C’est Japon à Suisha – Ottawa (Canada)

It’s been over 25 years since I visited Ottawa so a trip to Canada’s capital was long overdue. It’s a city I took for granted whilst living in Montreal and Toronto but now that I’ve been in England for over a decade, I decided to squeeze in a quick visit between Canadian cities. Besides, Paulo had never been to Ottawa before.

I did no foodie research before arriving (very unlike me, I know) and decided to go with the flow. On our last day in Ottawa, I surfed the ‘net and found recommendations for a great Japanese restaurant: C’est Japon à Suisha, formerly known as Suisha Gardens. I noted it has been around for over 40 years – always a good sign! Interestingly, I noticed the address was on the same street as our hotel but what I didn’t realise was that it was right across the road. There’s some irony in discovering a place online that was in front of my face all along!

The establishment’s name, C’est Japon à Suisha, is a bit of a mouthful but it works. “C’est Japon” is French for “this is Japan” and reflects the authentic menu and setting. “Suisha” is the water wheel gracing the front of this traditionally styled restaurant and a nod to its previous name. The whole place oozes charm, from our warm and welcoming greeting to the short walk to our table past a badger, a brook babbling over stones, a samurai helmet and a lucky cat sitting on the sushi bar.

Wait, what? A badger? Yes, it seems the tanuki is traditionally a symbol of business in Japan. TA-NU-KI also means to excel over others. Not so random after all.

The basement has Japanese-style tatami rooms and private rooms for parties, gatherings and meetings.

We weren’t seated at the sushi bar but could observe the chef from our table. The stunning bar, complete with sushi floating on boats, is the crowning glory.

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Carriages – Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire (UK)

I’ve always wanted to dine on a train. No, not a sarnie and a bag of crisps on the 1.45 to King’s Cross – I’m talking about eating in style with white tablecloths, fine china and weighty cutlery. I had that opportunity last month aboard Carriages, a series of refurbished vintage trains in a purpose-built railway station in Fen Drayton, less than 15 miles from Cambridge city centre.

Access to the railway-themed restaurant is through Bannold, a supplier of landscaping materials, where a staff member will lead you past the display gardens to the impressive station house and carriages.

There’s a railway station in Fen Drayton? Well, not quite. The trains are stationary so you’re not actually going anywhere, but a visit to Carriages does take you back to the 1920’s and 1930’s, the golden age of luxury rail travel. There are even moving train sound effects to complement the experience. Carriages is the brainchild of Bannold owner Michael Attle who was inspired to build the concept when he purchased a disused part of an old railway platform. The recreation is remarkable, complete with signal box and original Pullman style carriages.

The station house has been meticulously recreated with a booking hall, station master’s office, traditional waiting room, real fireplace, antique seats, cigarette dispenser, luggage trolley and old-fashioned suitcases.

The menu features cream tea (two scones, homemade jam or lemon curd and tea or coffee) or afternoon tea, which needs to be booked in advance for 1pm or 3pm. I made a reservation for afternoon tea to spend time with friends and celebrate Alison’s birthday along with Paola and Meggy. We loved every minute of it!

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The Ivy Cambridge Brasserie – Cambridge (UK)

The Ivy Cambridge Brasserie is the latest addition to The Ivy Collection’s string of sister restaurants to The Ivy, the renowned London landmark in Covent Garden founded in 1917. Staying true to the restaurant’s premium heritage brand, the Cambridge location on picturesque Trinity Street delivers the same elegance and prestige but still retains the individual elements of this historic city. There are many nods to Cambridge including artwork inspired by academia, science, punting, rowing and cycling. There’s even a cocktail named Newton’s Apple. The Ivy’s notable harlequin stained glass has been recreated for the front doors to showcase the brand’s iconic look.

The interior design is pure art deco opulence, featuring striking contemporary art, vibrant colours, polished marble floors, bronzed antiques, plush armchairs, buttery leather banquettes, soft lighting and a shimmering bar. The bartenders are clad in white jackets and black bow ties. There’s a coat check at the door. The whole building is the epitome of glamour!

The restaurant is bigger than it looks from the outside as it goes quite far back. There’s even The Boat Room, a private dining room in the basement.

