The Rainbow Café

Cambridge has many attractions and once I was walking down King’s Parade with a friend looking for a nice little restaurant. We came across a small sign taking us down into a cellar off King’s Parade to the Rainbow Café – Cambridge’s only vegetarian restaurant. May is the perfect time to visit the Rainbow Café as the end of this month is National Vegetarian Week.

We were impressed by the friendliness of the staff who greeted us and the very beautiful décor inside. It is a very small place and very quaint. This award-winning vegetarian café has an extraordinary menu and offers a variety of dishes from around the world – including Jamaican Patties, Cuban Pecadillo Pie and Indonesian Gado Gado (said to be Gillian McKeith’s favourite choice when the restaurant was featured on her Channel 4 series, You Are What You Eat).

Although we are not vegetarian ourselves, the menu did not bother us in the slightest as it is quite varied and has interesting dishes that one simply has to try. The Latvian Potato Bake and Spinach Lasagne are two very popular dishes. An example of the à la carte menu can be found here. There are also daily specials offered using local and seasonal ingredients.

The food is beautiful and very well presented. The spices and seasonings used in the Rainbow Café are wonderful and make the food extremely tasty. Children under 10 are catered for with a special kids menu and organic baby food is even provided. Watch the video below for an interview about the Rainbow Café:

We were both impressed by the flavour of the food which is entirely vegetarian. The carrot cake is to die for and the Rainbow Café menu quotes the food writer, Nigel Slater, describing it as “the best I ever tasted”. Other notable desserts are the gluten-free, no-added-sugar fruit cake and the totally vegan Swedish Glace soy ice cream which comes in a selection of mouthwatering flavours.

Looking at the drinks menu, all the wines served are vegan, organic and from exclusive vineyards with Soil Association certification. There is also a small selection of vegan beer & cider. Coffee is Fairtrade of course – as you’d expect from this restaurant fully approved by the Vegetarian Society.

The Rainbow Café is highly recommended so please go and try it out. This vibrant café has become a local highlight and is now so popular that one often has to queue to get a table – but don’t let this put you off because the food here is definitely worth the wait. Whether you are vegetarian or not, you will be sure to find a dish here that will enchant you.

Address:
Rainbow Vegetarian Café
9a King’s Parade
Cambridge
CB2 1SJ
(Opposite King’s College Gates down the flowery passageway)
Tel: 01223 321551

Images reproduced from: rainbowcafe.co.uk and lustrousmusings.blogspot.com

Browns Cambridge – Dining with Tradition

This week City Connect is reporting on one of the finest and most famous of all Cambridge restaurants: Browns Restaurant. Browns is situated on leafy Trumpington street in central Cambridge and thus easily reachable by anyone from in and outside of Cambridge. Some of our writers went for an evening at this fine establishment and were very impressed as they enjoyed a fantastic evening at Browns.

The great establishment is in a converted wing of the former building of Addenbrooke’s hospital which opened in 1766. Browns has a restaurant and also a famous bar which attracts people from all over the city. The cocktail menu of the bar is huge and the Bloody Mary has reached cult status in Cambridge. Click here for the lush drinks menu. The bar is ideal for a night out with friends and the restaurant has a great atmosphere suitable for small and big gatherings.

Browns offers great food for all tastes including vegetarian food and hearty meat dishes. The food is prepared beautifully and served with style.

Piano Evenings

Concomitant with a great menu and lovely atmosphere, Browns also offers music nights which give your evening such an additional nice feel.Three times a week Browns offers great live piano-playing  – the perfect accompaniment for drinks and dinner. A pianist will be playing at the following times during the week:

Wednesday: 7 – 10pm
Thursday: 7 – 10pm
Friday: 7 – 10pm

Private room booking

Browns also offers private room bookings and the rooms are stunning. We had the pleasure to see the rooms when the staff showed us around. The rooms are ideal for any medium sized gatherings and can be reserved all week long

The Menu

The menu is lush and has a fine choice of great foods. Here’s a selection of our recommended favourites which we tried before:

Warmed Foccacia

  • Prepared with baked tomatoes, garlic and herbs and served with balsamic olive oil.
Fish Platter
  • Consisting of prawn cocktail, crispy squid, crab and lobster croquettes, salmon pâté, wakame, herb focaccia, garlic cream and tartare sauce.
Baked Camembert
  • Prepared with rosemary and garlic, served with grapes and crusty bread.

Meat Platter

  • Consisting of Gloucestershire smoked beef, prosciutto, chorizo, homemade Scotch egg, herb focaccia, picante peppers and fruit chutney.

Roasted supreme of salmon

  • Served with a lemon and spinach risotto, chargrilled asparagus, crispy capers and basil oil.

Steak frites

  • A 6oz sirloin steak served with a lemon, parsley and peppercorn butter, confit tomato, watercress and seasoned chips.

If you want to see the whole menu, please click here.

Our recommendations

Please read below some quotes from our City Connect writers on Browns:

“When I first entered the restaurant, I had to look around and up the ceiling in awe. What a place! The whole place was vibrant and full of buzz. The decor was extraordinary and the whole place has a very welcoming and warm feel to it. The ceiling is very high rising and gives a great feeling of space. We were greeted by friendly staff straight away who organised a table for us to dine. We had to wait a few minutes as the restaurant was busy, but we grabbed a drink from the bar and set on a nice little table with our aperitifs. 10 minutes later we were seated by one of the friendly staff. The menu was impressive and yet not too pricey. The selection of dishes was very good and some seemed exotic. The service was great and we had a fantastic meal. I personally enjoyed the roasted supreme of salmon for my main course and it was beautifully prepared. The dessert menu was also very impressive and we had an awesome sticky toffee pudding.”

“Wow! When I entered the building I really knew that I wanted to dine here. The staff were so friendly and I loved the atmosphere. I tried one of the famous Bloody Maries and it came with a whole Celery stalk. What an awesome way of serving and a great way to start off the evening.”

“I had never been to Brown’s before and absolutely loved it straight from the beginning. The seating areas outside gave a great welcoming feel and once we entered through the revolving doors I was astounded by the atmosphere of the restaurant. We entered a huge hall with amazing decor and were greeted by friendly staff straight away. I will never forget this evening.”

We highly recommend Browns as a restaurant and a bar and hope you will have as fabulous an evening as we had.

Image reproduced from http://www.browns-restaurants.co.uk and http://www.companyscoming.com

Private Members Club – The Do’s and Dont’s for Your Night Out

London Life Coach & Relationship Coach Sloan Sheridan-Williams talks about private members club etiquette. Follow Sloan on Twitter @SloanSW_London and check out Sloan’s website www.sloansw.com

There is a price to pay for partying in exclusive surroundings, but that price is not always monetary. It is more the case that you are out and about on show in your community within a group of people that have higher expectations than your local pub, bar or restaurant. Below are a few guidelines to help you navigate the world of etiquette in such establishments.

First Impressions and Rapport with the Host

It is good to remember that these clubs are more than a restaurant or bar. Even as a well respected member, it is only polite to always let the Club’s host know when you are dropping by. In these modern times, this can be as simple as a phone call, e-mail and – thanks to technological advancements – a comment on Twitter or LinkedIn. Please, do note that Facebook is not a business porthole and is therefore not appropriate. The announcement should be short and sweet whether it is based on stating that you are looking forward to seeing the host or requesting the entry of guests to the Club.

Such request for attendance should never be in the style of ‘A table for four, please.’ The exclusivity of the Club deserves respect and appreciation that you are a member by invitation should be maintained at all times.

Guest lists are not much more than a marketing tool these days so remember it is still the personal touch that is important. After the evening, just as with any other invitation, one should send a thank you message. Again in such modern times this can be done electronically and is preferable in this medium. In the cases of Twitter or LinkedIn it is more public and therefore also good advertising for the Club. Such acknowledgment should be done within 24 hours where access allows.

Introductions

As always for new introductions a firm handshake is first port of call. Supplement with eye contact and a genuine warm smile. If you know the member or host well and the setting calls for it, social kissing is still heavily prevalent. If you do not like such contact, it is perfectly polite to extend your arm to shake hands. If you are on the receiving end of such a gesture, respect the boundaries of the other person and go with the flow. If you do go for the minefield of the social kiss, bring the recipient closer to you by gently placing your hand on their shoulder and aim for the right cheek first. Some people decide one kiss is enough. If this is your modus operandi then pull back before you get into the more often than not seen dance of ‘one kiss or two!’ If in doubt, or you are unsure of how to greet the person, let the elder take charge.

Behaviour Inside the Club

A public persona must always be assumed as people-watching is an everyday sport nowadays. Poise and grace are as paramount as in the old days but with a touch of relaxed approachability thrown in. Elegant drinking and dining is a must in such establishments and to carry this off well, it is good to monitor one’s alcohol intake.

There is a dividing line between alcohol as a social lubricant immersed with the enjoyment of fine spirits or wines and alcohol as a precursor to outrageous events that are fodder for much speculation about one’s next Priory vacation. Before having that extra glass of alcohol that leaves you dancing on the tables, err on the side of caution and interperse your imbibation with the odd glass of water.

Conversation itself is best when spontaneous with the avoidance of the hot topics: politics, sex, scandal and money. Talk and listen equally. Be interesting – not only for yourself but for those around you - all while keeping your decibel level to that worthy of your table, not the adjacent one.

If there is a conflict, a discreet nod to the Club’s host and a quiet word is much better than tackling a matter head on. In the case of small infringements, a polite smile is all that is necessary, not everyone is versed in the art of etiquette and their behaviour may not have been personal but just a faux pas.

Meeting Celebrities

In private members clubs you often meet two types of celebrity - those seeking media attention and those who prefer to have a quiet night out with friends. Celebrities, unlike our British Royalty, are not obliged to give a welcoming reception to a ‘mere civilian’. Therefore, in such a spotting, it is polite to ignore them and/or if the situation allows treat them as any other individual. Feigning ignorance as to who they are is rarely an acceptable form of address but a simple gesture, if appropriate, would be to introduce yourself and let them return in kind.

Remember you only know their public persona so treat them like any other member at the Club. If they choose to think their station is above you then that is their business and one for the Club’s host to discretely remedy not you. At no point is it acceptable to criticise their work or ask them to perform. You can, if the conversation allows, remark on your appreciation of their work but the truly elegant celebrity would rather be treated as an individual.

