my sister tucked into the market fish, a pan fired sea bream, kale and crushed new potatoes. While I was assured the fish was delicious, she was slightly underwhelmed with the crushed potatoes which appeared to lack buttery flavour and was slightly overwhelmed by mint.

My dad went for the supreme of the menu, the beef wellington. I’m trying not to hear the cries of outrage as I admit that I have actually never tried Beef wellington. The truth is that I’m scared of making it (it is one of the hardest dishes to make without over cooking/ soggy pastry etc) and I’m scared if I have it at restaurant it will be better than I could ever make it. Dad’s did not disappoint. I hardly had a chance to take a picture of it before it disappeared off the plate…. but I was assured it was delicious.

 My aunt was clearly enticed by the specials again as she went with the seasonal duck with haggis hash and roasted carrots and parsnips. Again it hit the spot, crispy skin and melting meat.

I’ve never been one to turn down pudding, despite feeling both well fed, watered and intellectually stimulated by this point, having filled everyone in on my latest work and social highlights and being treated to equally exciting tales, mostly of my parents having gone out to free work dinners and invites to the opera (not that I’m jealous or anything..) The choice isn’t large, and certainly not exotic at the chophouse, but they certainly do Great British Menu incredibly well. I made my third good choice of the evening with the chocolate bread and butter pudding with marmalade sauce. The bitter chocolate was off set by the creamy and sweet marmalade custard, as if you were eating sophisticated chocolate covered orange peel while simultaneously indulging in your mothers most comforting stodgy sponge.

My mother enjoyed her creme brûlée or more geographically correct ‘Cambridge Burnt Cream’, which of course Trinity college take credit for oner french paste chefs… http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-1298534/Which-came-Cr-br-l-e-burnt-cream-UK-claims-French-classic-own.html

Yet again the only disappointment was slight, in this case my aunt’s dessert was too large. No-one can eat quite that much chocolate pot (a very thick and rich chocolate mousse), I personally would’ve upped the shortbread and cut a little of the chocolate stuff, but I tried a little and the orange and ginger came through nicely , meaning it wasn’t too sweet.
Being the hugely organised family that we are, we spent most of the dessert discussing where our next meal out was – watch this space. Meanwhile check out the Chophouse website http://www.cambscuisine.com/st-johns-chop-house

Coast?

Coast

Anyone who knows Cambridge will inevitably remember Tatties and for those of you who don’t know Cambridge think of it as your go to hangover breakfast, weekend panini and chips or for those who live opposite, coffee break. It’s a Cambridge institution (at least if you’re a hungover student) so it didn’t go down too well when a more expensive fish and chip shop restaurant opened there this year    (Despite the fact there is still a Tatties 3mins walk away it’s the principle). Having said that, despite being as far from the sea as seemingly possible, Cambridge needs a good fish and chip place, we have so many kebab/burger/Chinese/Italian/gastropub places I think this might be the one obvious thing we are missing. So this weekend I took full advantage of the parents coming up to get them to take me for a nice lunch (after all what are parents for but making sure you’re not just living off pot noodle – on second thoughts, as if!). Coast started out well. We sat downstairs and the waiters were so desperate to take our drinks order and bring us our drinks we hardly had time to think. Ironically they then got the message rather too well and didn’t come and get our food order for another 20mins meaning we’d finished our drinks before we ordered. However this did give me time to peruse the extended menu. The first thing that struck me was that the breakfasts looked incredibly exciting (watch this space) all smoked salmon scrambled eggs etc and for about the same price as old Tatties. The main menu was equally enticing with a wide range of fish mains (fish pie, seafood tagliatelle) as well as the option to choose your own fish for fish and chips, fish cakes or grilled, all satisfyingly coming with chips. There were salads (typically overpriced) and a small number of meat and veg courses (although why you would come to a fish restaurant I have no idea). Admittedly it is a little out of student budget (Bills or Browns prices ) but it is possible to get a decent Portion of fish and chips for under £10 and they even do takeaway.

When they finally took our order they were very efficient about bringing our food out. Since the parents were paying and we were all dashing around too much that evening to think about eating, I suggested we have two courses each (also so I could try more). I may have mentioned in my San Francisco blog post how much I love crab, and I really do . I was a little sceptical of the fact fresh crab tastes the best and Cambridge is do far from the coast line….. But I was pleasantly surprised.   
The crab mayonnaise was salty and with a kick, not overly creamy and very heavy on the crab meat which is always better. The crab mayonnaise came in two huge quenelles and a hunk of bread on the plate which made me extremely happy, I always hate when you order something like this and end up with about 5 slices of bread with a teaspoon of crab on the side, the filling should always be more than the bread, not visa versa. It came with a well dressed salad and garnish of caviar which at first seemed superfluous but in fact lifted the dish, I was a very happy customer.

