Tripping to Asia and back in one night

We organised yet another team dinner out in Cambridge, this time deciding to hit a restaurant called Asia. I’d read some great things about it so I was quite excited to do so. I’d arranged the booking a week in advance, although I was surprised when I called up the day before our dinner to find out that our booking disappeared into the ether. Fortunately they still had space for our change in dining numbers.

We sat at a very local freehouse (St Radegund) in Cambridge (highly recommended for a very pub-like experience) when I received a call from the restaurant telling me that their Thai chef did not turn up. I thought this was quite nice of them, though understandable, when half of their menu is Thai.

We also had strange service throughout the entire night, mainly because we had a bit of a newbie waiter asking one of his colleagues to come across. I think it was the first five questions that sent him running that triggered us to have a bit of a laugh of it throughout the night. Strangeness continued throughout the evening, with the wine menu being presented with an one extensive page each, of red and white wines, yet then to be told only four bottles were available of the 20+ listed.

On to the food. The menu was pretty large, although being “pan-asian” they only seemed to have Indian/Pakistani and then Thai foods. This is probably a good choice because pan asian restaurants tend to offer greater variety of cuisines at the cost of quality. Fortunately they hadn’t sacrificed quality. I skipped the starters, although everyone else said their starter was delicious. They certainly looked like it. Then the mains finally arrived and I almost regret ordering the plethora of side dishes.

I ordered their Chicken Lababdar (Tandoori chicken tikka cooked in lababdar gravy with fresh ginger, green chilli, coriander and finished with cream) which ended up deliciously spicy and creamy at the same time. It was a hugely generous serve (as were all of the main dishes), hence regretting the presence of all the side dishes we ordered.

We ended up taking all the leftover food home. Despite all the strangeness, if you simply treated this as an Indian/Pakistani restaurant the food is definitely worth going for. I can also recommend ordering their mango creme brulee.

Name: Asia Dining Room
Found at: 66 Regent Street, Cambridge, CB2 1DP

Cambridge Chop House

Cambridge houses two chop houses, run by the same group of people. We went to the one located in the heart of the ring road, The Cambridge Chop House (opposed to their other one, opposite my favourite Cambridge gastropub, The Punter). We tried this one because I was told the atmosphere was much nicer, and with a cellar dining room, did have a lot more of an intimate atmosphere.

Wanting some greens, I started with the Roasted fennel, orange and red onion herb salad – a light and refreshing way to start the meal. The portion size was decent and aniseed-flavoured fennel went well to contrast the sharp herb and slightly tangy orange segments.

They had a number of specials that had gone that day, and what was surprising about this “Chophouse” is lack of a “meat board” or anything like it. In fact, I only remember them having one or two types of steaks! Strange for a chophouse. I succumbed to their temptation of a Venison Wellington, Mash and Gravy that the menu noted (and the staff emphasised) the wait for an additional 20 minutes. Considering that we weren’t in any particular rush, I thought that would have been fine.

As you can see from the picture above, the wellington ended up quite a massive portion and it took me a while to even make a dent in it. I was worried that it wouldn’t come with greens either, so I’d ordered an additional bowl but it also came with some broccoli. It doesn’t hurt to have more greens does it?

Service was odd throughout the evening with waitresses being rather direct. It’s not like they were impolite, but there was definitely an oddity to it and I still can’t quite properly explain it. I’d definitely recommend this over a number of the chain restaurants in Cambridge.

Name: The Cambridge Chop House
Found at: 1 King’s Parade, Cambridge CB2 1SJ

Cambridge’s Midsummer House

To celebrate the end of our project, a number of us decided to take the plunge and book in a dinner at Midsummer House. Located in the middle of Midsummer Commons’ park and right next to the river, I can imagine that it would be particularly lovely eating al fresco in the outdoors. Fortunately in winter when it’s much colder and particularly damp, the bright indoor eating area does just fine. We were one of the first tables to be seated at 7pm, although I think we were also one of the last remaining tables at the end of the night, obviously enjoying the food and wine that was soon to come.

When we arrived, they took our coats and led us to our table – a plain white table clothed round table right next to their bay windows where we could see fairy lights dotting their outdoor garden. We had an apertif to start (a number of gin and tonics and champagne for the table) where we then got a look at the menu. Midsummer House does do a number of dishes for vegetarians but their tasting menu is predominantly mixtures of meats and seafood that probably wouldn’t be that appealing. We ended up with the tasting menu (a number of courses for £85). Here’s a picture of Midsummer House from the outside before dinner:

To begin with, we had a number of small amuse bouche. I don’t remember exactly what this dish was, but it was some sort of foam dish with a light fruit. It was a nice way to start the palatte as it had sharp citrus flavours that stimulated the taste buds.

