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
Tel: 01954 210221
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