karohemd: by LJ user gothindulgence (Default)

Eat Cambridge is a food festival this coming March. The main event, an all day fair at the Guildhall will be held on Saturday, the 9th of March from 10:30am to 4:00pm. Throughout the previous and the following week there are many fringe events like popup restaurants, cooking demonstrations and classes, tasting sessions and so on. You can find all the details and information on how to book in the programme.

I will be joining the food debate panel at the McCrum Theatre in the afternoon on Sunday, the 17th of March. From the programme:

Food debate hosted by Tim Hayward
Time: 2pm to 4pm Location: McCrum Theatre, Bene’t
Street, (through the Eagle pub courtyard and on the
right hand side) CB2 3QN Price: £5.50 in advance,
£7.50 on the door
Description: To round Eat Cambridge off nicely we
will be holding a debate between food writers, bloggers
and restaurateurs. Covering issues such as reviews,
freebies and marketing in today’s social media world,
the debate will take on a Question Time format with
a panel of well-respected local food experts taking
comments and questions from the audience. Things
promise to get lively and you’re guaranteed to come
away with some food for thought (sorry, we couldn’t
resist!).
To book: Visit http://www.wegottickets.com/event/206087

I am really excited about this festival and I hope so are you if you live in or near Cambridge or at least visit regularly. Its main aim is to showcase local and independent producers, businesses and activists. Cambridge has long been slated as a clone town but if you know where to look, you will be able to find hidden gems run by passionate people who are worth supporting.

So, what are you waiting for, get booking! 

karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
The Cambridge Brew House opened today in the former premises of the Bun Shop and its various incarnations in King Street. What used to be two rather cramped spaces is now one large open one with diner-style booth seating along the window front to the right of the door with tables and chairs filling the rest of this area with table service. Opposite the door is the bar with quite a wide selection of beers, including currently two house brand ones and a few other locals as well as a few well known beers. In the back to the left of the bar is the onsite brewery bit behind glass. This is not operational yet, their own beer is currently brewed off site until it's all set up. This is also a bit more casual area with a wild mix of seats (chairs, armchairs, bar stools and even a wooden vaulting horse) with low and high tables. I'm not sure if there is seating upstairs as well as it was quite busy and a grabbed one of the last seats on one of the bar tables before ordering a King's Parade and a chicken and mushroom pie. There were lots interesting things on the menu including home smoked and cured meats/fish but I thought a pie would be a good dish to get an idea of their cooking.
The King's Parade is an excellent bitter and one that actually deserves that name, really fully flavoured. I was just about to dig into my pie when Caroline found me and took me to her table. They had already had starters ("British Tapas") which they had enjoyed so I tucked into my pie while they waited for their mains. My portion was a quarter of a bigger pie, rather thick with excellent, crunchy pastry. The filling consisted of large chunks of well cooked, i.e. still nicely moist meat and mushrooms, not as liquid as you often get which also helped keep the pastry crispy. There was also a pile of fluffy chips and a little copper pan with gravy. I only realised now that there was no veg or salad but I didn't really miss it. I really liked it.
I'm looking forward to reading what Heidi thought of her excellent looking pork belly.
The second beer I had was the Misty River, a pale ale that wasn't quite to my taste but I prefer a darker beer, anyway. Heidi didn't fancy the bitter so it's definitely a matter of taste.
I also wanted to try a dessert but there wasn't that much exciting (chocolate/orange torte, "winter berry" Eton mess, and toffee pudding as well as ice creams and a cheese board with three or six cheeses). I'm not a fan of either orange with chocolate nor toffee so I picked the Eton mess which was not bad, not too sweet but with strawberries and blueberries it went a bit against their claim of using local and seasonal ingredients.
We agreed that the desserts needed some work but were rather happy with everything else. Considering it was rather busy indeed and their first day, I couldn't really find fault with the service, either.

The Cambridge Brew House is going to serve food all day, from 12 noon to 9:30 in the evening which makes it ideal for both early and late-ish dinners, lunch or an afternoon snack. I am definitely looking forward to returning soon.

Oh, and they are still offering 50% off on food today (Thursday) so you really can't go wrong.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On Friday evening Jo Kruczynska aka The Afternoon Tease, cake baker extraordinaire and regular club host held a special night of boozy baked goods and cake inspired cocktails at Hot Numbers in Gwydir Street. Despite her only initial advertising being her blog and twitter, the tickets were already sold by the time it was advertised in Cambridge Edition.

Menu
Click on the menu for a larger version


Marmalade Martini
We started with a "marmalade martini" which was a lot less sweet than it sounded and was a great way to ease us into the evening.


Amaretto Sour Macaron
The first bite was an Amaretto Sour Macaron, which was crunchy and light with good almond flavour.


Sweeteasy
The next drink was a "Hot Gingerbread Punch" which tasted rather like a hot toddy and made sure the last of the cold was driven out of our bones.


Polish donuts Polish donuts
These Mojto Doughnuts were the highlight for me as they while flavoured were exactly like the Faschingskrapfen my grandmother used to make. They were fantastically fluffy and a little crunchy from the sugar glaze. I've already ordered a box of them for my birthday party. The punch was great with this.


Sweeteasy
The last baked round had two bite sized offerings: Dark chocolate Margarita Truffles which had been sprinkled with salt, creating the perfect balance of sweet and savoury; and a brownie with a Kirsch soaked cherry and cream. Needless to say, the brownie was rich and moist.