The layout is open with some seating facing outwards so you can see and be seen – in true Ivy celebrity style. There are also cosy corners that still give a sense of space. The ambience is conducive to socialising without being loud.

The Ivy Cambridge Brasserie is sophisticated and polished, but it’s also approachable and casual, as reflected in their “smart casual” dress code. It’s old-school hospitality without the stuffiness, a relaxed atmosphere amid high luxury. The best of both worlds!

The kitchen at The Ivy Cambridge Brasserie is overseen by Head Chef Stuart Conibear. Food and drinks are served from dawn to dusk, offering an all-encompassing menu of British classics and global contemporary dishes. Breakfast, elevenses, weekend brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, lights snacks, dinner and cocktails – they promise a lot. So how’s the food? Is the restaurant merely style over substance?

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The Boot – Histon, Cambridge (UK)

The Boot, located in Histon near Cambridge, is the latest addition to The White Brasserie Company’s portfolio of pubs in affluent villages and towns. The company, launched by celebrity chef Raymond Blanc (he sits on the board), has already accumulated a whopping 17 brasserie pubs in the last 4 years. The Boot is the latest addition and the first in Cambridgeshire. Refurbishing tired, old pubs into high end establishments with good, expertly prepared food is clearly a formula that works and The Boot is no exception. C’est magnifique!

I booked a table for 4 people on a Sunday evening and the place was buzzing when we arrived at 6pm. I was almost sorry to walk past the cosy pub area with its comfy seats and fireplace but then the space opened up with a real wow factor. Past the big, welcoming bar we were led to our table in the pub’s new extension – a stunning oak-beamed dining room filled with customers. My photos don’t do the place justice – I concentrated on the empty areas at the end of the evening so as not to bother my fellow diners.

It had been a busy day so we were told that some of the menu items had already sold out or were on the verge of selling out. As a newly opened brasserie adjusting to their supply and demand, this was understandable and we appreciated being informed at the start. No matter as there was plenty to choose from, including the daily specials.

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Old Crown – Girton, Cambridge (UK)

The Old Crown in Girton near Cambridge recently changed pub operators and was refurbished to a high standard. The lease of this beautiful village pub restaurant, owned by Greene King, was acquired by the Macmillan family who own Stuart Inns, a Suffolk-based restaurant and pub company with an excellent track record. The Old Crown is their first venture in Cambridgeshire.

Following a six-figure investment, the Old Crown is nothing short of stunning with its new art deco look based on the heritage of the 1920’s building. There is luxury in every detail, from the plush fabrics of the comfy seating to the premium fixtures and fittings. The bar makes a striking sight with its copper top and art deco tiles.

There’s no doubt that the pub is aimed at the high-quality end of the market but it’s warm, welcoming and child friendly. The areas are distinct but flow well with an extended dining space, cosy corners with fireplaces, sumptuous stools by the bar and an abundance of outdoor seating.

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Lavenham Blue Vintage Tea Rooms – Lavenham, Suffolk (UK)

Lavenham Blue Vintage Tea Rooms caught my eye as soon as we drove up the road to Lavenham’s market square on a late Friday afternoon. This charming 15th century timber-framed cottage, with its striking windows, white walls and blue signs, sits on the corner overlooking the square. The welcoming front door is on the side of the house and there’s even a garden. We felt as though we had stumbled upon a hidden gem.

Paulo and I, unsure of the closing time, couldn’t resist popping into the tea room to have a look. It turns out we arrived 15 minutes before closing but we were warmly greeted by owner Amanda Mortimer and not made to feel rushed in the least. Although we didn’t have to, we kept our order simple so we wouldn’t stay too long. We settled in comfortably at a table by the window and admired the surroundings.

The gramophone, tea pot collection, lace tablecloths, bunting, candy jars and old family photos added to the ambience. Everything about this delightful tea room softly stated vintage, from the name Lavenham Blue reminiscent of the 18th century nursery rhyme Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly) to the white and blue colours bringing to mind blue patterns on antique white china.

It’s no wonder we felt so at home. We found out that Amanda converted the ground floor of her lovely cottage into this tea room. Every single customer is like a welcomed guest into her house.

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Bill’s – Cambridge (UK)

I’ve heard good things about Bill’s, being one of the better chains, so Paulo and I had dinner at their restaurant in Cambridge. Its location on pretty Green Street has a very welcoming exterior.

