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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The Moringa Tree, a small but perfectly formed café owned and run by Nilu Karun, is a welcome new addition to the village of Haslingfield, just south of Cambridge. Nilu named the café after a beloved tree in her native Sri Lanka.
This child and dog friendly café offers a warm welcome, friendly service, free wi-fi, great hot and cold drinks as well as light lunches and homemade bakes. There are potted plants for sale and books to peruse on site.
Every detail in the stunning space has been conceived with care, from the soothing pastel pink and green colours to the beautiful plant arrangements that adorn the shelves. It’s like stepping into a leafy oasis. The café is a real Instagrammer’s paradise and I couldn’t help taking photos. It’s just so pretty!
The Red House in Longstowe, Cambridgeshire awaited its latest incarnation for a long time. An unloved pub that closed for a few years, the new owner painstakingly revitalised the Grade II listed building with a gorgeous refurbishment. Now a fantastic pub and restaurant with a great menu, it was worth the wait!
I recently visited The Red House to have lunch with fellow foodie friends Paola, Alison and Wendy. The attractive exterior made an excellent first impression with its beautiful surroundings, clear signage, well maintained car park and imposing front door.
It only got better on the inside. The interior, divided into cosy eating and drinking areas, still felt spacious. There is a designated dining space but we chose a table by one of the fireplaces in a spot decorated for Christmas. Staff were helpful in getting us settled in and we felt very welcome and at ease.
We all admired the place before we cast our eyes on the menus. In addition to the dining space, there is a nice bar area with a changing beer line-up, a relatively private corner to accommodate larger groups as well as cosy little nooks to sit by the fire and enjoy a chat and a drink. We were even impressed with the loo floor… I have never seen a floor so clean and shiny!
On to the food! The lunch menu offered a great selection of sandwiches but the dinner menu was also available. It’s not often I see a menu where I genuinely have a tough time choosing, as everything sounded so appetising. I particularly liked the menu “Favourites” featuring good, solid pub food such as fish & chips, burgers, pie of the day, mussels, sausages & mash and ham, eggs & chips. More elaborate dishes consisting of venison, pork belly, chicken, hake and various cuts of steak were included in “The Main Event”, ideally for a leisurely dinner.
I was invited to a Tasting Lunch for Press & Bloggers to try out Pint Shop’s exciting new menu, developed by acclaimed food writer and chef Rosie Sykes. It was also an opportunity to check out Pint Shop’s revamp, namely its two new private dining rooms on the first floor and the covered, heated courtyard garden.
Pint Shop’s motto may be “Meat Bread Beer” but the new menu is so much more than that, with a greater selection of vegetarian options and a new vegan dish. Meat lovers can still enjoy beer brined chicken and tender pork belly cooked on their charcoal spit roast, as well as selections from the menu’s dry aged beef section. Dishes from Pint Shop’s charcoal grill include their house curry, grilled stone bass, lamb loin chops and a cauliflower cheese soufflé. But that’s not all… the menu features sharing platters, scotch eggs, small plates, flatbread kebabs, sides and desserts too. The redesigned menu offers greater flexibility so diners can share a variety of small plates as nibbles with drinks or order one of the small plates as a starter, as part of a 3-course meal.
The beer matrix is more impressive than ever with an extra 7 lines added to the bar but there is a fantastic selection of gins too.
To take home, I was given a can of Appalachian Green dry-hopped US pilsner brewed by Marble Brewery in collaboration with Pint Shop as part of their 20th Birthday Collaboration Series. What a treat!
Non-alcoholic options include hand-brewed Shrb sodas that are very low in sugar. I enjoyed Shrb’s Orange Ginger, one of the 4 flavours on the menu. It has a vibrant taste as the ingredients are steeped in cider vinegar for two whole days.