Espresso Martini
The last drink was an espresso martini which was quite strong both in coffee and alcohol but thankfully it was still relatively early in the evening (just after 9) or I wouldn't have been able to sleep.


The evening was also accompanied by live music, James Brotherston on the piano and Phil who occasionally sang as well.

Sweeteasy Sweeteasy


The atmosphere was jovial and fun. I think pretty much everyone asked when the next one is going to be and rumour has it there will be one in a couple of months' time so keep your eyes open.

Here are a few more photos:

The tables are set Sweeteasy
Sweeteasy Sweeteasy
Sweeteasy Sweeteasy


Still more photos on flickr. You can read about the evening from Jo's perspective on her blog.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On Friday I needed a quick dinner before my next engagement and as The Sea Tree on The Broadway section of Mill Road had been recommended to me by various people I decided to try it. The Sea Tree is part traditional fish&chip shop, part fishmonger (one of the very few independent places selling wet fish in Cambridge) and part eaterie with a handful of small to medium sized tables where you can order both from the fish&chip shop menu and their "alternatives" menu with pan-fried or grilled fillets of or whole sea bass, gilthead bream with a choice of sauces and sides as well as a specials board.
I picked the "whole baked Whitby crab thermidor" which was served with a mixed salad (leaves, peppers, red onions) and chips. The picked and mixed crab meat was served in the shell of the body and was carefully seasoned so the flavour of the crab still came through and it was cooked on the dot, lovely and moist. There was a nice crust on top, too. The chips were crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and not soggy at all.
If they can cook something as tricky as crab so well, I'm convinced their other offerings will be just as good. It's a bit out of the way for me but I will definitely be back, most likely for one of their lobster nights. It's not a place to linger because the shop is unsurprisingly rather busy but if you want a quick quality bite before a night out, this is definitely the place to go. They even have an alcohol license and serve beer and wine but I only had orange juice and water because I had a night of cake and cocktails ahead of me.
The bill came to around 13 pounds without service.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Plate Lickers is a supperclub by Jo Kruczynska and Ivana Gresham. I was at the first one and loved it but since then my calendar had been against me so I missed the others until today's "Sunday lunch club".
It was held in the community centre in Ross St. (off Mill Road) which had more of a sports hall than a restaurant feel to it but it worked quite well, mainly because of the nicely laid out and decorated tables.

Proceedings started with an excellent hot toddy and deep fried haggis balls with red onion marmalade.

Platelickers supper club, 01/13 Jo and her haggis treats


The starter was beetroot cured salmon on dill buckwheat blini with creme fraiche:

Beetroot cured salmon
This was my favourite dish of the day, the salmon was pretty much perfect.


The main was stuffed roast loin of pork with tatties&neeps and buttered savoy cabbage:

Roast stuffed loin of pork
The fun bit about this dish was that the gravy came in a giant teapot:
Gravy from a giant teapot



The palate cleanser was a tangy "baked lemon pot", rather like a flavoured burnt cream but without the caramel topping:

Baked lemon pot


The actual dessert was a poached pear with chocolate sauce:

Poached pear, chocolate sauce


There are few more photos below and still more on flickr.

Platelickers supper club, 01/13
Ivana and Jo, our lovely hosts and fantastic cooks.

Platelickers supper club, 01/13 Amazing teapot

Platelickers supper club, 01/13
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Continuing my local binge on Saturday, the destination was the hall by the Catholic church where the Cambridge Food and Wine Society had invited Carri of Pavitt's Pies to offer a tasting of her range of excellent home-made pies.
To go with the pies we had a selection of beers from the Moonshine Brewery in Cambridge which were equally excellent.
The pies on offer were:

Mushroom, onion and thyme (vegetarian)
Chicken and mushroom
Beef and ale
Cheese and onion (vegetarian)
Pork and chorizo
Pavitt’s Piemosa (vegetarian, similar filling to samosa but with a pie crust)

There was also a selection of beers from Cambridge's Moonshine Brewery: Parkers Piece, Reel Ale (orginally brewed for the Arts Cinema), Night Watch Porter, Silent Night, Black Dog and Boathouse Bitter, ranging from a pale ale to a strong Porter.

A few photographic impressions:

Carri Pavitt Pies and Pints with Pavitt's Pies

Pies and Pints with Pavitt's Pies

Cheese & Onion "Piemosa"
Carrie and Caroline Pies and Pints with Pavitt's Pies


For more impressions, have a look at Jean-Luc Benazet's blog with the official photos.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On Friday evening I braved the cold and took the bus to Urban Larder on Mill Road. This is a small independent shop stocking mainly local produce from breads and meat via handmade pies (incl. Pavitt's Pies) and cakes (e.g. from Afternoon Tease) to preserves of all kinds and it's café during the day.

The shop also hosts regular events in the evening and this was one of them. It started with a glass of bubbly which was nice but didn't do much to warm me up.

The table is set


However, this trick was accomplished by the first course, a hearty bowl of Cock a Leekie soup, a thick stew with leeks and chicken. This was a great way of getting us going and prepare us for the main event.

Cock a Leekie Soup


The beast was brought out and presented to Donald who addressed it in the traditional manner.

Donald addressing the haggis Donald addressing the haggis


The haggis was excellent with a rich, meaty taste and not too peppery. Sometimes it's very peppery while still being bland so this one had a good balance. Tatties and neeps on the side, obviously, and an excellent tarragon cream sauce. There was also a dram of whisky, a very young English one from Norfolk of all places. Considering its youth (3 years!) it was quite good, if a bit rough but I could well imagine that mellowing with age.

