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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
On Wednesday, I attended a food photography workshop run by Paul Winch-Furness (details on that to come next week, when I've had time to write it up and process all the photos) at The Ship, a nice and big pub and restaurant in Wandsworth. Included in the workshop fee was a three-course lunch, we even had our own set menu (three choices for each course and this is what I had:

Lunch - Seared Wood Pigeon
Seared Wood Pigeon, Braised Puy Lentils, Dried Pancetta and Baby Roquette

The meat was nicely seared and cooked on the rare side of medium rare (nicely rested and warm throughout) and the earthy lentils and pancetta matched perfectly.

Lunch - Lamb Shank
Lamb Shank, Black Olive and Chorizo Mash, Rosemary Gravy.

This was big enough to be a course on its own, not as part of three courses but it was great. The bone came out without resistance as I grabbed it and the meat fell apart, just as it should be. Excellent gravy and lovely mash, enriched by chorizo. Not exactly a light dish but great flavours. I recommend this before an evening of heavy drinking.

Lunch - Vanilla Pannacotta
Vanilla Pannacotta with Blackberry and Blueberry Compote

Made with real vanilla, the pannacotta was soft and flavourful, the tart stewed berries offering an excellent contrast and the crunchy biscuit was great, too.

Everything was cooked perfectly and presented well, definitely on a good restaurant level of food rather than pub grub.

Short URL: http://bit.ly/KaroShip

February 2013

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