Whilst we perused the menu, we were then offered a number of other canapes including a whitebait fritter (the fried things in the left side of the picture below), and a bread puff filled with a savoury mixture. I remember both were light crisp and almost too easy on the way down.

After deciding on the tasting menu, a small cart arrived by the tableside, where they prepared a palette cleanser. With small round bowls that looked like mini balloons, they dispensed a canister including yet another type of foam.

It was a pink grapefruit and champagne foam! Hurrah. The flavours of the grapefruit were particularly sublime although you could taste the fizz from the champagne and was a lovely way to cut through the savoury tone of our canapes. I’m a little bit over the whole foam thing, but at least it was guaranteed to be a light way of starting.

Our first real course on the tasting menu was a White Onion, Apple and Scallion bisque. The apple was cut into small chunks, providing the texture to, an otherwise, monotonic but creamy soup. It was served in an impressive pleated bowl.

After being warmed up slightly by the soup, we then moved onto a Beetroot cannelloni, filled with small bits of goats cheese served with a horseradish sorbet, and a celery side salad. The cannelloni was really light and wasn’t too overpowering with the beetroot flavour. Its crispness as you cut into a small chunk then led you to a perfect pairing of salty goats cheese, without being overwhelming. Adding in the heat of the horseradish and surprising cold from the sorbet, was an amazing mouthfeel to last. I was a huge fan of this particular dish that was also vegetarian friendly.

Our next dish was definitely less vegetarian friendly, being Sautéed scallops topped with iberico ham, some fresh sage, and then a creme fraiche topped with green olives. The scallops were delightfully cooked – browned on the outside yet soft and perfectly cooked flesh. The iberico ham wasn’t overpowering, being shaved extremely thin and it worked really well with the other elements. Interestingly they didn’t actually describe all the elements on the plate when they put the dish down although we had great guess as a group picking all the remaining ingredients.

The next course soon arrived, Sweetbreads, pistachio, maple syrup and mouli. I remember thinking how the maple syrup could have dominated the lighter flavours of sweetbread, but was pleasantly surprised when you had the strange sweetness but not in the concentrated burst I’d feared. The mouli provided a nice contrast to the dish as well.

The next dish was Langoustine and Cuttlefish Risotto. As you can probably tell from the picture below, the risotto wasn’t a true risotto – instead made up of a cuttlefish cut into perfectly small cubes resembling the white firmness one would expect from a well made risotto. The langoustine was perfectly cooked, super sweet and went down almost too fast.

Our next dish was a “Pousse Cafe” meant to be drunk as a single shot. I remember it being fairly warm, and made up of a number of different savoury soups of different textures. It was brilliant how they layered the different flavours that when it was tipped into your mouth, then turned into a wonderful experience, further warming the belly as it made its way down. Yum!

After this enjoyable experience, we had the Pigeon, sweet potato and cocoa nibs. As you can the pigeon was pistachio-crusted which I thought was going to overpower the pigeon but simply added an interesting texture dimension to the dish. Pigeon, being slightly more gamey was much more tougher than what I was expecting but we still managed to have no problems cutting into it with a butter knife.

The cheese cart arrives – hurrah! With a huge selection of many different types of cheeses. It is actually an additional course (£5 for the small plate, and £12 for the large). Interestingly, the small plate ended up with four cheeses, the large five cheeses although I wasn’t sure if you could pick many many more for the large plate. The sizes of the cuts weren’t noticeably different.

After the cheese course, our desserts started arriving, the first being a Lemon grass topped with lady grey mousse. I thought it was a very interesting concoction and cleverly put together – the citrus tones working well to complement each other. It was a nice, light creamy dessert that was actually a pretty significant size.

Our next dessert was Warm kumquats served with lemon thyme ice cream that did well to continue the citrus-based themes of desserts. The kumquats looked like they had been caramelised with some sugar, being very potent on their own. I felt the pressure to down this one as the warmth from the fruits started to turn the ice cream to cream and it was definitely great to have that hot and cold contrast again with complementary flavours.

Our final “dessert” of the evening was this spectacular Tiramisu that was a much more deconstructed version of any tiramisu you’d likely ever see. You have the marscapone element as a cold ice cream, a dark chocolate truffle sitting to the side, and a chocolate tube containing the coffee cream with amazing cotton candy sitting on top. They brought each to the table before pouring the shot of espresso right through the cotton candy and in the middle of the tube that then spilled on to the rest of the plate. This was definitely one of the many desserts you wanted to keep lasting.

We then had some coffees and tea with the petite fours (which I didn’t try because I was so full and chocolate was definitely too rich after that series of desserts).