The wee beastie itself


For pudding, there was Cranachan, a Scottish version of trifle with raspberries and toasted oats. This was really good and not at all heavy.

Cranachan


The last official act of the evening was a group rendition of Auld Lang Syne which sounded rather good in the small room. All in all an excellent evening with lovely people. A few more photos below:

Donald Guests
Guests Guests
karohemd: (Chef)
[Edit: This was originally a post about the immediate area where I live but various twitter friends have suggested I expand this to north of the river]
Various bloggers and websites have written about independent shops in Cambridge but those usually concentrate on city centre and Mill Road (which of course is the mecca of shops offering produce from all over the world) and not where I live (King's Hedges/Arbury). While cheap(er), this area is not as poorly supplied as one might think and there are a few local gems.

The Art of Meat (Arbury Court)
This is my local butcher with a good selection of various cuts and joints of high quality beef, pork (from Dingley Dell, no less), lamb, chicken and sometimes game. Their own sausages (three main varieties and a number of changing specials) are superb as is the bacon that is cured on site. Service is friendly and superb, always happy and willing to accommodate special requests and recommending substitutes should something not be available. The little extra cost is easily outmatched by the superior quality. Highly recommended.

Les Ward (Arbury Court)
A family run greengrocer offering very reasonably priced veg and fruit, some dry goods and preserves and, er, fresh flowers. So much better and even cheaper than Budgens opposite.

There's also a baker's in Arbury Court but for me it's not very good, I still have rather continental tastes when it comes to bread.

The Daily Bread Co-op
This place in an industrial estate between King's Hedges Road and the green behind Nun's Way (accessed either via KHR or a footpath from the green off Campkin Road) offers only organic or at least fairtrade goods. Mostly dry goods like muesli (a selection of varieties mixed on site as well as the basic ingredients to mix your own), flour, pasta/rice/couscous/grains, tinned goods, soy products, gluten free and vegetarian alternatives. A little bit of veg, too, but they do not get regular deliveries so it's always quickly gone or looks a bit sorry. There are also artisan breads (also not always fresh, depending on when they get their delivery) and non-food supplies like eco-friendly cleaners/detergents, reusable nappies etc. I get most of my dry and tinned goods there.

Cambridge Quality Meats (Arbury Road)
This butcher is a bit further from me so I don't go there often but they have a similar selection to the Art of Meat, own sausages (incl. biltong) and they tend to have more non-chicken poultry and game. If you're on Milton Road/bottom end of Arbury Road/Chesterton, this is the butcher for you.

Al Noor
This Asian grocer has a good selection of fresh (and sometimes unusual) vegetables and fruit, dry goods, spices and tinned goods as well as a halal butcher. They are inexpensive and also open until 8 which is great as I can drop in on the way home from work. All the others are available (to me) on Saturdays only.

Radmore Farm Shop (Chesterton Road)
I haven't been there but various people have recommended it.

Nasreen Dar (Histon Road)
Asian supermarket that also offers takeaway curries.

A Waller & Son
A butcher's on Victoria Avenue, just before the bridge. A prime address for game and more "exotic" choices like hare.

Maskell's (Akeman St.)
Another independent but basic baker's shop

If you happen to know any others in the area, feel free to comment/recommend. If you would like to provide a short description of the shop (a couple of lines, as above), you'd be more than welcome. The post is set to allow anonymous comments so feel free but leave a name. If you have a blog yourself, please log in with Open ID.
karohemd: by LJ user gothindulgence (Default)
I'd always thought the idea of food programmes on the radio a bit strange until The Kitchen Cabinet came along, a travelling panel discussion led by restaurant critic Jay Rayner with four guests from the food world (writers, chefs, scientists, historians). The discussion topics are a mix of specific themes related to location and trends and questions from the audience. When a while ago tickets for Cambridge were released I applied for a ticket (the BBC run a system for their shows where people send in applications from which the audience is selected) and was lucky to get one. Knowing that they always send out more tickets than there are seats, I wanted to get to Clare College way ahead of time but was delayed by chores and a very slow bus so when I got there there was already a very large queue and when the person putting stickers on tickets came through she stopped just three people ahead of me, explaining that anyone behind the line was in the "reserve" and wouldn't be guaranteed a seat. Thankfully, I had run into Tom Lewis, a Cambridge based wine blogger, who was on the guest list and was able to get me in as his +1. Thanks again, Tom!
When the queue finally moved, we filed into a holding room where I ran into a few other familiar faces (Mark Poynton, head chef of Alimentum, and @ythos). I filled in the survey but couldn't think of a question to the panel.
Then it was time to enter the auditorium where I managed to get a reasonable seat about halfway up. After more waiting, the producer said a few words and then introduced the host, Jay Rayner, who in turn then introduced the panel: Tim Anderson, beer and Japanese food geek, winner of Masterchef 2011 and soon to be head chef of Nanban, a new ramen restaurant to be opened in London later this year; Angela Hartnett, head chef of Murano in London; Dr. Annie Gray, food historian from Ely and local hero Tim Hayward (with the best buns in broadcasting), owner and resurrector of Fitzbillies, journalist and magazine editor.

BBC Kitchen Cabinet recording


The topics discussed were as varied as new year resolutions, Japanese food and its role/reputation in the UK, what to do with leftover cheese, port and celeriac, fasting, the point of swans as a foodstuff (it turned out that two members of the audience had actually eaten swan and neither had been impressed), the worst student meals the panel had cooked, and which kitchen innovations the panel wanted to see.

