My love for Persian food comes from my “brutha from anutha mutha” Ali, who was born in Iran. You can imagine my delight when I heard My Persian Kitchen were planning to bring their traditional fare to Cambridge through their new pop up and shared dining experience concept. In fact, the duo behind My Persian Kitchen, Sirous V Naderi and Abigail Plet, are no strangers to pop ups. You may remember them as Workshop Kitchen specialising in French and Italian cuisine, in which Sirous trained professionally. However, it is through Sirous’ grandmother and mother that he developed his passion for Persian cooking.
Cambridge was definitely ready for something new and exciting. Their pop up at Espresso Library on Saturday, 22 October completely sold out! Attendees ranged from newbies intrigued by the menu to Persians who were proud to introduce this cuisine to their friends.
Persian cuisine is exquisite and varied so there’s a lot I haven’t explored yet. My Persian Kitchen’s three-course menu included dishes steeped in tradition, made with quality ingredients. The menu wasn’t fussy or complicated but it was a great idea to have a description of the dishes printed in the back of the menu, as well as a brief history of Iran. Reading all about the dishes really helped set the tone for the evening whilst we waited for the food to be served.
The ambience was welcoming and relaxed, with dimmed lights, flickering candles and a lovely jazz soundtrack. Espresso Library have a nice drinks menu so Paulo and I shared a bottle of Belstar Prosecco to go with our meal.
On 24 September 2016, I had the pleasure of attending a “meet and eat” food bloggers tour of Ely Markets, organised by fellow blogger Alex Higgs who is doing some work for the markets. Alex was accompanied by Ely Markets representatives Julia Davis and Lisa Quin and took us on a 3-hour tour, sampling the delights of the food and farmers markets.
Saturdays are real foodie days at Ely Markets, especially every 2nd and 4th Saturday when they hold the Farmers Market in conjunction with the Food, Craft & Collectables Markets. The Market Square has a food aisle every Saturday, which includes excellent street food and other food traders. I was impressed by the quality and variety of food stalls. I will definitely return on a Saturday morning to do some foodie shopping! Paulo drove me to Ely (just over a half hour drive) but the market is also easily accessible by train. Parking was so easy to find, especially in the morning. The short stay car park has free parking for 4 hours, which allows plenty of time to wander the markets. If you want to spend more time in Ely, then the long stay car park is best.
We tasted and nibbled our way through various delicious food and drink stalls and by the end of the tour I was happily stuffed!
There’s a welcome addition to Mill Road in Cambridge and that’s Lagona, a new Lebanese restaurant offering good, reasonably priced food. The location used to house Jaffa Net Café but now it’s a bright, cheerful restaurant that includes a separate shisha area at the back, if that’s your sort of thing. A little something for everyone… to me, that’s what Mill Road is all about.
Lagona opened fairly recently, in July 2016, and judging from the steady stream of customers, word has already gotten out that this is a must-visit. They don’t have a website and have very little social media presence so their custom is basically all word of mouth. That’s a good thing! I recommend this place for a casual, relaxed lunch or dinner. The portions are generous and service is friendly and helpful.
We did encounter some minor problems but not anything that would deter us from returning. I believe the issues stemmed from being rushed in the kitchen, perhaps due to it being busy that evening. I have to say that the staff were excellent in dealing with our complaint and quickly rectified the issue. More on that later.
I love truffles… the subterranean fungus, that is (although I’m quite partial to the chocolate sweets). I had the pleasure of meeting Will Bailey of Truffle Face, a Cambridge-based importer of high-quality affordable truffles from Orvieto, Italy. I interviewed him for Flavour, Cambridge’s food and drink radio programme (podcast here).
Will even made me a truffle-laden lunch… The Ultimate Truffle Grilled Cheese sandwich (recipe here). What a treat!
As we talked all things truffle, I couldn’t resist purchasing a pack of Tagliatelle al Tartufo, made by artisan company Margió, based in Umbria where Truffle Face source their truffles. I knew the tagliatelle would be tasty as the truffle is baked right into the pasta. You can actually see the yummy bits. All of Truffle Face’s products, such as truffles, pasta, cheese, oil and condiments can be purchased through their website.
Amid the new restaurants cropping up all over the King’s Cross area, Camino has remained steady and true. It’s a chain, but one that has maintained high standards and quality despite its multiple locations. There are currently four restaurants in London (King’s Cross, Bankside, Monument and Blackfriars) plus two bars (Copa de Cava specialises in cava and Bar Pepito in sherry). In fact, Bar Pepito is adjacent to Camino, both tucked away in Varnishers Yard in The Regent Quarter, a short walking distance from King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. Unless you are “in the know”, you could be forgiven for overlooking it. Its charming location in a hidden courtyard feels like a world away from bustling London.
Camino’s interior is all brick and wood, with stunning circular roof lights letting in the sun’s rays. The place is well laid out with a sweeping bar and tables that are close together but don’t encroach on personal space. Lively music enhances the cosy ambience but doesn’t overpower it. Service is welcoming and friendly.