Amazingly that wasn’t the last of it when they brought out the final dish, Freshly sugared Beignets (AKA Donuts) with a lemon marmalade and freshly made creme anglaise (i.e. custard). Despite being particularly full I couldn’t stop myself from trying this. The custard was absolutely divine and the donuts light and not sickeningly sweet. A great surprise at the end of the meal.

Service was very good throughout the evening – not even noticing when they took plates away. One thing they could improve on is if their sommelier talked about the various wines as we went through the evening with the dish – rather than simply pouring them and then walking away. The wine tasting menu looked like this:

  • Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, Francois Chidaine, Loire Valley, France, 2008
  • Vin de Pays d’Oc, One Block Muscat, Domain de Treloar, Roussillon, France, 2006
  • Chenin Blanc, Rudera, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2008
  • Albarino, Valminor, O Rosal, Rias Baixas, Spain, 2008
  • Shiraz, Oliver’s Taranga Vineyard, McLaren Vale, South Australia, 2003
  • Tokaji Aszu, 4 Puttonyos, Disnoko, Tokaji, Hungary, 2004
  • Pedro Ximenes Viejo, Noe, Gonzales Byass, Jerez, Spain, NV

The Punter in Cambridge

Another great find by some work mates, The Punter is definitely a true gastropub. The relatively recently renovated interior is beautiful with exposed wooden beams (mind the head) and artful wallpaper and artwork for sale hanging from the different walls.

This place is definitely worth booking as it is is definitely popular with locals for good reason. They have a great selection of wines (over 90) and with an ever changing menu from light bites to big meals, it is a perfect spot for trying something new.

On the day that we went, I started the meal off with a stilton broccoli soup accompanied by plenty of well crisped croutons to give some more contrast to the dish. The flavours were deep and bold and was a perfect way to start a dinner on a cold evening in Cambridge.

I then went for the Hunter’s chicken pie which was a hearty, massive pie dish filled with a luscious pie filling. Rather than chunks of chicken, they’d opted for a deboned version with small strands of chicken floating around in a creamy sauce with vegetables. I had to order a side of their wonderfully crisp, fluffy chips as well which was perfect for dipping in this divine sauce. I was pretty full and probably shouldn’t have ordered dessert, but my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach that night…

So I still ordered the cardamom creme brulee for dessert. It was quite a nice brulee with that perfect set custard texture and a caramelised, but importantly not burnt sugar crust on top. Unfortunately it, too, was such a large serve that I couldn’t finish it that night.

We had a really great time at The Punter. It’s a great gastropub with lots of character and awesome food. Whilst service wasn’t as prompt as one could hope for, it was still very friendly and hospitable considering how busy it seemed that night.

Name: The Punter
Found at: 3 Pound Hill, Cambridge, CB3 0AE
Website: None but you can see a review here. Rating: 8 out of 10

Restaurant 22

For the last three months of 2009, I was travelling to Cambridge for a project. Unlike Marlow, I only stayed over two or three times during the project. Cambridge has a much greater variety of foods than Marlow, and Restaurant 22 is one of those little gems worth visiting for dinner. Excuse the poor photos in this post since they were taken with my iPhone.

The restaurant looks more like a supper club, with the owners converting an old house into a restaurant. The seating capacity is quite small with only the ground floor entrance as the main dining room (seating about 30ish people) and then a private room seating about 8 or 10 about. It’s even one of those British houses that still have carpet in their toilets! Fortunately the whole place is very well kept and spotless. They focus on providing a two or three course meal for a reasonable amount, and with an extensive wine list to pair with all the dishes.

We were given an amuse bouche, of a small cup of a creamy cauliflower soup with some basil oil drizzled on top. Considering that it was so cold outside, this small surprise added a great start to the meal. Unfortunately none of my photos of the rabbit terrine with an apple chutney and toasted brioche turned out. It was a cold starter, and the you can at least tell the terrine was home made with hearty chunks of rabbit.

Another surprise arrived shortly afterwards with a small palette cleanser in the form of a scoop of pear sorbet. This was deliciously fruity with tones of honey throughout.

My main meal soon arrived shortly afterwards, being a Blackened Sea Bream with Winter Vegetable Casserole. The fish was nicely cooked with a crisp skin and still soft flesh that fell apart with the fork yet still remaining juicy. The winter vegetable casserole was nice and hearty as well.

Dessert was a perfect ending to a great meal, a sticky date pudding with ice cream. Who doesn’t like those sensations of hot and cold mixing together with a light cake surrounded by a rich sauce. Delicious.

I’d highly recommend dining at the Restaurant 22. It’s a nice little find and its intimate and unique atmosphere definitely has a lot of charm. It’s admittedly not great for parties over six or more and perfect for tables of two to four.

Name: Restaurant 22
Found at: 22 Chesterton Road, Cambridge, CB4 3AX
Website: (bookings recommended!) Rating: 9 out of 10