There were interesting bits on the various types of miso by Tim Anderson, the fact that pork and curry were introduced into Japan by the British, or that burnt cream wasn't invented in Cambridge as it is sometimes claimed. We discovered that putting a large slab of stone (possibly not a gravestone, as Tim Hayward suggested) in your oven can improve heat distribution.

We also discovered that Wisconsinites are raised on a healthy diet of Mac&Cheese, that High Table (at old universities) isn't just the table where the bigwigs sit but also an occasion where the exchange and discussion of ideas between faculties is encouraged, that Angela Hartnett had never cooked a bad meal in her life and that some of the yet to be invented kitchen gadgets should be a mini Aga and an entirely safe to use mandolin.

All in all, the recording with pickups/re-recordings of some sections lasted about an hour which then was edited down to the half hour you heard on the radio. The whole thing was really enjoyable as there was lots of banter that will most likely not make the cut but helped involve the audience.

The programme is also available as a podcast with a few extra bits of chatter before and after. ETA: The podcast also includes bits I mentioned above but didn't make the broadcast (stone in oven, miso, Tim H's note on High Table and college kitchen equipment, parsnips, celeriac, burnt cream and the kitchen innovations).
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On my way back from the recording of Kitchen Cabinet (more on that in a separate post tomorrow), I walked past St. John's Chophouse and having not been (and remembering I didn't have time to marinade that Barnsley chop I had bought in the morning), I decided to have early dinner.
The restaurant with its bare wooden tables and low lighting has a cosy feel to it. There's a huge fireplace which sadly didn't contain a fire but a selection of meat cleavers hanging from a rack(!). I guess that makes it a good place to be when the zombie apocalypse comes.

I wasn't that hungry so started with a main, a "t-bone" pork chop. The meat was cooked a bit more well than I like but was still reasonably juicy and flavourful. I guess they err on the side of caution as food authorities are still unconvinced about the safety of "undercooked" pork so that was fine. The combination of apple sauce on top and spicy mustard sauce around worked well with it, as did the bubble and squeak. The slither of crackling on top was excellent.
By the time I was finished, I was glad I hadn't chosen a starter but I had room for a pudding so chose the "Cambridge burnt cream" (in quotes as we had learnt just a few hours earlier during the Kitchen Cabinet recording that it wasn't a Cambridge invention, after all). This was a generous portion in a coffee cup, a bit dense but not curdled, good crunchy caramel topping and a crumbly, sugary biscuit on the side. With that I had a small glass of Pomona which is now a new favourite drink. It's basically a fortified cider, if you will.

The bill without automatic service charge came to just under 28 pounds for a main, a pudding, a pint of ale and the Pomona so about the same as you would pay for a similar meal at The Punter opposite but in my opinion The Punter is better. However, it's not a chain (part of a local restaurant group) and uses mostly local produce so definitely has its place as an independent offering, which are rare in Cambridge.

No photos as it was too dark and I only had the G10 on me.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
My last visit to this lovingly restored pub/restaurant was over a year ago as it's a little out of the way when you don't have a car and a taxi fare is just a little bit too steep so I have to wait until I can persuade friends to come along and give me lift on the way. Yesterday, Sandi and Tim were so kind.
We arrived a bit early so had a drink in the bar before being shown through the rabbit's warren of the building to our table in the cosy but sparsely lit dining room. The choice of mains on the menu was somewhat reduced by the time we got there as the lamb was not on (the delivered meat wasn't up to the chef's standard) so there had been increased demand for the pork chop so my friends opted for the steak for two while I chose the hake.

PSB and beignets

My starter of purple sprouting broccoli with beignets (more similar to Spanish croquetas than doughnuts) worked really well. I could easily have finished a bowl of those beignets. My friends were equally happy with their choice of ham hock terrine with pickles and smoked salmon respetively.

Hake, mussles chowder

My main of a perfectly cooked fillet of hake with mussel chowder was a wonderfully warming and satisfying dish while still being light.

Roasted Marrow Bones

This was the roasted marrow bone that came with the steak. I helped myself to a few teaspoonfuls. It was very rich but literally melted in your mouth. Very very good indeed.

Brownie

Hole in the Wall, 29/11/12

We'd heard lots of praise for the HITW's doughnuts so were eager to try them for dessert but sadly, there had been too much demand for those, too, so we settled for the sticky bread and butter pudding and the chocolate brownie which were both nicely balanced and not too sweet.

Despite being denied a few menu choices, this was a great meal and for the quality, reasonably priced, too. I hope to be back soon because I want to try those doughnuts!
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Yes, I know, another post about Alimentum but this one is a little different. Last Sunday was the first of head chef Mark Poynton's "supper clubs", an informal evening during which he trialed new dishes. Instead of the usual individual tables, there were three long ones which encouraged talking to the other diners about what everybody thought about the dishes.
Thanks to the efforts of Stagecoach, the bus operator in Cambridge, I was almost too late but got there just in time to grab a glass of welcome fizz before taking my seat. Proceedings started with a few nibbles, onion rice cakes, cheese puffs (neither of which I don't have a photo) and red mullet parfait on toast.

Red Mullet parfait
The parfait was soft with the fish coming through nicely.


Rabbit
Next up was braised rabbit with avruga. This might sound unusual but the saltiness worked well with the soft, sweet meat.