At all times discretion is key and lobby rules should be in play. Such rules are based on the code of honour between Members of Parliament and journalists accredited to the lobby of the House of Commons. It is a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that matters raised or overheard in conversations between members and guests are not to be used for commercial or journalistic purposes. In modern times, this extends to posting on Facebook – and similar – whom you saw, what they were doing and (heaven forbid) tagging them in a photo.  Such courtesy of lobby rules should be extended to all guests and not just celebrities.

My Favourite Members Clubs

London: Luxx, Maddox, Home House and The Club at the Ivy
New York: Supper Club and Soho House
Paris: Palais Maillot
Verbier: Coco Club

Recently, I have heard that Cambridge is now home to a new members club that I look forward to frequenting in the not too distant future. The Club is called 12a and has already developed the mystique and sophistication expected of such an establishment. On the left is a sneak preview of the bar area.

On a lunchtime inspection, I was transported back to the Prohibition Era and allowed to feast my eyes on a delectable drinks menu inserted into an old style book as a bookmark. The drinks menu is old school, not a Blue Hawaiian new age cocktail in site, thank goodness! I believe they are soon bringing out a tasty nibbles and antipasti menu.

I look forward to reporting on my first evening visit.

Etiquette Series: I am often asked to write about the correct behaviour in social situations, be it cultural, social or business.  Although many think I am American, the occasional twang from my Manhattan days, I was born and bred in London.  As a child my local corner shop was Harrods, my usual breakfast haunt Inner Temple and the evenings filled with dinner parties extraordinaire. In circumstances like these as a child you quickly learn that there are expectations and if you exceed them your life will be much simpler. This holds true as you get older but the expectations have developed somewhat in the last three decades. This series is designed to highlight some of the ways in which such old fashioned manners have been updated and how to adapt them to your life. In this series, I will provide you with some handy hints on how to achieve a more positive engagement with people by simply adapting your behaviour. I look forward to your comments, either below or on Twitter. If you wish to be informed of the next instalment of the series, please sign up to the RSS feed in the top right hand corner. I look forward to hearing your views on any of the above mentioned clubs and/or suggestions for others.

Images reproduced from www.homehouse.co.uk, www.libertygalleries.com, www.tressugar.com or supplied by contributors.

Tooting: SW17 is Worth a Second Look

Tooting Broadway Tube

For those of you who are familiar with the Tooting area, you will know that it’s not the most happening of places when it comes to eating and drinking.  And for those of you who have never heard of Tooting, I don’t blame you.  Tooting gets over looked by its richer neighbours – Balham, Clapham and Wimbledon.  It’s just that bit further down on the Northern Line, a few stops too far.

BUT, there is a gradual change happening in SW17, and as a resident of this slightly less favoured area of south-west London I am crossing my fingers and toes that this change starts to gather some speed.

The high street at Tooting Broadway has everything you might expect: Primark, a bingo hall, a 99p store, shops that offer to unlock phones, two McDonalds, and butchers catering to every religion and ethnicity you might think of.  So far, not so many places you might want to go on a Saturday night or for Sunday lunch.  But look a bit closer, and there are the hidden spots that have appeared in the last few months that show Tooting is beginning to shoulder its way towards something better.

If it’s a Saturday night drinking hole you’re after, look no further than the Tram & Social – tootingtram.com.  Reasonably priced drinks, good music (i.e. not the Top 40 mega-mix you might get at Infernos), and a very different setting from what you might expect.  At the end of a short alley, tucked between Maccy D’s and a pawn shop, you’d be forgiven for being slightly surprised to find yourself in a spacious venue (complete with bunting in the summer months) where there’s a complete absence of people who might shoot you for looking at them in the wrong way.  The Tram is my local, and what a local to have!

Then, just down the road is Graveney and Meadow: a ‘bar, bakery and tapas restaurant’ that is owned by the same group as the Tram & Social – graveneyandmeadow.com.  Home-baked goods, wooden chairs, chalk boards and a general boutique-meets-country-kitchen feel, where better to spend a chilly afternoon at the weekend?

Walk towards Tooting Broadway tube and round the corner, and you’ll find Tartine – www.tartineartisanal.com.  This French-Moroccan café offers more than croissants and bread.  Mezze, burgers, salads and desserts can all be found in this busy and friendly place.  The décor is simple, the menu comprehensive – a great place to go with friends that have quite varied tastes.  Just don’t expect to go there for dinner as they close at 7pm.

And finally, about two doors down from Tartine, we have Tota – www.tota-restaurant.co.uk.  This restaurant has popped out of nowhere and has quickly established itself as the go-to place for Sunday brunch.  I was there two weeks ago and had some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.  My friend’s full English was perfection – crispy bacon, sausages that looked like they actually had pork in them, and properly poached eggs (i.e. not microwaved).  The dinner menu is simple but effective – all the favourites like steak and fish, along with something different like pork belly in a curry sauce.  The service is faultless as well.

So it seems that Tooting is gradually upping its quota of decent places to eat and drink.  Yes, the general locality needs a bit of a scrub, and there are still quite a few things that make one want to get a taxi home rather than walk from the bus stop. But perhaps Tooting is going through what Angel went through a few years ago.  And with places like the Tram & Social and Tota sprouting up every few months, this little corner of south-west London could be destined for greater things.

Ramon Bilbao Dinner at Cambridge Hotel du Vin

It’s not often you get to try a completely new appellation of wine – the Ramon Bilbao NV Mar de Frades Albariño Rías Baixas Brut Nature, the first-ever sparkling Albarino from Rias Baxas, was presented by Carlos Delage at Cambridge Hotel du Vin at a Ramon Bilbao dinner.

Over canapes in the Hotel’s Library room, Carlos explained that the wine is made by the methode champenoise, but does not aim to be a Champagne copy. Rather, with just a year’s ageing on the lees, it is a mediumweight fruit-driven sparkler with a fine mousse and plenty of varietal citrussy fruit and white flowers.

But there is also a persistence and savouriness that goes beyond mere blossomy spritz, so the closest stylistic comparison is perhaps a young blanc de blancs.

In any event, it has proven very popular – Spanish supermarket chain El Corte Ingles sold out of its allocation in just a few weeks, whilst Head Sommelier of Cambridge Hotel du Vin, Debbie Henriques, was so impressed that she immediately arranged to add it to the hotel’s list.

Our second aperitif was the Albarino Algareiro Rias Baxas 2011; much more weighty and complex than a typical Albarino, the emphasis here was on minerality, salinity and persistence.

On the Atlantic coast of north west Spain, just above Portugal, Rias Baxas is not an easy place to make wine; warm and damp, it provides perfect conditions for rot. To avoid this, the vines are trained on granite trellises around 2m high making pruning and harvesting all the more labour-intensive.

Ramon Bilbao was founded in the 1920s as a family company and is now on its third set of owners, but is still privately held. Owner and boss Rodolfo Bastida is the wine-maker, meaning, according to Carlos, an absolute focus on modernity and quality, rather than on pennies.

The wine that accompanied our starter was a good example of this – a Verdejo Monte Blanco 2012 from Rueda, the grapes are harvested at night and for freshness it is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel to preserve the tropical-fruit aromas.

Grown on granite soils, it has a piercing, mouthfilling linear acidity and minerality with a delicately aromatic nose with puy lentils and white flowers that is reminiscent of Austrian Gruener Veltliner.

Hotel chef Jonathan Dean had matched this with pressed pork rillettes with an apple and chicory salad – the fresh acidity of the wine cut through the meat whilst the apple and chicory, lifted with a dash of mustard vinagrette, enhanced the aromatics of the wine.

The main of roast duck breast, cherry chutney and fondant potato was served with two reds from Rioja: the Gran Reserva 2004 Ramon Bilbao Rioja, a youthful purple colour with only a slight paleness around the rim, looks much younger than its almost decade of age.

On the nose there are dried bramble fruits, spice, leather and gaminess; the palate shows good fruit and acidity with sweet thyme.

Alongside this, we tried a 2001 Gran Reserva special vines Ramon Bilbao Rioja; this unfiltered wine, the product of a single vineyard that formed part of the original Ramon Bilbao estate, was also surprisingly youthful in appearance.

In the glass, the colour is purple with only a touch more paleness around the rim – all the more impressive considering it has spent three years in oak. The nose is complex with aromas of dried fruit, game, old leather, mushrooms and sweet herbs.

On the palate, there is a mouthfilling, fresh acidity and flavours of red pepper and rosehip. The finish shows fine-grained tannins and a savoury persistence.

This felt like a much older wine – noticeably more developed than the 2004 – and for me was much the more interesting of the two. Carlos, however, preferred the 2004, which caused me to wonder how the two might develop; on the night, the 2001 was more interesting, but in five, perhaps even ten years, I can see the 2004 showing better.

In any event, both wines matched extremely well with the food; the fresh acidity and gaminess were a classic match for duck breast, whilst a touch of spice in the jus and red cabbage accompaniment was extremely well-judged and brought the food and wine into perfect harmony.

The final course was a selection of British and Spanish cheeses served with a biodynamic wine, the Crianza Cruz de Alba 2008.

Biodynamics is something of a wild-haired branch of wine-making that takes organic, low-intervention processes as a base and sprinkles over a generous libation of astrology, pagan earth-worship and downright superstitious oddness.

It is a step-back in time to wine-making as it must have been practised several centuries ago – and the wines often have a vibrant, earthy character as a result.

With none of the advantages of the modern era, low-intervention wine-making also requires high-quality fruit and absolute cleanliness in both the vineyard and the winery.

Whether it is these factors or the cow horn full of dung and phases of the moon that impart a certain quality is something of a moot point.

But for anyone who feels that modern life has become somewhat sterile and soulless, this biodynamic crianza had a vibrancy and texture that spoke of a way of life that is more in touch with nature.

I finished the evening with a trip downstairs to the hotel’s bar with Mike Webb of importers Ellis of Richmond to try a glass of the Crianza edicion limitada.

This is essentially the second wine in years when the top Mierto is not made – in Bordeaux, my rule of thumb for a second wine in a weak year is that you get the elegance but not the structural interest.

The edicion limitada, however, suffered from no lack of structure with lots of fruit and perfectly ripe tannins It is available by the glass at Hotel du Vin and a great place to start in seeing what Ramon Bilbao has to offer.

Either that, or try the world’s first-ever sparkling Rias Baxas.

Tickets for the Ramon Bilbao Dinner at Cambridge Hotel du Vin cost £60; I attended as a guest of the hotel.