My dad got incredibly excited by his prawn and avocado salad because of its edible flowers and caviar, however it was concluded that my dish was better value for money as his dish was smaller, less filling and the caviar was an unnecessary addition as were the flowers. My mother’s was a lot of fun. She had piri piri prawns that came dripping in a very tasty (and messy) sauce and required a lot of work, a finger bowl and 4 napkins, but it came in a cute fake newspaper wrapping and was a good starter for anyone who likes playing with food and wants something slightly lighter but still with a burst of flavour.

Mains arrived almost as soon as our starters were picked up and they did not disappoint. You can see why the prices are higher than you expect, the portions were huge and extremely satisfying. (For real value for money go for the fish burger, only a tenner and about the size of a small dog) my mother and I went for the more expensive grilled mackeral with mash and ratatouille, while my father went for the lemon plaice, grilled with chips. Again I think we picked a winner. 

The mackeral was fiddly (it was a whole fish) but it had been butterflied and main bones removed, with a mass of charred rosemary and thyme on top. The fish was a little under seasoned (I took the lemon out of my water and spritzed this on top which lifted it) and the edge was over cooked but this just meant the centre was perfectly cooked so I could see why. It was served with a chunky pseudo-ratatouille which went very nicely with the fish but could have been a little more saucy.  The best thing about the dish though was the mash. I don’t know what they did to it ( although I suspect they cooked it a little after it had been mashed with lots of butter) but it was possibly the best mash I’ve ever tasted. It was very thick and smooth with a faint garlicky hint, it was so good I finished off my mum’s! My dad’s was also apparently well cooked and the huge mound if chips were very good, very chippy like. I tried one and they tasted so much like the takeaway chips we used to get while on holiday in Brighton, thick, chunky and slightly squashed, very impressed.

I am not easily defeated by food (see midsummer house) but after that I certainly couldn’t manage a pudding (shame I would have liked to have seen if they were any good) and was full for most of the day after meaning it didn’t matter I didn’t eat supper till 10.30. In this sense Coast is very good for filling up while your parents are here so you don’t need to spend so much on food at other times.

All in all I was quite impressed with this restaurant. Not for anyone on a diet (I’m pretty sure the salads wouldn’t be worth the extortionate price) but otherwise the portion size proves what you get for your money and the food straddles the line between homely comfort food and that extra restaurant lift. Not everyday but good for a reasonably priced treat. However I’m pretty sure it will never become as beloved as Tatties.

Midsummer heaven (21st birthday present)

Midsummer Heaven
( photos all at the bottom of the page due to technical-I-broke-my-computer difficulties)

So the moment I had been waiting for for about 3months finally arrived last Saturday. Unlike most things which you get yourself hyped up for but then end up finding bitterly anti-climatic and occasionally lying in bed in a drunken mess wondering exactly why you decided to do what you did last night, lunch at midsummer house lived up to the hype. As a foodie you would probably expect my lasting memory of the day to be solely the food, but while the food was phenomenal ( more on that later) the best thing about midsummer house was how well we were treated by the front of house staff, flawlessly neither stuck up and pretentious or overly chummy, but friendly, informative and made you feel right at home. In fact the whole feel of midsummer house was that of a home, the layout if the restaurant reminding me strongly of some of my friends houses growing up, it really wasn’t very big and while the decor was classy and stylish , the way that the bathroom and lounge were upstairs and the kitchen at the back with the front room with a bay window where we were eating, it would perfectly suit a standard 2.5 children middle class family in size.
As you approach the house it looks rather quirky, a random what should be semi detached house on the edge of a field with the back drop of a river and university boat clubs, but I think this just adds to the charm of the place, plus in the summer i’m sure the views are stunning.

Having waited outside and photographed every angle for about 20mins for the family to finally rock up I was eagerly anticipating the inside. I was not disappointed , not only were we immediately welcomed into our table with a lovely view of the common but we were immediately relieved of our coats, given very handy bag hooks on our luxurious chairs and  offered a glass of champagne. The staff didn’t hurry us but let us take copious photos to celebrate the occasion (I’m not sure we needed the same photo on every iPhone of the family but….) and the sommelier even cheekily slipped into a few putting us all at ease. Canapés were swiftly brought over as we were left to peruse our menu with the waiter happy to put up with my bad French pronunciation of the wines on the menu (turns out he was French…) and to answer my questions of how exactly they made each canapé and why he thought the lime jelly worked with Creme fraiche so well.