Whipped cep butter Milk loaf
The next item was a treat. Freshly baked bread (milk loaf) and whipped cep butter. You only needed to spread a thin layer of the butter to turn a slice of bread into a mushroom. Superb and one of my favourite dishes of the night.


Wood pigeon, liver on toast
The wild theme continued with wood pigeon, a perfectly cooked piece of breast and liver on toast.


Smoked eel, apple, cucumber, horseradish granita

Then, the fish course and my favourite: Smoked eel, apple, cucumber, goat's cheese, horseradish granita. I love smoked eel which is usually a treat around Christmas in my family but there was some apprehension among my fellow diners. However, this changed when the dish arrived and everyone I heard loved it. The apple/cucumber salad helped counteract the inherent greasiness of the fish, making it lighter. Horseradish is a classic accompaniment to smoked fish, anyway.

Beef cheek, variations of onion
The main event was braised beef cheeks with variations of onion, onion mash and onion juice. Soft, flavourful meat, excellent onion bits but not enough juice.


Tarragon, yoghurt
The pre-dessert was tarragon granita with yoghurt, a lovely palate cleanser and siimilar to a dish I had at Tuddenham Mill earlier this year.


White chocolate mousse, mango, black olive caramel
The final act was white chocolate mousse, mango, black olive caramel. I was apprehensive about the black olive having had a sweet dish with olive at Midsummer House but this worked as it had a similar effect to salt to bring down the cloying sweetness of the caramel. The white chocolate and mango harmonised very well, too. Loved it.


The dishes were paired with excellent wines, two of them English (a white and a sparkling rosé) and a superb sherry with the pre-dessert.
A very enjoyable evening indeed and I've already signed up for the next one.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
The First and Last opened last year in Cambridge in the premises that used to be The Cricketers, reverting to the name of the original pub in that location. I've been a couple of times but for some reason haven't blogged about it yet. The menu contains both pub grub (things like burgers, fish&chips etc. cooked to a high standard) and dishes you would more expect at a restaurant.
I was in town this week for a photography group meetup (more on that in another blog post tomorrow) so dropping in at the First and Last for dinner beforehand sounded like a good idea. Everything sounded exciting but I wanted a lightish starter so went for the chicken roulade with asparagus and red onions.

Chicken roulade with asparagus, red onions, sourdough

Chicken mousse wrapped around asparagus spears, wrapped with parma ham and then fried. Nicely cooked, excellent flavours. The stewed red onions and dressed leaves worked well with the meat.

In the afternoon, they posted a photo of a hake on twitter so I knew what I'd be having as I love that fish and it's hard to find in the shops.

Beer battered hake, thrice cooked chips

The beer batter was crispy and the fish was flaky and moist. The chunky, thrice cooked chips were superb, very fluffy inside and very crispy outside. The home made tartare sauce was lovely and I even liked the peas (no mean feat)! A huge portion, too, I had to leave two chips behind and sadly didn't have any room for pudding, something I will have to amend next time.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On Wednesday I attended a special dinner at my "local" restaurant Alimentum where Stuart Smith of Torea Wines in New Zealand introduced their range of wines while Alimentum's chefs had designed a tasting menu matching dishes to those wines.
Before each dish was served, Stuart Smith talked a little about how each variety was grown and made which provided some interesting insight for wine novices like me.

Stuart Smith

Sauvignon Blanc in the glass

Here are the dishes and the accompanying wines:



Salmon, squid and ink

Salmon, squid, squid ink risotto, pink grapefruit and roast salmon broth. The fish was beautifully, just barely cooked and the rest of the ingredients offered good contrasting flavours and textures, all tasting fresh and light. The wine was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, light and fresh, yet quite a few things going on there.
Rabbit lasagne, tarragon and mustard puree

Rabbit lasagne, tarragon and mustard purée. Another light and fresh dish with subtle and soft rabbit meat. The purée wasn't as strong as it sounds so well judged. With this we had the 2009 Chardonnay, a bit heavier and deeper than the Sauvignon but still light, another good match.
Spiced duck breast, pastilla of leg, cumin and carrot, pomegranate

Spiced duck breast, pastilla of leg, cumin and carrot purée. The menu also said golden raisins but I had pomegranate seeds. I didn't mind because they worked really well with the soft meat, best piece of duck I've had in quite a while. The wine was the 2010 Pinot Noir, also a good match as it was a little bit spicy but not heavy.
I didn't take a photo of the palate cleanser as it was the pernod foam with fennel that's currently on the tasting menu and a bit hard to take a good photo of.
Baked apple terrine, Granny Smith sorbet, Aspall's cider foam

The dessert was Baked apple terrine, Granny Smith sorbet, Aspall's cider foam. This was another brilliant dish with different textures and temperatures and varying flavours from cinnamony and sweet in the terrine to sharp in the sorbet. With this we had the 2010 Pinot Gris which while a good wine on its own was a bit too sharp with the dessert. Most people at the table agreed but that was just a minor negative point to the whole evening.
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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
I've written about The Punter in Cambridge before (apologies for the horrible phone shots), which is my favourite gastropub in Cambridge, not least because it's on two convenient bus routes so I can get there easily from work and then home. I've been a few times since the post linked above and the food has always been superb. It's on the pricier end of the scale for pubs (starters 3-8, mains 11-14.50, puddings 5.50) but the quality of the food is worth it and the £5 lunch specials are hard to beat. The place also feels more like a restaurant than a pub as the bar on one end of the pub is rather small.