Top 5 Restaurants in Bali

In her bestselling 2006 book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert found love in Bali. I wasn’t that lucky but I did discover great food! Everyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a real foodie – a vacation for me isn’t complete if I haven’t sampled local delicacies and the best of what the destination has to offer. My recent trip to Bali was no exception.

With so many great restaurants and bars to choose from, it’s difficult to only pick five favourites. But after much deliberation, below are my top five restaurants in Bali which I hope will whet your appetite and inspire you to go to the island soon and experience them for yourself. May to September is the best time to visit this tropical paradise.

My Top 5 Restaurants in Bali

Ketupat
Bali has many excellent international restaurants (some of which are listed below) but a trip to Indonesia would not be complete without sampling the local cuisine. Thankfully the beautiful surroundings of Ketupat means that one does not have to slum it in a local warung to eat authentic Indonesian food. The restaurant gets its name from the little woven parcels made from palm leaves used to cook rice. The famous dishes of Sate Lilit and Nasi Goreng are here on the menu but I recommended trying the Nasi Campur – a small selection of tasty little dishes which are beautifully presented and gives one the chance to try a variety of authentic Indonesian delicacies without getting lost in the extensive menu of Ketupat. Address: Jalan Dewi Sri, Kuta, Bali.

Queen’s Tandoor
This popular Indian restaurant in Seminyak is part of the largest and longest established Indian restaurant chains in Indonesia. You know that the food must be special because of the large number of coach parties of Indian tourists that visit the restaurant every week. The large air-conditioned restaurant is very comfortable and the staff are friendly and will always ask you how spicy you want your food if you don’t appear to be a curry aficionado. My favourite dishes here are Chicken Tandoori, Dhal Sag Chicken and Rogan Josh. As well as the traditional dessert Kulfi, Queen’s Tandoor also offer a decadent chocolate dessert if you can save some room for it. The Sizzling Brownie is presented on a hot plate, drenched in bubbling chocolate sauce and served with vanilla ice cream. Definitely worth the calories! Address: Jalan Raya Seminyak , Kuta, Bali.

Mozzarella
Located on the busy Jalan Padma, Mozzarella is an Italian restaurant that has a reputation for serving the best steaks in town and is famous for its two-for-one cocktail deals which makes an evening here nicely lubricated. The staff are forever smiling and friendly and will treat you like a regular even on your first visit. I was referred to as “Mr Alan” by the waitress during the course of the meal – which was very sweet. This hospitality, on top of the great food, will keep you coming back for more. For starters, try the Smoked Mahi Mahi – an interesting twist on a classic starter of traditional Smoked Salmon. My favourite main course here is the Beef Fillet Rossini – succulent, tender and very reasonably priced. Address: Jalan Padma, Legian, Bali.

Sarong
A trip to Bali is not complete without at least one dinner reservation at Sarong. The décor is sumptuous and luxurious with chandeliers, candles, billowing gold curtains and Chippendale furniture all under a high roofed pavilion. The menu is an eclectic mix of South Asian inspired cuisine with dishes originating from Thailand, India, Vietnam, China and of course Indonesia. With such a diverse choice, it’s difficult to recommend one dish in particular but the Rogan Josh is a favourite of mine. The bar serves interesting and inspired cocktails such as the Jeruk Martini - citron vodka mixed with lemongrass syrup, dry vermouth & lemon juice. When it comes to dessert, the lushious Vietnamese coconut crème caramel is to die for! Address: Jalan Petitenget, Kerobokan, Bali.

Métis
Métis is without question one of the smartest dining destinations in Bali and a purely sensory experience. A fabulous dinner is guaranteed as you sit on the terrace of a beautiful pavilion overlooking verdant rice paddies. The romantic setting is made more so by candlelight and sophisticated colonial inspired furniture from Scandinavia. The food is mostly French and Mediterranean in influence and the restaurant boasts a special foie gras menu – unusual for Bali. Métis excels in the delivery of the highest quality food which is gorgeously presented and tastes divine. The service from the waiting staff is exceptional and faultless. If the Chateaubriand is on the menu then I’m a happy man. Otherwise, I am more than satisfied with the meltingly tender Beef Tenderloin. Dessert has to be one of their deliciously light and fluffy soufflés – for which Métis is famous for. They’re always worth the 25 minute wait! Address: Jalan Petitenget, Kerobokan, Bali.

From top to bottom: images reproduced from sricaitanyadas.multiply.com, ricewisdom.org, queenstandoor.com, thejarkatapost.com, thewanderingpalate.com and travel-logic.se

Chameleon – Dublin’s Intimate Indonesian

Chameleon is an intimate and cosy Indonesian restaurant serving contemporary cuisine in the Temple Bar district of Dublin. Opened in 1994, Chameleon has been very successful and has won many prestigious restaurant awards and has been included in “100 best in Dublin 2009”. This speciality restaurant has also been featured in the Bridgestone Guide’s “Best Restaurants in Ireland” every year since opening – which is something rather special for restaurant in what tends to be the very touristy Temple Bar area. Chameleon’s food and unique atmosphere have gained a well-deserved reputation and it is not unusual to see familiar faces returning each week or month to sample the authentic Indonesian cuisine on offer.

Chameleon specialises in Rijst-tafel (which literally means rice table). It is a way of serving Indonesian food that was devised by the Dutch, who first colonised these Spice Islands back in the early 19th century. Rather than eating just one main dish, each diner is served small quantities of several different dishes all at once. This is similar to the Greek meze or Chinese Dim Sum style of eating. The Rijst-tafel is comprised of appetizers, curries, vegetables, noodles and rice dishes. A selection of sambals (spicy chutneys) and pickles are also served as condiments to eat with the meal. At Chameleon, your dinner plate arrives empty, a hot plate is lit to keep the dishes warm and all the food arrives to the table at the same time.

I ordered the “Rijst-tafel Bali” which was quite filling even though it was advertisied for just one person. I was served the following 6 dishes served with steamed jasmine rice and condiments:

SATE AYAM
Free range chicken satay served with our peanut sauce

KARI JAVA
Seasoned balls of Irish lamb in a rich, spicy, Javanese curry sauce

BEEF RENDANG
Irish beef cooked slowly in a spicy coconut milk sauce with cinnamon, tamarind and red chillies

SESAME FRIED VEGETABLES
Seasonal greens wok fried with sautéed onions and toasted sesame seeds

ASINAN
Salad with cucumber, mango chinese leaves with a peanut and black sesame dressing

BAMI GORENG
Wok fried noodles with beansprouts, ginger, garlic & soy sauce

I have travelled to Indonesia many times in the past and have spent much of my time in Bali. Compared to the authentic food I tasted on my travels, I would have to say that Chameleon serves probably the best rijst-tafel I have ever tasted outside of Indonesia. The raised sitting area upstairs is a traditional yet stylish touch and allows diners to experience a sense of culture reminiscent of the Spice Islands of Indonesia. I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who is travelling to Dublin and wants to try a restaurant that stands out from the crowd.

Chameleon Restaurant
1 Lower Fownes Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Ireland
T: +353 1 671 0362
E: book@chameleonrestaurant.com

Images courtesy of the author

Pichet – French Cuisine with Irish Charm

Pichet is a friendly French bistro restaurant based on Dublin’s busy Trinity Street in the heart of the city. Pichet opened in 2009 and is owned by Nick Munier and Stephen Gibson. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal with stylish blue leather chairs and dark wood tables. Pichet has a colourful and interesting menu with wonderful presentation and exceptional taste and quality. The wine list is very reasonably priced and is concise but includes something for everyone’s taste. Although there is lots of choice on the A La Carte menu, if you’re going there for lunch, why not try the special Fixed Price Lunch menu which is only €25 for three courses between 12pm and 3pm. Here’s a sample of what’s on offer:

Starter – Salmon Fishcake with Pickled Cucumber, Watercress and Tartare Sauce
The fishcake was plump and succulent with a decent amount of fish compared to potato. There is nothing worse than a fishcake that’s all cake and no fish so Pichet got top marks for their tasty version of an old classic. The addition of the pickled cucumber was a nice modern twist but it was reassuring to have that familiar favourite, tartare sauce, served on the side. The size of this starter is slightly larger than you would expect which was great for me as my heart tends to sink when I’m served tiny portions!

Main – Daube of Beef with Sauerkraut and Colcannon Mash
The meat was meltingly tender and full of flavour. The sauerkraut balanced the richness of the daube nicely with its tangy aftertaste. No prizes for guessing that the mash would be colcannon – we are in Ireland after all! Again this was a nice mansized portion which was true to the nature of this relaxed yet stylish bistro. I recommended trying the New Zealand 2007 Pinot Noir from the Lake Chalice Estate which is a perfect complement to this dish.

Dessert – Rhubarb Cheesecake with Tangerine Jelly
An interesting take on the classic cheesecake. The dessert is served in a glass instead of on a plate with the different elements of the cheesecake piled on on top of another and topped off with a crisp tuile biscuit. The tangerine jelly was interspersed through the fruity creaminess like hidden gems of orange wobbly. A perfectly pleasant end to a perfectly pleasant meal.

The staff at Pichet are charming and friendly but the attentiveness can sometimes falter when the restaurant is really busy. However it is never too difficult to catch the eye of one of the waiting staff. Getting a table for lunch tends not to be a problem but reservations are certainly recommended for dinner. The next time you find yourself in Dublin don’t forget to visit Pichet and try their delicious French cuisine served with plenty of Irish charm.

Pichet Restaurant Café and Bar
14/15 Trinity Street
Dublin 2
Ireland
T: +353 1 677 1060
E: info@pichetrestaurant.com

Images courtesy of the author

Families and Friends Dinner at Fitzbillies

Last week, I took the family to a revived Cambridge establishment, Fitzbillies, for dinner.

We had been invited by Old Persean Alison Wright, half of the husband-and-wife team who, on reading of the demise of the the famous source of Chelsea buns via a Stephen Fry tweet, decided to give up their metropolitan careers in journalism and marketing services respectively and re-launch a Cambridge legend, but on a more businesslike footing with a restaurant as well as the cake shop.

The deal from Alison and husband Tim Hayward was this: pay only for the drinks, food is on the house, as long as we give feedback and tip the waiting staff appropriately.

 

We had planned to get there at a child-friendly time of before 7pm, but a combination of various train problems on my commute back from London meant that it was closer to 8pm before we eventually arrived, feeling somewhat flustered and hungry.

However, the welcome from Alison was warm and friendly, immediately putting us at ease as we were shown to a table at the far end of the restaurant near the kitchen and brought menus.