The interior is cosy with a rustic feel but there’s a definite emphasis on the visual. The décor is a juxtaposition of distressed wood and sparkly chandeliers, with an abundance of Bill’s products lining the shelves and blackboards scrawled with recipes and products. It was sensory overload and I couldn’t help feeling that the barrage of information was a not-so-subtle hint to buy, buy, buy. I get it, Bill’s… but I don’t need the constant reminders to buy into the brand. Service and good food will do that for me and I have to say that Bill’s delivered on both counts during our visit.

When I walked past the stairs towards the back, I realised that the restaurant is much bigger than I expected with lots of room for more tables. There’s even a little corner with comfy sofas. There are a few long tables so it’s an ideal place for big groups.

Even though the décor is nice, the restaurant feels more like a shop than a place to unwind over a leisurely dinner. Perhaps this ambience is more suitable for breakfast or lunch. Nevertheless, the friendly and pleasant service from our waitress went a long way in making us feel relaxed.

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Cafe@abantu – Cambridge (UK)

Cafe@abantu moved to Cambridge in January 2018 and is a welcome addition to the independents in the city centre. When popular café Stickybeaks decided to close their doors, Cafe@abantu’s owner Wendy Slade saw an opportunity to take her business to the next level and moved the café from Bourn to Cambridge.

I’ve been following Abantu’s journey since I first started this blog, from their original location at Manor Farm in Bourn (here), their subsequent move to Wysing Arts Centre (here) to their new premises on Hobson Street, at the heart of Cambridge city centre.

It can be argued that Cafe@abantu’s prominent location means it can no longer be described as a hidden gem. It’s visible at the end of Sussex Street, a very pretty pedestrian area. However, Cafe@abantu is still a gem amongst the usual high street chains and retains all of its charm.

The interior hasn’t changed much from Stickybeaks but I’m happy that my favourite table, the tiled colourful one, has been given pride of place by the window. It’s also heartwarming to see that Abantu’s original wooden sign has been retained.

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The Three Horseshoes – Madingley, Cambridge (UK)

The Three Horseshoes has been an integral part of Madingley, a lovely village three miles from the centre of Cambridge. The charming pub/restaurant entered an exciting new chapter in January 2018 when it joined Cambscuisine, a local independent restaurant group. The Three Horseshoes is Cambscuisine’s ninth venture, which includes their other country pubs The Cock (Hemingford Grey), The Tickell Arms (Whittlesford) and The Crown & Punchbowl (Horningsea). I’m a big fan of Cambscuisine’s model of good food, service and ambience. I’ve blogged about The Cock here and here, as well as The Crown & Punchbowl here.

Photo courtesy of Cambscuisine

It was a smooth transition as Cambscuisine inherited the excellent team at The Three Horseshoes. In addition, the building didn’t need a full redecoration and was already in fine order. However, some beautiful decorative touches recalling the building’s history have been added, such as antique saddles, mirrors with bridal leather surround and wall-mounted horseshoes. Gone is the formality of white tablecloths. The solid oak tables are bare and fuss-free, lending a more relaxed vibe to the dining experience.

The dog-friendly pub area is more approachable with its cosy corners and wood fire… and the pints are now cheaper – bonus!

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Italian Sausage and Mushroom Tortiglioni

The beauty of Italian cooking is the simplicity of its ingredients, provided they are high quality. This quick and easy recipe features staples in Italian cuisine, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, pasta, pork sausages, garlic and parsley. It’s important to use Italian sausages. They have a coarser texture than British ones. They’re the key to a delicious outcome so no bangers, capish?

You can buy Italian sausages in supermarkets, just look for a specific description on the packaging. However, your best bet is the Italian delicatessen. I found black truffle sausages at Signorelli’s Deli in Cambridge, which complemented the earthy mushroom flavours in this dish. I even enhanced the recipe with a few drops of truffle oil. However, if truffles aren’t your thing, there are sausages with chilli, garlic or fennel… even plain ones. Anything goes really, as long as they are Italiano!

This dish is best with a short, sturdy pasta such as rigatoni, tortiglioni or penne. Use your favourite variety of mushrooms or a mix of them, such as button, chestnut and cremini. For a more intense flavour, add a small amount of porcini mushrooms to the mix.

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