Last night I had a bit of time to kill before a gig I was shooting so I had dinner again:

Whitebait

Deep-fried whitebait with chilli mayo. Crispy, crunchy little fishies served whole (but without heads) with a nice kick from the mayo. I think they serve this as bar snack, too.

Pheasant Breast

Rolled, slow-cooked breast of pheasant with a generous slice of dauphinoise with mushrooms and leaves on top and a nice jus. The meat was very tender and flavoursome and the sides were perfect. A joy to eat.

Chocolate Terrine

The dessert was a rather decadent "chocolate terrine". Good dark chocolate, similar to a chocolate pot in texture with a nice bit of tart fruitiness from the passionfruit jelly.

I fully intend to make a visit to The Punter a regular affair.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Yesterday evening I finally managed to go to Fitzbillies for dinner. This legendary cake shop and café was closed early last year but resurrected by Tim Hayward and his team later in the year. The Guardian has a good overview of the story. I'm almost ashamed to say that despite having lived in Cambridge for 16 years, I'd never been but I'm not a big fan of cakes and exceedingly sweet things (their house specialty is Chelsea Buns). However since they now also offer dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings, I had to go. The menu changes weekly and offers a selection of rustic dishes at for its location very reasonable prices.
Something most people have mentioned when talking about the refurbishment is the decor: off-white wood panelling and light blue tiles which make the place look more like a swimming pool than a café or restaurant but while I found it a little odd, I didn't mind it. The low, indirect lighting probably helped there. The downside to the low lighting was that it was hard to take decent photos.

Interior Quince Fizz


I started the evening with a glass of "Quince Fizz", quince puree topped up with sparkling wine. Tart and refreshing. Next up was a cup of crab bisque which was fantastic. Creamy, full of crab flavour with a nice little kick of chilli at the end. Tim Hayward tweeted: Christ, @Rosiebluebell s crab bisque tastes like a suspension of Higgs Bosons in liquid diamond... With unicorn stock. and that wasn't far off. :)

Starter: Smoked pigeon

My starter was smoked pigeon with blood orange, chicory and almonds, basically a salad. The pigeon meat was soft, the chicory crunchy but the citrus dressing - for my taste - just a little overpowering. It still worked and I enjoyed it.

Main: Braised Rabbit

For main I had braised rabbit, winter lettuce and mustard potatoes. This was a perfect dish for a dreary winter evening. The meat was still juicy, very flavourful and went well with the accompaniments. The gravy was outstanding, too and I used the rest of the homemade soda bread to mop it all up. With the first two courses I had a glass of nice Bordeaux.
Despite feeling quite stuffed I couldn't possibly leave this temple of sweetness without having dessert so I picked the Eve's pudding with pear:

Dessert: Eve's Pudding with pear

Baked in a large coffee mug, the cake topping was crispy and the hot pear filling soft with a hint of spice. Delicious.
So yes, if freshly cooked, rustic food is your thing, Fitzbillies is for you and a welcome alternative to the endless sea of chain restaurants in the centre of Cambridge. The only downside is that they currently are only open for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings. Booking a table in advance is also recommended as by the time I had arrived at dessert, the restaurant was fully seated and word that you can have a fab informal dinner with friendly service still needs to spread.
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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
This month, Ben Pope, head chef at The Punter in Cambridge, and his team are growing moustaches for the men's health charity Movember. To add a little excitement to this, he's also added lamb's testicles to the menu with one pound going to the charity.
Lamb Fries (Movember special)

So this evening I went along to try them. It was the first time I had them and they were really nice (poached, sliced, breaded and then deep fried), served with a herb salad. The texture is not unlike soft liver, very subtle in taste so the well-dressed herb salad and the crunchy breading were definitely needed. As with all offal, there is no reason why anyone should be put off by them.
If you would like to donate to Ben specifically, click here.

As main I had a confit duck leg with puy lentils and curly kale.
Confit duck leg, puy lentils, curly kale

(apologies for the rubbish phone pics)
Wonderfully moist meat, crispy skin, just as it should be. I also loved the use of lentils instead of a starch. This was a very generous portion and had to leave some lentils behind. The food at the Punter might be pricey for a pub but then you get a lot on your plate and the cooking is definitely restaurant level.

After years of mediocre chain restaurant fare (and very few fine dining places), Cambridge is finally getting somewhere with a few pubs where you can get food cooked fresh and with love, not from the common larder like chain pubs do. Apart from The Punter, there's The Old Spring on Chesterton Road and more recently, The First and Last (used to be The Cricketers, across the corner from The Elm Tree) and I'm sure there are few more where I haven't been yet.

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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Last night I went to my local fine dining restaurant, Alimentum, for a dining event in aid of the charity Tommy's. Head chef Mark Poynton had the idea for the event after one of his chefs lost his baby boy who was born prematurely. The wonders of modern social networking meant a host of chefs from other restaurants, not just locally but from all over the country, were soon on board. In the end, eight courses, each cooked by a different head chef (with the help of all the others and some of their brigade, there were something like 20 chefs in the kitchen) were on offer. Needless to say, the food was stunning, each different, each unique and all cutting edge in terms of usage of ingredients and cooking methods.
Afterwards, there was an auction of such varied items as signed football shirts and a "food tour of Britain" to photographic prints and a set of Chroma knives, with all proceeds going to Tommy's.