Starting with drinks, the children ordered lemonade in raspberry and straight versions and tucked into some delicious slices of hearty home-made bread with generous portions of butter.

There is no children’s menu and all the dishes have a least one ingredient that might prove unfamiliar or challenging to younger palates; however, #2 child announced he would have the duck to start with, whilst number #1, who was a little cold, opted for a bowl of ham broth, with Mrs CWB also opting for the duck leaving me to try the smoked salmon, but in the end we all tried a bit of everything.

The duck plate came with both smoked and cured duck breast as well as some cooked duck meat – in what was perhaps to set the tone for the evening a little, the duck breast was extremely tasty and very generous; slicing to a third or a quarter of the thickness would have resulted in no less flavour and a touch more elegance. The accompanying picked prunes were also delicious (even if the children turned their noses up) but the thyme croute (a piece of fried bread) didn’t really add anything.

#2 child’s clear ham broth with sherry, chopped egg and mint and ham popovers was a more elegant affair, full of flavour and with the touch of mint adding a delicious and unusual touch.

My smoked salmon came with slices of sweet beetroot, a creamy horseradish and crispy potato plaques – slices of potato toasted in the oven. The salmon / beetroot / creamy horseradish combination all worked very well, but the potato plaques felt a bit “texture by numbers” whilst the horseradish was on the generous side of potent.

We had ordered wines by the glass from a small-ish but perfectly formed and well-thought out list – with around 10 reds and 10 whites and two fizzes, of which three reds, three whites and one fizz are served by the glass.

I fear Pinot Grigio could become to this generation what German Riesling and sherry turned into for my parents’ – a once-popular classic wine that then falls out of favour due to over-popularity and too many poor-quality examples. However, my Italian Pinot Grigio from Bacaro was lovely – well-made, with good rounded acidity and mouthfeel and a restrained versatility – and matched well with the salmon.

Mrs CWB chose a Grand Bateau Rouge Bordeaux which proved to be an equally good match with her duck plate – with low tannins, aromas of bramble fruit and hints of savouriness and soy, it was clearly Merlot-dominated and had a similarly smooth and mouthfilling texture as my wine.

For mains, both child #1 and Mrs CWB had opted for a game-based steam pudding, whilst #2 child had lamb and I opted for braised guinea fowl.

The steamed pudding was perfectly cooked and delicious and came with the autumnal wonderfulness of a braised red cabbage and chestnut accompaniment.

Young Man’s lamb chump was served as several delicious medium rare strips with a pink centre, a Jansson’s temptation (similar to a potato gratin, - very nice) and lamb’s lettuce – aside from the obvious play on words, the lamb’s lettuce worked well as a lighter foil to the hearty meat and potato dish, but the addition of a sharp, wine-unfriendly vinagrette dressing was perhaps a step too far.

My guineafowl was also perfectly cooked and came with a slightly unusual celeriac mash and a sweet, slow-roasted chicory. The earlier Pinot Grigio would have matched well with this, but I was keen to try something else off the wine list, so I opted for a Mahi Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand with the waiter helpfully offering me a sample to see how it would go.

Unlike so many Marlborough Sauvignons, this was was not overly tropical, lush and fruit-driven, but balanced and elegant with a rounded, mouthfilling acidity that is very food-friendly.

By this point, we had little room left for desserts (which did not include the famous Chelsea buns, pictured above), so decided to share two between the four of us – the pink grapefruit and pomegranate jelly had a pleasing, refreshing bitterness that worked very well and reminded me a little of the Italian tradition of ending a generous meal with a reviving lemon sorbet with Prosecco; it also came with dollop of clotted cream and a shortbread biscuit which proved more popular with #1 child.

#2 child and I shared a chocolate and clementine cake with creme fraiche which was just about perfect – beautifully cooked and very well-made (and also very popular with #1 child).

xxx—xxx

 A few days after the dinner, I emailed Alison with our outline feedback and thoughts:

– welcome and service; very good indeed

– food; very good and tasty, good-quality ingredients, well-cooked, portions very generous, mains a bit more pubby than fine-dining (in contrast to the cakes which are very special and elegant)

– decor / atmosphere; overall very good, but a bit chilly and spartan where we were sat at the back

– wines; good, well-made versatile food wines, wine list easy to read and not too long

Ideas / things to consider:

– introduce a set menu

– introduce a children’s menu

– include aperitifs / dessert wines

Fitzbillies is now open for restaurant bookings on Friday and Saturday evenings; the full price of a three-course meal is around £30 per head; table wines cost from £16 – £35 per bottle, or around £4 – £7 by the glass.

We paid £30 for our drinks plus a £10 tip for the excellent service.

Fitzbillies

Fitzbillies, 52 Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1RG; 01223 352 500

Links

Fitzbillies – http://www.fitzbillies.com/

Tim’s article – http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/nov/11/fitzbillies-tim-hayward-cambridge

Main image credit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/nov/11/fitzbillies-tim-hayward-cambridge

Copyright Tom Lewis 2011

Belgo – Belgian for Beer, Mussels and More Beer

Belgium – famous for beer, Belgian chocolate, Hercule Poirot, and earlier this year it achieved the record for the country with the longest time without a government in modern history. But before the political deadlock, Belgium was also famous for its national dish of moules et frites – otherwise known as mussels and chips.

Which brings us on to one of London’s most popular Belgian restaurants – Belgo Centraal – where they’ve been serving mussels and other Belgian dishes since opening in 1992. Nestled in the heart of Covent Garden, this flagship restaurant of the Belgo restaurant chain specializes in simple Belgian dishes and Belgian Beer at a very reasonable price.

Belgo Centraal is on Earlham Street and the subterranean location is very atmospheric. It is noted for its open kitchens and its waiting staff dressed in monastic inspired uniforms. As well as offering a good selection of wines, Belgo is renowned for serving over 70 different types of beer – everything from Stella Artois and Leffe to more unusual fruit beers flavoured with strawberry, banana or even chocolate. The latter perhaps should be reserved for the more adventurous drinker!

There is an appetizing selection of Starters to choose from. The Goose & Sauterne Pâté is delicious. Or why not try the Warm Salad of Smoked Bacon, Shredded Duck, Eggs & Black Pudding if you want something more substantial. The Salmon Fishcakes are also very good and come served with baby spinach and lime hollandaise.

When it comes to Mains, the signature dish is unsurprisingly the Mussel Pots – a kilo of steamed mussels served in one of four sauces: flavourful Traditionnelle, creamy Marinière, tomato-based Provençale, and oriental Green Thai. Platters and bowls of mussels are also available for diners with smaller appetites. For those who’d like to try a classic Belgian dish, go for the Waterzooi – a tasty combination of chicken, leeks and potatoes in a light cream & chicken broth. Other popular mains include the Rotisserie Chicken – a half chicken basted in Belgian blonde beer & apple juice and served with a choice of delicious sauces; the Beef Carbonnade – beef braised in sweet Gueuze beer with apples & plums; and the Wild Boar Sausages – served with Belgian stoemp mash & berry jus.

If you still have room for Dessert, the Crème Brûlée is highly recommended as is the Brussels Style Waffle. For those wanting to be more indulgent, try the Bread & Butter Pudding or the Belgian Dark Chocolate Cheesecake. If you fancy some fruity liquid refreshment after your meal, the selection of Genever Schnapps is sure to please – the bartender will line up a random choice on a Mixed Stick for that touch of Russian roulette.

Belgo have a range of promotions on offer throughout the week. The Express Lunch Menu is available daily between 12pm and 5pm and is a very good deal – £7.95 gets you one of a selection of main courses served with a choice of Cristal lager, a glass of house wine or a soft drink. There is the special “Beat The Clock” menu – every Monday to Friday between 5pm and 6.30pm, your main course costs the price of the time you order, e.g. order at 6 o’clock and pay £6. There is also a reasonably priced children’s menu if you’re treating the little darlings to a meal out.

As well as Belgo Centraal, the chain also has restaurants in Bromley, Camden, Clapham and Kingsway. The Belgo brand is owned by Tragus Holdings, which also owns the French-styled Café Rouge chain and two chains of Italian restaurants – Strada and Bella Italia.

So, if you’re in the mood for mussels, a visit to Belgo Centraal is highly recommended.

Images reproduced from thewanderingfoody.com

Fitzbillies, Punting and a Perfect Day Out In Cambridge

Cambridge is not a big city – in fact it’s more of a market town with a big university. 

Actually, it’s probably more correct to say that it’s a market town attached to a university, since the “gowns” own most of the “town” and have much of the best of the city as their college grounds either side of the Cam. This central section of river with college courtyards, dons’ gardens, open spaces and grazing cattle is collectively known as the backs and is perhaps the best part of a city that you can easily walk round in under a day.

In volume terms, there are not all that many sights in Cambridge and not a huge variety – it’s just that those we do have are absolutely world class.

It’s easy to get complacent about living in Cambridge and treat the various colleges (31 if you’re counting) as just so many museum pieces along with the odd church, chapel and a castle that is little more than a mound of earth but gives spectacular views over the city skyline.

So occasionally, when the sun shines, as it has finally done recently, it’s nice to remind oneself that we are living in a unique and very beautiful place. 

And so it was that at the weekend we packed a picnic and took the short walk into town to Scudamore’s to take a punt up and down the river along the backs – which is pretty much the only way to see them properly as all the colleges criss-cross the river and it is impossible actually to walk along this stretch of the river. 

I was first taken punting over two decades ago when visiting a friend studying for a Masters here – I had a go and made a complete hash of it and it was only years later that I learnt the golden rule of punting – use the pole to steer the boat. 

The second thing to know is that the front of the punt turns in the opposite direction to the pole and once you know this, it is a relatively easy and relaxing way to get about – albeit not a quick one as speeds of around 1 mile per hour are pretty normal, if not quite good.

It’s certainly a lot more idyllic than the challenge of racing yachts which I did for the first time recently.

Our trip up and down the backs done in just under an hour, we found a spot by the river to watch other people exerting themselves on the longer run to Grantchester and had a picnic lunch. At this point, I wish I could drop in a review of a perfect picnic wine, but the reality is that with two small children to entertain, there was no scope for a bottle of something pink and fizzy followed by a snooze. However, anyone looking for a picnic wine review can find a couple, here and here.

Instead, we took the couple of minutes’ walk to the city’s largest play park at Lammas Land where swings were pushed, roundabouts whirled and general encouragement given.

Instead of the usual ice-creams afterwards, we decided to head to the newly re-opened Fitzbillies to check it out.