Canapés
Bloody Mary foam with celery pieces and celery sorbet 
Two thin slices of potato deep grief to create a puffed up pouch, filled with creme fraiche and topped with chives and lime jelly
A pinwheel of bacon and cheese (in afraid I can’t remember this one so well, but U8 assured me it tasted a little like a cheese twist)


The best thing about this dish was the fact the parents agreed to buy me both a syringe and siphon to make foam after tasting these dishes and declaring them amazing. The texture of the foam was silky and light with a real spicy kick with was cut through by the almost sweet and vibrant celery sorbet which even the great celery hater himself enjoyed! The potato disc was my favourite though, mostly because the crunchy outside gave way to the most surprising almost liquid sour cream hit with the chives and lime as a subtle background flavour – my sister out it well, a sort of posh Pringle, cleverly evoking childhood tastes.

Course 1
Pumpkin velouté, a la greque mushrooms, Parmesan gnocchi 

Kurt angerer, gurner veltliner, Austria 2012

We ordered the market menu , mid-price with flight of wines but you could very easily have a reasonable lunch here 3 courses for the same price as a fairly average meal at Browns if not cheaper!
This course was another triumph for the siphon (mum – if we buy you one will you make this for Christmas dinner?) The only slight disappointment was the lack of crunch, perhaps a Parmesan crisp would have added to the texture as the mushroom pieces and gnocchi, while not filling and bursting with flavour were a little monotonous and blending into one where a salty snap might have lifted the dish. With this we were given a lovely wine, not overly sweet but definitely sweeter than the very dry wine we got next, it balanced the soup nicely. ( I apologise if this is wrong but I’m still learning about wine, but I do know it was a big improvement on sainsburys basics or college Chardonnay )

Course 2
Confit salmon, crayfish, garden apple, sauce vouvray


I will love any well cooked piece of salmon you put in front if me and am a firm believer of curing, slow baking and pan frying but confit is definitely my favourite. For those of you that don’t know, confit is where the meat or fish is slow cooked in medium hot oil for a longer time than you would cook it most ways for a really rich, melting in the mouth taste (although admittedly it’s not the healthiest way…). With this salmon was little individually shelled pieces of langoustine (how you get the inside out so delicately I have no idea) as well as pools of sharp apple purée and a gorgeous salty ,what must have been, sauce vouvray which I shamelessly admit to licking off the plate it was so good! To finish the dish were texturally interesting crispy salmon skin (definitely one up on yo sushi) and salmon pieces wrapped in the thinnest piece of apple I’ve ever seen, a sort of apple spring roll. With this we were offered some lovely homemade bread, not particularly special but just what you need, if it had been too complex it would have detracted from the menu, plus my mum was really impressed with the butter in the shape of bee hives….. No one can say they were stingy with the bread either, when you finished they would immediately offer you a second, warm slice. ( I had to stop after the second fearing I wouldn’t have space for the remaining courses)

Course 3
Beetroot cooked on open coals sheep curd and horseradish 

Chateau Rives-Blanques, Chardonnay-Chenin, France 2012


Midsummer house isn’t famed for its theatricality, it’s more about great tasting seasonal produce (think more Manoir than fat duck ) but it still managed to keep it tongue on cheek with this next course, almost as soon as our wine (the slightly drier white I talked about earlier) had been poured, a what looked like a portable barbecue complete with a large green done was wheeled in. Aptly named the big green egg we were swiftly informed by the chef ( a real kitchen chef and all – what a relief) how the Beetroot she was expertly carving had been cooked for 2days (I think ) over open coals for a smoky flavour to off set the sweetness of the Beetroot. Funnily enough, while impressive, it wasn’t the yellow Beetroot, candied Beetroot, barbecues beetroot, lush Beetroot purée or the fact that my dad was actually eating all this Beetroot having almost declared himself allergic to it at the start of the meal, it was the soft coats curd. It was like a more flavoursome ricotta and offset the acidity and sweetness of Beetroot – I might have eaten my sisters sheep curd too…

Course 4
Slow roasted monkfish, bay leaf, mushroom and onion infusion

Luigi Bosca, Pinot Noir, Argentina, 2011

I had been enlightened earlier of how amazing this dish was before I came by U8 who declared this her favourite dish and it did not disappoint. I think the dishes got better through the lunch. This fish was introduced by way of an apparent coffee service ( I hope your not going to do this with our
cafetiere was the die hard coffee addict my mother’a comment). The waiter explained that he was using the cafetieres to create a mushroom broth infusion to pour over the monkfish. It came with crunchy onion slivers, so thin you could hardly compare them to the hulking batter laden rings you get from the kebab van (although that is my post-club guilty treat on occasion). Every time I have monkfish I’m surprised by how wonderfully meaty it is for a fish, like eating a pork fillet, lighter than a steak but not half hearted and thin like a plaice. This was accompanied by the most lovely red wine, rather like the monkfish it wasn’t as full bodied as the next red, more delicate but was red nonetheless and carried more weight than the white.
 