The Food

One of the canapes

On arrival we were greeted by prosecco and a selection of Alimentum canapés: Salmon and horseradish cones (see photo), Salt cod Scotch egg, Salt and vinegar allumettes, Smoked eel, lemon and bacon bites and Beetroot and foie gras macarons. The last two were my favourites but all were lovely indeed. Only one photo, as it was a bit tricky juggling a glass, finger food and camera.

Amuse Bouche, James Knappet

The amuse bouche was by James Knappett (recently at Marcus Wareing, now at The Ledbury): Violina pumpkin soup, sorbe, king oyster, ceps, chestnuts, truffle rarebit. This was at the same time fresh from the light ingredients and strong from the mushrooms, an excellent combination. The pumpkin soup brought everything together.

Braddock White, Ben Spalding

The starter was by Roganic's Ben Spalding: Braddock White (egg), pickled roots, ox eye daisy, salt beef. This was similar to the egg dish I had during my first visit at Roganic and a typical example of Ben's style, having all the contrasts you want in a dish: warm and cold, soft and crunchy and beautifully harmonising flavours. It's hard to describe, you have to try it yourself.

Salmon, Paul Foster

Next up, the fish course by Paul Foster from Tuddenham Mill: Organic salmon, mussel soup, pink grapefruit and sea vegetables. A nice slab of gently cured salmon with a quite intense mussel sauce was a great combination but the surprise was the grapefruit. Its bitterness complimented the other ingredients really well while the sea vegetables added crunch. As it's not far away, a visit to the Mill is definitely in order. Incidentally, Lyndon Barrett-Scott, the Mill's general manager helped out in front of house last night.

Langoustine and Joselito ham, Alimentum

Home (surf and) turf now with an Alimentum dish: Roast langoustine, Joselito gran reserve ham, black olive and cauliflower. That seafood and pork go well together was proven by a visit to Alimentum earlier this year and this one was stunning, too. As with the dishes before, a bit of bread was needed to mop up the last bit of flavour from the plate.

Venison, Russell Bateman

The main course by Russell Bateman (Colette's at The Grove): Venison, chervil root, leek, Stilton and pear. This was probably the best piece of venison loin I've had (better than my own, for sure, although that wasn't shabby at all), cooked to the point evenly (sous vide, most likely) with great flavours, with perfectly matched accompaniments. Chervil root was new to me and took the place of the starch, quite similar in texture to a soft roast potato and neutral in taste, i.e. not like chervil leaves. Considering it was part of an 8 course menu, the portion was very generous indeed.

Cheese, Will Holland

Slowing down a bit, it was Will Holland's (La Bécasse) cheese course: Ragstone goat's cheese mousse, pain d'epice, beetroot and fig, liquorice jelly, bramble vinaigrette. As you can see, this wasn't just a couple of wedges of cheese on a plate, this was a proper, intricately put together dish (and one that would work equally well as a starter). Goat's cheese and beetroot are obviously a classic combination but this was something else with the added fruity and crunchy elements.

Fennel brulee, Matt Gillan

The pre-dessert was provided by Matt Gillan (The Pass): Fennel(!) brûleé, raspberry sorbet, lemon curd, raspberry and fennel salad. Yes, indeed, a combination of sweet dessert and rather savoury vegetable and it worked. Nice tangy raspberry sorbet and lemon curd were excellent additions.

Tiramisu (Midsummer House)

For dessert, a work of art by Daniel Clifford (Midsummer House) and Michelle Gillott (former Midsummer House pastry chef who's now running her own business): Simply titled "Tiramisu", this obviously wasn't just layered biscuit fingers, mascarpone, cocoa and coffee but the same ideas in a completely different format, delicately put together with wonderfully contrasting textures. Like me, everybody else on my table was desperately scraping their plate with their spoons to get every last bit of chocolate off. Wonderful.

Almost three hours later, we were well and truly stuffed and the chefs came out to get their just applause:
Mark Poynton, Lawrence Yates, Alimentum Matt Gillan, The Pass; Will Holland, La Becasse Will Holland; James Knappett (now at The Ledbury); Paul Foster Paul Foster, Tuddenham Mill; Russell Batemann, Colette's at the Grove Sommelier Kyle Simmons on the right Daniel Clifford, Midsummer House


The Auction


After mingling and chatting with the chefs in the bar, the second main event of the night kicked off: the auction in aid of Tommy's. There were a number of items on offer: signed football and rugby memorabilia, an iPad 2, a set of Chroma knives, a Cuba print by Jean-Luc Benazet, and a "Food Tour of Britain", dinners and overnight stays at various restaurants around the UK, including a foraging course with Matt Follas (Masterchef Champion 2009) at the Wild Garlic. This was slightly annoying for me as I'd hoped to get my hands on one or two of those but as they were sold as one lot, it was too rich for me (it went for £1,600 IIRC) so I came away with Jean-Luc's print and a signed Tony Christie tshirt+checked shirt combo.
Edit: The total came to a whopping £7150. Well done to everyone involved.

So, an excellent evening with stunning food with all proceeds going to a worthy cause. Events can hardly get better than this.
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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Scanning twitter on Thursday I spotted Ben Pope, head chef at The Punter (@ThePunterChef) mentioning that they were having a "Big Game and Big Reds Night" on Friday. Feeling a need to indulge after a busy week, I sent a tweet to book a spot.
The event was held at the barn, the Punter's function room. First we were plied with champagne and there was some excellent wild boar ham to nibble on, too.