I first became aware of Fitzbillies and their famous Chelsea buns many years ago when travelling on business to eastern Europe and I mentioned my home town to an expat there.

“Cambridge,” she said. “Have you tried Fitzbillies’ Chelsea buns ?”. At this point I confessed that although I knew of the shop, I had not tried their buns and vowed to go there as soon as I got back to the UK. 

Heavy, sticky and syrupy, Fitzbillies’ Chelsea buns were legendary and rather delicious in a very rich and satisfying sort of way.

Sadly, somehow or other, the company went out of business a year or so ago, but was bought and recently re-opened by Old Persean Alison Wright.

I know some of this because my daughter is in the same class at school as Alison’s and when we walked in, she said “Look Daddy, there’s her Mum”.

We made our introductions and I explained about my blog and the various other local publications I write for and suggested that perhaps we might do a story on the renaissance of a legend.

Alison agreed and explained that the focus now is much more on the lunchtime food with the cake shop as an add-odd rather than it being primarily a cake shop.

And as our daughters were in the same classes, she very kindly suggested that the children should take a cake each of their own choosing with something for at adults as well.

Number one child picked a cupcake with pink icing and an iced flower on top whilst number two child decided he would like a cream meringue and I selected some mini Florentines.

At home, we sat out in the back garden with coffees and juices and divided up the cakes between ourselves.

All proved to be wonderful – fresh and beautifully cooked from good-quality ingredients.

The cup cake was light and delicious, with the icing not too sweet, the meringue was crisp with rich, thick whipped cream whilst the Florentines were an indulgently chewy, sticky and chocolatey.

One of the things I like about central Cambridge, other than the wonderful architecture, is that we do not have rows and rows of soulless high-street chain shops.

Yes, all the usual suspects are here but the city has preserved its mediaeval street layout and small buildings so that shop sizes are generally small with a decreasing but still large number of independents.

So it is good to have Fitzbillies back as a Cambridge institution – and it’s good to be able to report that the cakes are at least as good as they ever were.

I’d also like to think that it says something about the quality of the schools in the area that it was an Old Persean who not only saw the opportunity and had the vision and tenacity to resurrect, Phoenix-like, a local independent, but also made sure that it was done properly with high standards.

I have previously noted that we are very lucky in Cambridge to have three excellent independent wine merchants. 

The same is true of Fitzbillies and the city would have been all the poorer without it, had it not been brought back to life.

Links

Fitzbillies – no new website yet.
52 Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1RG, UK
Telephone: +44 (0)1223 352500
Opening Days: Mon – Sat (12:00 – 14:30 18:00 – 21:30), Sun (12:00 – 15:00 18:00 – 21:30)

 Scudamore’s Punts – http://www.scudamores.com/

 Main image credit – http://www.varsity.co.uk/news/3698
Chelsea Bun image – http://magpiefiles.blogspot.com/2008/02/fitzbillies-chelsea-buns.html

 Copyright Tom Lewis 2011

The d’Arry’s Cambridge Case

Cambridge cook house and wine shop d’Arry’s is set to launch a “d’Arry’s Cambridge case” of d’Arenberg wines. The gastropub which first set up in Cambridge in 2006 is to start selling a mixed case of some of its most popular d’Arenberg wines via its website, priced at £60 – a discount of 50% on the restaurant price.

Manager of d’Arry’s Cambridge, James Storey said “The idea behind the d’Arry’s Cambridge case is two-fold – to introduce those who have not yet tried d’Arenberg to the wines and also to enable our existing d’Arry’s customers to buy our range of d’Arenberg wines to drink at home.”
 
The mixed case features six of the most popular d’Arenberg wines, but is also available in all-red or all-white versions. The wines are:

White Wines
The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne
The Stump Jump White Blend
The Stump Jump Lightly Wooded Chardonnay

Red Wines
The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon
The Stump Jump Red Blend
d’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache

D’Arenberg, established in Australia’s McLaren Vale in 1912, has become famous for being strikingly individual, turning individuality into an art form; their wines are made with minimal irrigation, gentle basket presses and foot pressing for the reds.
 
The d’Arenberg philosophy is to be deadly serious about their wines right up to the moment they go into the bottle – but that everything afterwards should be about enjoyment.

Wine critic Robert Parker says of d’Arenberg: “This admirable portfolio, made by the multi-talented Chester Osborn includes brilliant quality at the top, very fine wines in the mid-range, and terrific values at the bottom.” Robert Parker Junior. The Wine Advocate, Oct 2004

To promote the launch of the d’Arry’s Cambridge case, d’Arry’s will be holding a series of informal tasting events in the restaurant’s private dining area on Monday nights during October and November. Tickets for the tastings are priced at £12:50 each with the cost refunded for anyone who buys a case on the evening and are available from d’Arry’s.
 
“The idea of the tastings is to stay true to the spirit of d’Arenberg”, says James. “We want people to come along for a fun evening, trying out some great wines which are all about enjoyment.”
 
Cambridge Wine Blogger and member of the Circle of Wine Writers, Tom Lewis, who will be presenting the tasting evenings, said “These d’Arenberg wines are just what the New World should be about at this level – lots of up-front fruit and delicious flavours that go really well with the kind of sophisticated but unpretentious food that d’Arry’s offers.”
 
The tasting events start on Monday October 10th; visit the d’Arry’s website or call 01223 505015 to book.

d’Arry’s Cookhouse and Wine Shop

I have written previously about the gentrification of the Cambridge dining scene that took place during the mid-noughties.

 

Looking back, the one that started it all was perhaps the transformation of the rather scruffy King St Run town pub into the smart, sophisticated and quirky yet unpretentious urban gastropub d’Arry’s, serving the kind of simple but well-made pub foods that match well with the riper and more fruit-driven flavours of New World wines such as Australia’s d’Arenberg which provides not only most of the wine list but also the name itself.

 

We first visited d’Arry’s within a few weeks of it opening and soon became regulars, enjoying the relaxed sophistication of its funky interior, friendly service and well-made but unpretentious food.

 

The prices were also very reasonable and it was the kind of place where one could take young children during the day and not feel out of place.

 

However, over time, d’Arry’s dropped off our radars as other, newer, smarter places opened and we just never quite felt the need to go back to that quiet, somewhat backyard-ish corner of central Cambridge where it is located.

 

Moreover, d’Arry’s has also had something of a run of bad luck with not one but two kitchen fires to cope with and it’s fair to say it has lost something of its original buzz.

 

A few weeks ago, new manager James Storey invited me to meet him for a cup of coffee to chat about ideas for recreating some of the buzz about the place. We kicked around a few ideas to be explored later, but as a first step, he suggested that I come in for a meal as his guest and also meet new Head Chef, Patrick.

 

If you have ever heard a piece of music that you once knew well but haven’t listened to for years and found that with the passage of time it seems to sound somehow different despite its familiarity, you will understand how I felt returning to d’Arry’s after an absence of several years.

 

Yes the edgy, funky decor was still all there – the bare-brick walls, up-turned, cut-off wine bottles for candle holders, the rustic logs and ornate picture frames – but it somehow seemed different.

 

Of course, it’s not d’Arry’s that has changed but Cambridge with several new openings that also do this modern, juxtaposed, mixed-up style of interior design and what was once edgy now feels as though it’s starting to become part of the mainstream.

 

Arriving for a Sunday lunch, we were welcomed by James and opted to sit indoors by the window overlooking the street – the layout of d’Arry’s is somewhat unusual as you enter to see a courtyard straight ahead and either turn left into a private dining area or right into the main restaurant and bar section.

 

Eschewing starters, we went straight into ordering main courses; the children chose fish and chips and a Sunday roast, Mrs CWB opted for a trio of fish and I followed James’ recommendation for duck breast on sweet potatoes with garlic, ginger and a raspberry jus.

 

Wines to match the adults’ meals were brought and whilst the match for the seafood with asparagus was a fairly predictable “Broken Fishplate” Sauvignon Blanc, I was initially a little surprised at the choice of a Stump Jump Riesling for me.

 

However, it proved to be inspired, as the acidity of the wine cut through the strong garlic and ginger flavours whilst it had enough body to stand up to the meatiness of the duck.

 

I have historically been rather unimpressed with Australian Riesling, finding it generally too lean and limey for my taste but this one was a great food-friendly easy-drinker with a soft fullness, good zesty, citrussy acidity, a touch of sweetness and a balanced minerally finish.

 

On the palate it felt weighty and fleshy and had the toasty aroma of fully ripe, thick-skinned grapes. The Sauvignon had a similarly rounded and easy-drinking yet sensible feel with lots of varietal herbaceous aromatics on the nose, crisp mouthfilling acidity on the palate and a minerally finish.

 

Criticisms, if there can be any, are that the wines were served perhaps just a degree or so too warm and that the glasses were a little chunky and undersized for proper appreciation.

 

Part-way through our meal new Head Chef Patrick popped out for a chat and explained that he had previously run a multi-awarded hotel kitchen in Great Yarmouth on the North Sea coast, catering mainly for high-flying oil, gas and renewable energy people transiting through.

 

Arriving at d’Arry’s to find there had been no head chef for several months, Patrick spent the first part of his time just rebuilding the basics but is now looking to put his own stamp on the menu which has some central themes and standards (d’Arry’s is part of a small independent chain which gives a certain degree of buying power for raw ingredients), but does allow for personalisation as well.

 

Originally from South Africa, his influences are Pacific Rim fusion, as evidenced in my duck with garlic and ginger, plus use of fruit from his homeland.

 

I don’t know too much about South African food, but I can’t help feeling that Asian fusion has become a little passé and the buzz these days is more around either rustic Italian or sherry bar tapas.

 

I also think they may be missing a trick of the zeitgeist in not offering a local and / or seasonal menu – not least because Cambridge is in the middle of farming country with several good farm shops within easy reach.

 

That said, the menu does feature more classic dishes such as scallops, smoked salmon and devilled kidneys and in any case our food lived up to my expectations of what d’Arry’s should be – well-made food from good quality ingredients, unfussily prepared and served with just the right amount of panache.

 

However, puddings were the real highpoint of the meal and we opted for a mango and ginger cheesecake whilst the kids chose vanilla ice cream and chocolate fondant.

 

These were some of the best puddings I’ve had in Cambridge – the cheesecake was light yet rich and perfectly balanced, whilst the accompanying dessert wine, The Noble Prankster, was deliciously syrupy with marmalade, peach, apricot, a touch of botrytis and some hints of Christmas spice and mixed peel with a balanced sweet-sour finish.