Course 5
Slow roasted loin of venison, braised neck, Brussels sprouts, pancetta and quince

Lammershoek, South Africa, 2010

After returning from the incredibly decadent bathrooms ( fancy hand towels) and having my seat pushed in behind me as I sat down, and my napkin laid over my lap, I felt incredibly pampered (although admittedly the first time the waiter tried to push in my chair I got a little confused ending in an awkward tussle but we sorted it in the end). The next course felt like Christmas, except what you would have for Christmas dinner if you didn’t feel the need to push your stomach to the limits on Christmas Day . I am a big fan of two things on this dish, the recent re-occurance of venison on dishes, and Brussels sprouts. I know most people are not fans of this seasonal vegetable but I assure you when each leaf is individually peeled for you and served with melt in the mouth venison, a thick red wine jus and a shaving of chocolate it can make even the most anti-sprout protestor enjoy it (exhibit A – my father who appears to be really fussy from this post, he’s not that bad). Having said that the highlight of this dish were the pools of sweet and sharp quince purée and the most succulent braised neck, sharp and salty and soft mmmmmm in fact the only disappointment was that the dark chocolate was masked by these flavours, perhaps a little more would have rendered it not entirely superfluous to the  dish, but baring in mind this was the first day of serving this dish for them it was otherwise exquisite. Even the red meat phobe to my left (my sister had a bad experience with a steak in France) really enjoyed this dish.

Course 6
 Lemon posset, blueberries, lemon Espuma

The keen eyed among you will start to notice a theme, Daniel Clifford seems to be making good use of his siphon. Not that I’m complaining – not only does it gives dishes the most interesting dimension, but I’m also now going to be able to recreate dishes thanks to the persuasiveness of midsummer house foams (note to kings college GOOD use of foams in dishes ). This was almost my favourite dish excepting the second pudding (is it that obvious I have a sweet tooth). Having newly discovered lemon meringue pie (I know 30 years too late) the sweet lemon curd like base was off set by a sharp layer of crushed frozen blueberries and blueberry coulis (who would have thought that the blueberries rather than the lemon was the sour part). Finally the whole dish is finished with a silky lemon foam and tiny pieces of blueberry meringue. Nothing was overly sweet and this proved the perfect palate cleanser before a return to Christmassy flavours for dessert.

Course 7
Roasted chestnuts, caramel, chestnut frangipane

Tenute Marchese Antinori, Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico, 2008

I don’t know why but it has never occurred to me to mix chocolate and chestnut. Chestnut and sprouts, chestnut and cheese even chestnut and caramel but never with chocolate. Oh how wrong I was. This was the best dish. A crumbly salty base, topped with a silky cold chocolate mousse (so much more than an ice cream) with soft chestnuts, frangipane and drizzled with caramel, scattered with hazelnuts. The lost amazing mixture if flavours and textures, each strong enough to hold their own against the other. You’re probably wondering how on earth we managed to fit all this in but trust me when the food is this good – it’s worth it. Wash this down nicely with vin santo (if you have never tried cantuccini biscotti dipped in vin santo stop reading and go try it now) and it was the perfect dessert

Not that we were finished at this point, there was still soft doughnuts with lemon dipping sauce, so good we ate them before I could get a picture. Then ended the meal with complimentary champagne which the sommelier helpfully put in front of us despite the fact my mum and sister had left saying – aah well just two glasses each for you then.


Even that wasn’t the end of it. We were then taken on a tour if the kitchens by our lovely waiter who first took us to the wine cellar and prep kitchen. I kid you not, I held a Dom Perignon 1985. The more I see of life the more I realise I’m going to have to marry for money ! Then round to the main kitchen where I meet the head chef Dan. After that glass of champagne I brazenly recall my experience at Le Manoir, he says we if you don’t ask you don’t get and offers me a work experience slot at midsummer ( turns out he worked at Le Manoir too – watch this space) Finally we end with the pastry kitchen (obviously my faveourite place) where I get to try the new fig and chocolate dessert as well. And on that sugar and career high, I had to come all the way back down to earth, with an opera.