I'm not a wine expert so I suggest you head over to Tom Lewis' wine blog where you'll find his expert opinion on the wines and how they matched with the food.

The first course was a selection of deep-fried bites, wonderfully runny and rich scotch quail eggs and soft and flavourful salt cod fritters. These were nicely matched by a Mersault. A nice way of starting the meal. Our table was two people short so there was some extra for all of us, alhough at least I was careful not to eat to much right at the start as there was much more to come.

The next course was "Kentucky Fried Wild Duck legs" and "BBQ breast". The legs were beautifully soft and the slightly spicy and crunchy coating worked really well. The perfectly cooked slices of breast were slathered in a sticky BBQ sauce with some extra on the side. Duck is one of my favourite meats so I really enjoyed this but the best was yet to come. The Pinot Noir we had with it was a good match, too.

The third course was boned and rolled saddle of hare, pearl barley risotto with porcini, kale and cobnuts. This was marvellous. The meat had a very strong game flavour (too strong for some on our table) but I reveled in it. The last time I had hare was probably 20 years ago. The pearl barley risotto was cooked to the point, wonderfully creamy with the strong flavour of porcini mushrooms and another good wine match was a Barolo.

Then the piece de resistance: a whole leg of muntjak deer (cute little hoof still attached), slow cooked in a flavourful but not too spicy curry sauce served with rice, Indian style pickles and chutneys. I took the opportunity to carve the beast which was quite easy despite only having my own cutlery to do it as the meat was basically falling apart. There was also a skewer of pieces of liver which was unfortunately a bit of a letdown as it was overcooked. However, that was the only bit of the evening that wasn't quite up to scratch. The wine match, a Costiere de Nimes, was also excellent.

Concluding the menu were bits of nutty chocolate brownies and blue cheese on charcoal biscuits with a beautiful Semillon (a sweet white wine).

Afterwards the chefs came out to much deserved applause and talked a bit about the food and the suppliers. Mentioning suppliers, the wines were supplied and presented by Jascots Wines who source their wines mainly from smaller winemakers.

So yes, an excellent evening. Considering the amount of food and wine (we had a bottle for five people for each course), fifty pounds per head was an acceptable price.

The full menu and two photos are under the cut )
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
In a sleepy little village called Little Wilbraham, just outside Cambridge off the road towards Newmarket is the Hole in the Wall, the restaurant run by last year's Masterchef runner-up Alex Rushmer.
I've been wanting to go since it opened in July but not having access to a car at the moment prevented me from doing so this far. Wednesday evening I finally had the opportunity as I wanted to treat a good friend to a hearty meal as a leaving present and he agreed to drive.

The Hole in the Wall has been an alehouse/pub for a long time and has been tastefully redecorated and converted into a restaurant (it's still a Free House, too). It's quite a rambling building with low ceilings and exposed beams everywhere creating a rather comfortable and homely atmosphere. The scrubbed wooden tables and chairs seem to have been sourced from all over the place as none are alike which only adds to the character.

As we were hungry, we declined having a drink first and were shown to our table, the waiter brought a pitcher of water and the menus. We were also offered a selection of breads of which I had the sourdough which was nice. The menu offered and interesting selection but my mind was made up very quickly for the starter when I saw wood pigeon. For main I wavered between the duck and the veal shin but decided on the latter as it's still quite rare to get veal.

Wood Pigeon, Barley, Beetroot
Wood pigeon, beetroot barley risotto

The pigeon was seared, nice and soft and the beetroot barley risotto was perfectly cooked with an excellent bite. A few slices and puree of differently coloured beetroot rounded off the dish, an excellent starter

Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder, apple
Slow cooked pork shoulder

My companion's starter which he was very happy with. You can just see the chopped seasoned apple behind the meat.

The main event, we both had one:
Braised Veal Shin, Saffron Risotto, Romanesco
Braised shin of rose veal, saffron risotto, romanesco

This was absolutely stunning. The rich meat fell apart, there was crunchy marrow inside the bone and a lovely sauce. A minor weak point, the risotto was tasty but a touch overcooked for my liking, more like a rice pudding than a risotto with hardly any distinct grains. However, this did little to distract from the greatness of the meat. True food porn. It was a huge hunk of meat, though, almost a bit too big as part of a three course meal. I struggled towards the end but made it. Still, there are always people who complain about portion sizes so those will love the substance.

After that hunk of meat we were rather full but didn't want to leave without dessert so let the food settle for a while, helped along in my case by a dram of Highland Park. Then we eventually chose desserts:

Chocolate Pot
Chocolate Pot

My companion's dessert. The pot contained a dense mousse (almost a bit like Nutella) with a layer of salted caramel, and there was more caramel in the little truffle. He said the brownie and vanilla ice cream were excellent, too.

Duchess of Cambridge Tart
Duchess of Cambridge Tart

This is the HITW's signature dessert, with a buttery biscuitcrispy, crumbly pastry base, a creme brulee filling and a lovely Cointreau and raisin ice cream on top. Reasonably light so a perfect end to this meal.

Service was friendly, efficient and unobtrusive, perfectly adequate for the setting but they possibly could be a bit more prepared to talk about the food, both when serving it and after. They almost seemed a bit shy.

All in all, an excellent meal, and good value for the quality of food, too. 75 pounds for two, three courses each, a large glass of red, a shot of Belvedere, a dram of Highland Park and a glass of orange juice. Highly recommended if you're in the area and have a car (or don't mind the taxi fare).

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