 

Purely in the interests of research, I also sampled the kids’ puddings and they were extremely good, too – the ice-cream was rich, creamy and flecked with vanilla, whilst the chocolate fondant was perfectly cooked on the outside and deliciously, stickily gooey on the inside.

 

Over coffees, I talked to James more about the pub and its clientele; he explained that it has a strong core of very loyal regular customers who appreciate the value that it offers.

 

This strikes me as a good base to build from if the place can introduce some new and interesting changes at a rate that doesn’t alienate existing customers, but a path that could lead to a downward spiral of increasing focus on value and downward margins if unchecked.

 

Current offers from d’Arry’s include a Friends of d’Arry’s scheme and a Punt & Lunch flyer. These represent good value for the consumer, but to me are merely pricing strategies rather than the kind of exciting, buzzy innovations that will get people talking about d’Arry’s as a must-visit place again.

 

It would be great to see d’Arry’s back on the radar of smart eating places in central Cambridge and, with the possibilities offered by its wine list and private-dining space, I don’t think it will take too much to get there.

 

A two-course a la carte meal with a bottle of wine and coffee at d’Arry’s Cambridge costs around £70 for two people, whilst the Friends of d’Arry’s offers two courses and a glass of wine for £10.

 

Links

 

d’Arry’s Cambridge – http://www.darrys.co.uk/

 

d’Arenberg wines – http://www.darenberg.com.au/

Copyright Tom Lewis 2011

Food & Wine Matching at The Punter, Cambridge

A while ago, I reviewed Cambridge’s first private member’s club, 12a, for my blog (here).

It turns out that the brother of 12a’s front-of-house manager Mark Pope is a chef at local gastropub The Punter, so when I got an invitation from Ben Pope to a food and wine matching evening, I was keen to pop along.

Formerly The Town and Gown, it was previously a somewhat uninspiring place located on the corner of Cambridge’s inner ring road.

However, re-named and made over, it is now a smart, sophisticated and chi-chi place that five years after opening still looks way ahead of its time with its combination of traditional rough-surface oak beams and bare bricks juxtaposed with Victoriana-feel high-back chairs and ornate picture frames.

Arriving unfashionably on time, I was more or less the first there and got to chatting with the presenter for the evening, Jacko from Jascots Wine Merchants about business models, internet retailing, Laithwaites and a run-in he had with another internet-only retailer and one of their producers.

We started with a Prosecco on arrival which Jacko (in the left-hand picture box above) explained is proving much more popular in these harder economic times than Champagne.

There was the opportunity to add a choice of pureed fruits to make a Bellini with berries and cream hors d’oevres and, at the end of a meal, I would have been tempted to try it out, but as an traditionalist, I stuck with it plain as an aperitif. Elegant, light and fresh, it had a slight aroma of pears and some lifted sweetness on the mid-palate.

To me, any Prosecco is never quite as good as good Champagne, but then I can’t imagine ever considering putting fruit puree into a good Champagne as it would be too much of a waste.

As we sat down to eat, Jacko and Punter-owner and Head Chef Paul explained a bit about the evening which had been organised in aid of the East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices.

The format would be first a collection of picnic foods with suggested matching wines followed by a couple of cooked dishes. Paul had devised the menu as a one-off for the evening and sent it to Jacko for wine matches – this is perhaps the hardest way to match a wine, from a simple written description of a non-standard dish where there are so many variables.

Much easier would be to have several possible alternatives and a batch of the food to taste a range of possible options and decide on the most appropriate match. However, clearly that had not been an option and I was intrigued to see how well the matches, done remotely, would work.

Seating had been partially pre-planned, dinner-party-style, and I found myself on a table with Jacko himself plus the editor of one of our local Cambridge magazines, a high-end contract publisher and a young couple, one of whom was an aspiring writer whilst the other was researching a cure for cancer.

With so many creative types around the table, the conversation was lively and wide-ranging as we discussed the merit of back labels with tasting notes on wines (a good thing, in my opinion), natural cork vs screwcap (no strong opinions other than I like the sense of occasion from popping a cork) and writing on the internet vs novels (pick your themes and keep repeating, the internet requires volume and frequency).

The table was laid out picnic-style with rabbit rillettes, parma ham, rabbit liver pate and some very delicious bread whilst Jacko handed out two very different wines to match; a Lugana Trebbiano from Lake Garda and a Maranges from Domaine Bachey-Legros in Burgundy.

The Trebbiano had a minerally nose with aromas of stone fruit, grapefruit and liminess on the palate with some lifted sweetness, good tropical-fruit acidity and a minerally finish. Very good.

However, the red burgundy was a revelation; with a hedonistically textbook Pinot nose of vanilla, mushroom and decaying forest floor, it had lots of juicy sour-cherry fruit acidity and a beautifully soft texture with a toasty, savoury finish.

It was served slightly chilled, a frequent recommendation for lighter reds but something I have never quite had the confidence to do myself – however, in this case it worked very well. I remarked to Jacko how impressed I was with this wine and he explained that 2009 had been a particularly good vintage for this estate.

Next up came a trio of crisp whites – a Chablis Premier Cru from Romaine Bouchard had a smokey, toasty nose, linear stone fruit acidity on the palate, a rounded mouthfilling structure and a long toasty finish. It matched superbly with a dish of potted crab and pickled samphire.

Next was a rather disappointing Riesling from West Cape Howe in Western Australia which felt very tart. Australia seems to be having a bit of a mid-life crisis at the moment with its whites and reminds me a little of an overweight and out-of-date rock start trying to squeeze into a ridiculously skin-tight outfit for a come-back.

The reason we loved Australian whites in the first place was because of their big, ripe, fruit-driven appeal that had all the up-front appeal of Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie. But rather like 70s glam rock, more recent Aussie whites have become bloated parodies of this with the result that there is something of a punk backlash going on, with producers opting for a much more stripped-down, raw and bracing cool-climate feel.

Jacko declared himself seriously unimpressed with this wine, even when resampled and hour or so later.

Much, much later in the evening I resampled one last time and it did finally seem to have rounded out and become something much more pleasant and interesting, but by that stage I was perhaps the only person in the room prepared to give it one final chance.

The last of the trio of whites was a much more instantly appealing Sancerre from Domaine Laporte to match with smoked mackerel. Another classic-style wine, it had a good, typically herbaceous and aromatic nose and rounded, linear, mouthfilling acidity with some toasty smokiness and a very dry, mineral finish which needs food to match.

We then moved on to the cooked part of the meal with a joint of muntjac (a local, very small deer species introduced several hundred years ago and now something of a minor pest) with potatoes, runner and broad beans and mint. With its gamey flavours, the deer was a textbook match for the Pinot we had tried earlier in the evening, but perhaps did not need quite so much barbecue seasoning which threatened to overwhelm the subtle flavours of both the meat and the wine.

As the evening wore on, it became more like a lively, and slightly rowdy, dinner party and ever less like a serious wine-tasting. Jacko proved himself to be opinionated, forthright, outspoken and wickedly funny, worth the price of admission alone and leaning over to me at one point to whisper a schoolboy comment completely unrepeatable yet utterly hilarious.

He also grabbed my tasting notes and took exception to some of my drafted comments as I had written “sour” to refer to the lovely, food-friendly sour-cherry acidity on the red Burgundy which he intepreted literally and took as a criticism.

The final dish was a chorizo and lamb kebab which was matched with a Cal Pla Crianza from Celler Joan Sangentis. The wine itself was full of ripe up-front bramble fruit, vanilla and toasty finish was declared a favourite by many around the table. After the classy and sophisticated Old World style wines from earlier in the evening, I found it rather up-front and primary, but it was a superb match for the lamb which, for some reason, always matches well with this style of Big Red, brambly, fruit-driven wine.

As desserts had already been served at the start of the meal, there was nothing left to do but remember not to scratch my nose or make any other gestures conceivably resembling a bid during the charity auction, enjoy the banter and chat and quietly re-sample the wines to make final notes.

I also popped into the kitchen to say my hellos and thank yous to chef Ben Pope, though I suspect he remembers more of the conversation than I do.

And finally, after chatting with owner Paul about the evening and his plans to hold the event every quarter with a seasonal theme, it really was time to admit defeat and head home.

There were a few leftovers and I took a quarter bottle of the most impressive wine, the red Burgundy, with me, but by the following day, the truffley, mushroomy nose had faded even if the lovely acidity, texture and long toasty finish were still showing well.

Recommended wine

All the wines here were good – even the Australian Riesling with enough air, eventually.

However, to find a good Pinot Noir around £15 is no mean feat – to find a delicious and classy one from Burgundy is quite something, so my recommended wine is the Maranges Vieilles Vignes Pinot Noir 2009, Domaine Bachey-Legros, £16.35 from Jascots

 

Links

The Punter – http://www.thepuntercambridge.com/

Jascots – http://www.jascots.co.uk/

 

Copyright Tom Lewis 2011

Cigar Dinner‏ at Cambridge’s Hotel du Vin

When I first moved to Cambridge over a decade ago, it felt very much like a city outside the influence of London – located (as it was then) over an hour’s train ride away.

 As a tourist hub, we would – and still do – get large numbers of visitors to the city but, with few really good restaurants or hotels of character, the centre did not really cater for locals and one tended to head outside the city to one of the villages for a decent meal.

 Frankly, the local hotels and restaurants just didn’t have to try all that hard – what with a constant, steady stream of one-off visitors from far-off places.

 However, in the mid-noughties, Cambridge experienced a flutter of new, up-market openings which brought a hitherto unseen level of sophistication to my home town.

One of these was the conversion of a row of four city-centre townhouses opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum into an Hotel du Vin, a branch of the upmarket restaurant, bar and hotel that is owned by Malmaison.

I was recently invited by the hotel’s General Manager Jacqui Griffiths to attend a cigar dinner that she was hosting. Although I am a non-smoker, cigars to me have a certain Romance to them – rather like wine – whilst the smell brings back childhood memories. Besides, the last time I went to the Hotel du Vin (see here) I was sufficiently impressed to make sure of not passing up an opportunity to go back.

Over a fresh and moreish whisky sour with canapes, Jacqui explained that the chain is primarily focused on being a restaurant and bar with rooms (albeit somewhat luxurious), rather than an hotel that does food and drink.

All hotel branches are housed in buildings that have been formerly used for something else, as it gives them a sense of character and history, and all have a humidor and a cigar shack – the latter being a sheltered space outside which conforms to anti-smoking legislation but allows somewhere civilised for cigar smokers to congregate.