Camino’s focus is on authentic tapas from all over Spain with a slight bias to the north as Executive Chef Nacho del Campo hails from the Basque country, widely recognised as the gastronomic heartland. Call them tapas or pintxos… either way they are supremely delicious. The menu features all of the better-known favourites such as patatas bravas, tortillas and croquetas but there are some other fantastic dishes for the more adventurous. All of the tapas go extremely well with Camino’s impressive drinks list featuring the best in wine, beer, cider, brandy, sherry and cava from Spain as well as gin (both Spanish and British) and cocktails with a Spanish twist. Continue reading →
Aubergine, eggplant… however they’re named, I just love them. Unfortunately, Paulo “not so much” so we hardly ever used them in our cooking. I knew I had to find a compromise and this is it! It’s a dish for those who don’t like aubergine, but I’m convinced it will convert all aubergine-haters. Once they’re fried, they have a meaty texture and any bitterness is eliminated.
This recipe is basically what’s known in Sicily as Pasta alla Norma. It’s a famous dish named after the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini. Its flavours are definitely a work of art! The pasta shapes vary but I prefer a sturdy pasta, such as tortiglioni or rigatoni, to take on a sauce this thick and chunky.
The Sicilian way is to top the pasta with ricotta salata (salted ricotta) but it can be tricky to find. It’s a saltier, aged version of soft ricotta. Good substitutes are salty cheeses such as feta or Pecorino.
My version of Pasta alla Norma is quick and easy but still delicious. One day I will travel to Sicily and experience the traditional recipe!
On 9 July 2016 Vera, Drink Up!, a collaboration between Vera’s Gin Club and Cambridge Eat Up!, took place at The Plough in Shepreth, near Cambridge. It was presented by “Vera” (gin expert Lyndsey Spellman) who took us through the history and horticulture of three gins. Lyndsey’s presentation was entertaining and interactive and she had everyone laughing and having fun from the very beginning.
Lyndsey leads a monthly Vera’s Gin Club at The Plough (I wrote about it here). As a member of Cambridge Eat Up!, the Facebook group for foodies, I wanted to include Vera in a foodie event so Lyndsey and I organised Vera, Drink Up!, a food and drink extravaganza featuring 3 premium gins + Fever-Tree tonic, Vera’s fun and informative gin presentation and a plateful of exquisite food by Romano’s.
We held Vera, Drink Up! from 5pm to 7pm so we could include a hearty dinner. The monthly Vera’s Gin Club features more gin (5 gins) and less food (The Plough’s nibbles) but for this special occasion we were fortunate to have a tasty menu created by the fabulous Paola Davies-Romano. The Plough were kind enough to lend us the space and have Romano’s as guest kitchen for the event. We also had The Foraging Fox on board, who supplied us with bottles of their delicious beetroot ketchup.
The Early Night Club teamed up with My Little Festival to host a really rather lovely May Ball, which took place on 18 June 2016 at the historic Cambridge Union. The May Ball was a wonderful opportunity to join in on this celebratory time in Cambridge, particularly those of us who like to dance but also need our sleep (the Early Night Club’s entire premise is for events to start early and finish by midnight). Guerrilla Kitchen provided the delicious food for the evening, featuring some very original combination of flavours, particularly the mac ‘n’ cheese.
The Cambridge Union was the ideal location. We started the evening outdoors on their beautiful premises with a welcome cocktail made with Prosecco and Pinkster gin. We enjoyed listening to live music, provided by the immensely talented Tom Korni, and watched in amazement as the fairground performers, namely the hula hoop girl and the juggler on stilts, entertained the revellers. The festive tone was set!
There was a lot of other fun stuff too, such as a photo booth, hair station, glitter face painting, a sweet shop and fairground games (throwing hoops over Pinkster gin bottles and lobbing wooden balls at coconuts on sticks).
The Guerrilla Kitchen team (Jay, Taffeta and Reese) cooked up a storm in their outdoor stand and kept the steady queue of partygoers well fed throughout the evening.
The Plough is located in Shepreth, one of those villages that have a Hertfordshire postal address but are part of South Cambridgeshire. It’s a lot closer than you think – only a 12-minute train ride from Cambridge to the railway station, then a 5-minute walk from there.
This village pub was closed for a long while and after the new owners gave it an extensive transformation, it officially re-opened 2 years ago. Since then, The Plough has been an integral part of the village, not only serving good food and drink, but also hosting a variety of events such as concerts, art exhibitions and Vera’s Gin Club. Check out the What’s On section of their website.
Vera’s Gin Club, presented by vivacious Lyndsey Spellman, has built quite a following, taking place every third Wednesday of the month from 8pm to 10pm. It’s a two-hour fun tasting of 5 gins, featuring nibbles by The Plough’s kitchen and a large G&T of your choice.
Lyndsey, who transforms into funny and witty “Vera”, has quite the extensive gin knowledge and creates a different presentation each month. Her themes are creative and take us through the history and horticulture of the gins she chooses to feature. I have learned so much about gin through Lyndsey, in such a fun and social way too! To attend one of the monthly Vera’s Gin Club events (priced at £20), just ring The Plough to reserve your space. Vera’s Gin Club will be celebrating its one-year anniversary on 20 July and a little birdie told me there will be a gin cake!
Cambridge’s local food and drink scene was celebrated with another successful Eat Cambridge festival, organised by Heidi White with the help of her team of volunteers. The Main Event kicked off at the Corn Exchange on 7 May 2016, leading the way to a series of fantastic fringe events over a two-week period. Eat Cambridge is a foodie’s dream and I tried to attend as many events as I could.
I started off by volunteering at The Main Event. Heidi put a lot of work into organising Eat Cambridge and I thought the best way I could show my support was to volunteer and help out that day. There were about 40 stallholders, all local independents, showcasing their fabulous food and drink products.