The first cigar of the evening was a Hoyo De Monterrey, matched with a single malt whiskey from Ledaig on Islay. The whisky was light but peaty with a touch of sweetness and a long, balanced finish. The cigar was, apparently, one of the mildest Cubans with a creamy sweetness and deemed a good match by those partaking.

Moving inside for a starter, introductions were made and I learnt I was something of an interloper in a group of transplant surgeons from Addenbrooke’s hospital up the road, plus an RAF pilot friend, who had all decided to get together for a private party.

As Jacqui later explained to me, the hotel is increasingly providing bespoke private parties of this type and it does seem a very civilised way to get together with a group of like-minded friends.

Introducing myself in my capacity as a wine-writer (rather than my day-job as a number-crunching company director), I was firstly made very welcome but also pleasantly surprised to be told that I had the coolest job in the room – it’s not often a fighter pilot tells you that.

The second surprise was one of the surgeons, puffing expansively on his cigar, announcing he was doing a liver transplant the following morning; I suggested that presumably it would be as routine as changing the spark plugs on a car – open it up, swap the relevant bits over and close back down – to which he replied a liver transplant is far easier than changing the spark plugs on a modern car.

We were also joined by an expert tobacconist who had come along to tell us about the cigars, but not before we had all – somewhat bizarrely but required for legal reasons – signed a disclaimer to say that we acknowledged that his talk in no way constituted encouragement to smoke.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there was a somewhat smokey theme to the food and our starter was smoked eel, truffle potato salad and quail’s egg.

Just north of Cambridge, the cathedral city of Ely was once known as the Isle of Eels (hence its present name) as it was surrounded by marshes full of eels. However, the marshes were increasingly drained in centuries gone by and our eel proved not to have come from the area there, but was still local and from somewhere less than an hour’s drive away.

In any case, it was delicious and matched perfectly with the dry Tokaji from Chateau Dereszla served with it; Hungarian Bar Manager Stefan explained that he had specifically chosen a crisp wine to freshen up our palates.

Tokaji is perhaps more normally associated with sweet wines, but this blend of Furmint and Hárslevelű grapes was beautifully crisp and aromatic with a lovely acidic structure.

Pale in the glass, it was rounded and mouthfilling with tropical citrus and thick-skinned, phenolic ripeness and not only matched with the starter but also cut beautifully through the spicy and intense olive oil served with bread.

It reminded me somewhat of the Austrian style of ripe-yet-dry whites but when I asked Stefan about this, he very politely and gently indicated that his personal preference was for “fruitier, warmer-climate” Hungarian wines.

I guess some old habits and rivalries die hard, however much of polite veneer you put on it, and I couldn’t help noticing Stefan’s pointed reference to Hungary’s greater number of wine-producing regions and wider variety of styles than Austria’s.

At this point, one of the surgeons, with a noticeably Teutonic accent, announced he was actually from Frankfurt in Germany and there was no need to spare his feelings as he felt the same way about Austria, too – more age-old rivalries again. 

The next cigar course was a Vegas Robina Unicos with an aged Jamaican Plantation rum from 2000; dark gold in the glass, the rum had a rich, strong nose with more than a touch of nail polish. However, this was less pronounced on the palate which showed prunes, cinnamon and spice and felt smooth and well-integrated.

Our main course of hot smoked duck breast was accompanied by caramelised mango and a spicy jerk jus matched with a Chilean Pinot Noir from Apaltagua in Curico Valley.

The wine was introduced by the hotel’s new sommelier who explained he is given a very free hand in selecting the wines and spirits and will be putting together a new list over the coming months; enquiring about altitude, I was told the grapes are grown at “800 – 1,200” – “feet ?” I asked; “No, metres” came the reply.

This seemed implausibly high to me at the time, but a bit of quick research on Twitter subsequently suggested this may be entirely possible.

In any case, the wine was very pale and light with an intensely fruity and complex nose of vanilla, spice, mushroom and forest floor. On the palate it showed red berry fruit, gentle acidity and a lovely smooth finish; it was indeed a lovely wine but perhaps a just a little too light for the food and served just a degree or so too warm.

At this point, the next cigar was due and we popped outside for a Bolivar, Coronas Extra and a 20-year-old Baron de Sigognac from Bas Armagnac; Jacqui enquired if I wasn’t tempted to try one of the cigars and in truth I was, but this being a school night, I felt it perhaps was not the best time to try for the first time something whose after-effects I could only guess at.

So I limited myself to sniffing the box of raw cigars and enjoying the Armagnac with its cooked-fruit and coffee nose and the mellowness of 20 years’ aging.

Our final course, a “Burnt Forest” gateau of rich chocolate and sponge, was again delicious and all that remained was to chew the fat with my dinner companions over topics as varied as social media for medical professionals, organ donation rates and vintage sports cars, before heading home.

 A hosted cigar evening at Cambridge Hotel du Vin costs £75 per person for four cigars, drinks and a three-course meal with canapes.

 

Links

Hotel du Vin Cambridge – http://www.hotelduvin.com/hotels/cambridge/cambridge.aspx

Malmaison – http://www.malmaison.com/

With thanks to @vinoremus (http://www.vinoremus.blogspot.com/) and @MickeyCbg (http://blog.michaelgray.org.uk/) for the information about the altitude of Chilean vineyards.

Copyright Tom Lewis 2011

The Willow Tree Bourn Revisited

Earlier this year, I wrote about The Willow Tree, Bourn - a gorgeous gastropub in the picturesque village of Bourn with great food and drink served by friendly staff and led by an awesome couple – head chef Craig and general manager Shaina. A few days ago, on a warm summer’s day, some friends and I decided to head to The Willow Tree, Bourn for a lovely lunch enjoyed while we soaked up the sun on the terrace of this destination gastropub.

On arrival, we were warmly greeted by Shaina and shown to our table outside – a beautiful organic creation shaped from a single piece of wood taken lengthways from a tree. It even still had a nobbly knot coming out of the wood that begged to be touched. I love quirky and vintage furniture and The Willow Tree is an eclectic mix of shabby chic, rococco inspired gilt mirrors, vintage leather sofas, a variety of dining chairs and my favourite piece – a designer wooden white stag’s head displayed proudly inside a gilt frame.

Out on the terrace, the chic touches continue with silver butterflies placed in the topiary, crystals threaded on twigs that dangle from a traditional willow screen and antique clock faces hung randomly along one side of the beautiful willow screen.

The summer menu tastes as good as it looks and the specials on offer are inspired – I particularly liked the Ravioli with Beetroot Pannacotta – an inspired fushia creation that tasted creamy yet still managed to be light and fluffy. Hats off to Craig for coming up with a perfect summer alternative to a cream sauce. Another favourite of mine was the Lime & Vodka Cured Salmon served with Samphire – the combination of sharp citrus, salty salmon and velvety vodka worked brilliantly.

My friends tucked into a generous serving of whitebait as their starter which they followed with The Willow Tree’s famous Bourn Burger which were served with hand cut chips which looked like mini railway sleepers! If you love your chips then these thick tasty chips will definitely satisfy your carb cravings.

As it was a hot summer’s day, the choice for dessert had to be ice cream and sorbet. The Willow Tree have an excellent selection of Mövenpick ice creams and have recently introduced the delectable flavours of Beckleberry’s ice creams and sorbets. These confections are hand made in the North East of England and are truly exceptional. I went for a combination of Raspberry ice cream and Blackcurrant & Kirsch sorbet – all I can say is WOW! The flavours of the Beckleberry offerings stand up admirably to the Mövenpick flavours we have grown to love so much that Craig and Shaina have served to us in the past.

Our waitress, Catherine, was the epitome of customer service excellence. She was attentive without being over-conspicuous and served us in the warm friendly manner we have come to expect from this gem of a gastropub nestled in the Cambridgeshire countryside. I always judge a pub or restaurant not only on the food but also on the attitude of the staff. The Willow Tree gets 10 out of 10 on both counts. Craig is doing an excellent job overseeing what comes out of the kitchen and Shaina has obviously trained her waiting staff very well indeed.

If you would like to experience the incredible hospitality of The Willow Tree, Bourn for yourself then Sunday 14th August is a perfect time to stop by for some tropical chillaxing. Shaina & Craig will be hosting a Caribbean BBQ & Garden Party on 14th August from 2-8pm. On the menu includes the traditional tropical flavours of jerk chicken, curried goat, fiery prawn skewers, rice & peas, corn on the cob, baked plantain, hot & spicy sweet potato and avocado salad.

These will all be washed down with tropical cocktails like Rum Punch and Pina Coladas together with the usual excellent drinks menu served at The Willow Tree, Bourn. In addition, a live steel band will be playing for part of the afternoon and a fantastic local DJ will be spinning some reggae tunes throughout the day to get us all in an island mood.

Places are filling up fast so I highly recommend you book your table by calling 01954 719 775. Alternatively there may be room for you to bring a pinic blanket or rug to lazy away on the grass under the namesake Willow Tree opposite the outdoor terrace. Don’t bring a picnic too though as that’s a bit cheeky and anyway there will be plenty of delicious Caribbean food to savour thanks to Craig’s BBQ.

So, what are you waiting for? Pick up that phone and dial 01954 719 775 and ask to speak to Shaina or one of her team to book your place at the Caribbean Summer Garden Party that anyone who is anyone will be attending!

The Willow Tree
29 High Street, Bourn, Cambridge, CB23 2SQ
Tel: 01954 719775
Like The Willow Tree on Facebook

Images reproduced from thewillowtreebourn.com, reutersmedia.net, tiana-coconut.com and caribbean-pot.com

Brasserie G̩rard РCambridge

It is one of a chain of nineteen countrywide and it is situated on Bridge Street, not far from Jesus Green. The brasserie offers a variety of menus chosen from a rustic part of the French cuisine.

The atmosphere in the establishment is very quaint and classy and the service is very good and professional.  It has a light and airy feel and is a perfect place to experience the world-famous French kitchen. The menu is diverse, including a breakfast menu, a menu à la carte, a dessert menu and they also offer weekend specials on Saturday and Sunday with a main course for only £9.95.  All the food is very affordable, keeping an average bill for a two-course dinner at around £25 – £35 (depending on drink). The restaurant is busy at weekends and I recommend to book a table, but there is usually no problem to find a place for breakfast or lunch.

The location in Cambridge makes it an ideal place to go for a brunch on a Saturday or a lunch for those who like to participate in outdoor sports activities on a weekend, such as rowing, as the Brasserie is situated very close to the river.

I personally used to dine there many times on a weekend and always experienced very professional service and enjoyed the great continental atmosphere. The staff have always been very friendly and I was amazed by the French charm of the restaurant.

My personal recommendations are:

From the breakfast menu:

Oeufs Brouillés: Scrambled free range eggs on toasted brioche – £4.50

Oeufs Bénédictines Royales: Two poached free range eggs on toasted brioche with smoked salmon and Hollandaise sauce – £6.95

From the à la carte menu:

Demi Poulet: Half a chargrilled chicken sprinkled with herbs and your choice of sauce: honey and mustard, garlic butter or mushroom and red wine – £12.95

Filet de Loup: Pan-fried sea bass with Provençal potatoes, braised fennel and a roasted tomato oil – £13.95

Confit de Canard: ‘Maison Lafitte’ duck leg confit served on sautéed potatoes with slices of onions, bacon lardons and wilted spinach in a red wine jus – £13.95

Contact details:

Telephone
01223 448620
Address:
27-28 Bridge Street,
Cambridge,
CB2 1UJ
Opening times:
Monday – Saturday : 9am to 11pm
Sunday : 9am to 10.30pm

For table booking click here.

Image courtesy of: www.hi.nelso.in and www.srimg.eu

Lola Lo Opens in Cambridge

The once famous venue trinity of Cambridge – Soul Tree, La Raza and Ta Bouche – a few months ago was disbanded with the closing of Soul Tree. Gone are the crowds that lined up past Carluccio’s for this former nightclub’s exclusive nights from video shoots from local bands, flashback to 70s disco era (Secret Discotheque), fabulous student nights and three floors of vibrant R&B beats to commercial dance. We have been waiting with baited breath as Soul Tree’s former spot has been lying dormant and seemingly untouched for many months. However on the last weekend in May, Cambridge’s latest nightclub has finally been unveiled.

The question on everyone’s lips – is this venue that the Cambridge public have been waiting for going to be a hit or miss?

In the same vein as Soul Tree, Lola Lo is set over three floors each with their own bar and entertaining and complimentary bar staff to boot. The top floor, akin to Revolution, has a rooftop terrace which if Cambridge can hold on to the summer sun is bound to be popular with regulars and tourists alike.

It is rumoured that Lola Lo had a £750,000 upgrade changing the once dingy nightclub into a Polynesian paradise fitted with authentic decor, hand carved woods, bamboo lined walls, sultry lighting, private booths and a dancefloor to die for.

The club can currently handle a maximum capacity of 520 and will be open all week. So far it has been suggested that Cambridge’s international student community will be catered for by the club nights “Mi Casa, Su Casa” and “Kitsch”. Branching out and slightly diversifying on the weekend Lola Lo will include “Zombie Nation” and “Tiki Beats” which have performed very well at the club’s other sites in Oxford, Brighton and Norwich.

Some of our editors went down to take a look and agree that the mixologists who served us are a dab hand at flaring an on-the-spot cocktail of your choice – however unorthodox the ingredients are. One of our editors was particularly pleased, having spent much time in the Caribbean, to see a fine array of speciality rums to complement any palate. The drinks on offer include a good range of champagnes and the staple of one of our other editors diets – Grey Goose Vodka.

Lola Lo’s General Manager Mark Whitmore says “We know that Lola Lo will be a wonderful addition to Cambridge’s vibrant nightlife. We are expecting a huge summer and are really excited about it”.

Our editors wish everyone at Lola Lo the best however have unanimously voted that they would rather spend their evening at 12a where the cocktails surpass those that Lola Lo produces.

We would be interested in your view as to which club you prefer.

Quote reproduced from Explorer Magazine June 2011 edition

Images reproduced from varsity.co.uk

The Three Horseshoes – Madingley‏

City Connect’s wine critic Tom Lewis – the Cambridge Wine Blogger – reviews one of his favourite gastropubs in Cambridgeshire – the Three Horseshoes in Madingley.

There comes a time when you have a young family when going for a meal means just finding somewhere that will keeps the kids occupied and not be too sniffy about a bit of noise; if the food is memorable, it’s a plus. Occasionally, however, you tell the kids it’s a special occasion and that they must behave nicely as they are going to a Smart Restaurant.

In the last decade of living in Cambridge, there is one place that we have kept coming back to – the Three Horseshoes based in Madingley, a small village just outside Cambridge with some thatched cottages, a rather grand-looking hall and the pub itself in the centre.

It has been a typical gastropub since before the term was coined – a thatched cottage on the outside, it has a modern, stripped-wood interior at the front which forms the bar area and a smarter restaurant area at the back which extends into the conservatory looking out onto a garden with fields beyond.

The Three Horseshoes was originally part of a small group of local gastropubs run by an MW, but was bought out by chef-patron Richard Stokes a few years ago. The change of ownership does not seem to have changed much in the way things are done, which is a Good Thing.

Wines are served by the glass, but a bottle is better value, so I ordered an Alpha Zeta Garganega from Veneto and announced I would not be driving home.

I’ve had Garganega only occasionally before and on this occasion, tasted blind, I would have confidently (but wrongly) sworn it was an Alsace Pinot Blanc – crisp and appley on opening with ripe pineapple acidity and a smooth texture, it developed into something richer and more mouthfillingly heavy with a honeysuckle waxiness, spicy, perfumey notes and a hint of smokiness during the meal – it proved to be a great match for the subsequent food with a great balance of acidity and body.

After bread with oil and vinegar for dipping, starters were sheep’s milk ricotta dumplings with deep fried sage leaves for some of us, whilst I opted for a selection of salamis with bruschetta.

The Three Horseshoes has always taken a rustic Italian inspiration for its menus, refined it a little but not too much and for its bar menu, at least, served up hearty portions.

For the main, we all picked for the same choice – a piece of pan-fried salmon with smashed cannellini beans, spinach and a salsa. There are some things that should not be messed with and to my mind salmon is one of those; it was served as it should be, well-cooked and well-flavoured, pink and flakey with a generous quarter of lemon to squeeze, but for me the highlight was actually the spinach which had a wonderful depth of earthy flavour.

We were more diverse in our choice of puddings – the kids opted to share a burnt caramel ice-cream with biscotti, some of us had panna cotta which was light and gooey but deliciously creamy, whilst I chose the apple crumble with creme fraiche ice-cream.

If you like your puddings rich and satisfying, then the Three Horseshoes could be your kind of place – my crumble was a generous bowl of lightly stewed and still firm apple chunks with a rich crunchy, toasty topping.

There is no children’s menu, no portions of chips, but helpfully, when they saw we had two kids they offered to divide one portion into two and serve them separately which is about the most child-friendly gesture I have seen in a long time and typical of the attentive and professional, but friendly and unpretentious service.

In our household, a measure of whether we like somewhere is if we’ve been three times or more; well, I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been to the Three Horseshoes over the years and I’m pleased to say that on this latest visit, the quality of the food and the welcome was as good as it’s always been.

The Alpha Zeta Garganega is available in Cambridge, at least, from Noel Young Wines and Cambridge Wine Merchants; both do mail order.

The Three Horseshoes
High Street
Madingley
Cambridge
CB23 8AB
Tel: 01954 210221

Images reproduced from 1pumplane.files.wordpress.com

Hotel Du Vin & Bistro – Cambridge

City Connect’s wine critic Tom Lewis – the Cambridge Wine Blogger – shares his experience of a lunchtime visit to Hotel Du Vin & Bistro in Cambridge.

Central Cambridge is a beautiful place and a regular feature on the tourist circuit, but rather as a result of this, the quality of restaurants in the centre of town is not generally that great.

However, in recent years, the city has smartened its act up a little and with ever more London commuters living in and around the city, demand for decent restaurants has increased.

A few years ago, hoardings went up in front of a row of late-Victorian townhouses on Trumpington Street just opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum. What emerged shortly afterwards was Cambridge’s newest sophisticated bistro and luxury hotel, the Hotel Du Vin.

Hotel Du Vin is an upmarket chain of over a dozen hotels owned by the Massey Partnership which oddly claims to be a PR firm, albeit specialising in luxury travel and luxury goods. The Hotel Du Vin website talks of “quintessential British style. Elegant and unpretentious. Combine this with great spirit, wit, an unquestionable devotion to wine, and you have captured the essence of Hotel du Vin”.

I had popped in there a few months ago for a quick, informal business meeting with a contact after work and was very impressed by the quirky and sensitive use of space and the cosy, yet modern and unpretentious feel.

For this visit to the bistro, I was attracted by the homegrown and local menu on offer and wondered what seasonal east Anglian produce might be on offer in late autumn.

One of my principles of eating out is to try something different from what we might normally have at home and more or less as a result of this, our choices for all three courses were made for us. Eschewing the sausages (a staple of CWB dinners), we went for pork pie followed by pollock.

The pork pie was dense and meaty, with a satisfying pastry crust; it was served with garnished leaves and a delicious plum chutney with just the right amount of spice and a great balance between sweet and sharp.

The pollock came with chorizo and a gently spiced tomato sauce with again, a noticeable-but-restrained flavour of cumin, and sat on a small bed of wilted dark green leaves.

As it was lunchtime and we had two small and demanding children to get back home to, we limited ourselves to a couple of glasses of Manzanilla sherry; salty, dry and pungently yeasty, it was also superbly well-balanced with great length and depth of flavour.

When the dessert menu came round, we had already decided and ordered the sticky toffee pudding and chantilly cream without hesitation. Like the rest of the meal, it was simple yet full of delicious flavour and excellently made – the pudding light, just the right amount of rich toffee sauce not to be too cloying and the sweet chantilly cream balancing it all out perfectly.

And thinking back, that balance was the theme of the meal – nothing too flashy or obviously crowd-pleasing, but really well-cooked and well-balanced food kept simple yet sophisticated.

In a city like Cambridge with so much passing trade, it takes a certain degree of confidence, if not bravery, to serve food which impresses not with immediate flashiness but with quiet, understated confidence. As a Cambridge resident – and not a tourist - it’s a decision I appreciate.

A lunchtime meal for two from the Homegrown and Local menu with drinks, service and charitable donation cost £60. Click here to see a sample menu.

Hotel du Vin & Bistro Cambridge
15-19 Trumpington Street
Cambridge
CB2 1QA
Tel: 01223 227 330

Image reproduced from travelinsider.qantas.com.au