The Moringa Tree – Haslingfield, Cambridgeshire (UK)

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!

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The Red House – Longstowe, Cambridgeshire (UK)

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.

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Pint Shop Tasting Lunch – Cambridge (UK)

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.

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Donairs (Recipe from More Than Poutine by Marie Porter)

Marie Porter’s latest cookbook More Than Poutine: Favourite Foods from My Home and Native Land resonated with me in many ways. Obviously it’s all about food but it’s Canadian recipes written by a fellow expat. When I made the move to the UK, first London then Cambridge, I was delighted to meet so many fellow Canadians in the same boat as me. We all miss our favourite foods, the ones we grew up on, that gave us joy and shared with loved ones. The cookbook features a lot of comfort foods, which is a nice reflection of these feelings of nostalgia.

The book’s title really hits the nail on the head. Poutine may be the Canadian specialty that first springs to mind but the cookbook is very well researched and spans over 120 recipes from all over Canada. Rest assured there is a great poutine recipe, complete with homemade gravy. The book also includes other well-known Canadian foods such as butter tarts, Nanaimo bars, tourtière and lobster rolls.

The recipes begin with a few explanatory words, as Canada is so diverse not all Canadians might know the dishes. The cookbook isn’t only for expats though, there’s enough interesting information for those living in Canada who want to expand their Canadian cooking repertoire. It’s also a great introduction to Canadian cuisine for anyone eager to learn more about Canada’s unique and varied culture.

The recipes’ measurements are provided in both US and metric units, with a more detailed conversions section at the end of the book.

It’s also worth noting that there is a focus on providing gluten-free alternatives to the recipes so the book is a good resource for those avoiding gluten.

With recipes classed into the following categories: Breakfast & Brunch, Appetizers & Sides, Snack Foods, Main Dishes, Jiggs Dinner (Sunday Dinner in Newfoundland), Beverages & Condiments and Desserts, the cookbook covers a lot of territory, both in the geographic and culinary sense. All of my favourites are in the book: Bannock, Montreal Style Bagels, Montreal Smoked Meat, Maple Snow Taffy, French Canadian Pea Soup and Bloody Caesar (Bloody Mary’s Canadian cousin). There are even accurate replicas of Jos Louis cake rounds, Oh Henry! chocolate bars and Swiss Chalet/St-Hubert BBQ sauce, although for trademarks reasons the recipe names had to be changed. It’s fun figuring out the inspiration behind the creative titles.

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Ox – Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)

I travelled to Belfast twice over a four-week period and was wowed by the foodie scene. I shared my Belfast exploits through my #one2Belfast hashtag on Instagram and clearly there was no shortage of fabulous restaurants, cafes and bars for me to explore. Not to diminish the other wonderful places I visited but I just have to share my experience at Ox, an amazing Michelin starred restaurant near the Belfast Waterfront.

Paulo and I managed to squeeze in lunch at Ox before catching our flight back to Stansted. We booked a table ahead of time and were delighted that the timing fit in with our work and travel schedules.

Ox looked a bit dark and unassuming from the outside but once we entered, the small restaurant was flooded with natural light from the double-height picture windows. We took in the beautiful decor with its high ceiling, serene shade of blue, modern light fixtures and wooden church chairs (with prayer book holders on the back).

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The Architect – Cambridge (UK)

I first wrote about The Architect in 2014 (here) when it re-opened, following an extensive refurbishment and change of name (it was previously the County Arms). The Architect’s independent tenancy changed recently and after closing for a spruce up and menu overhaul, the pub has had another re-opening.

Cambridgeshire locals Luke Edwards and Stuart Tuck, who now run this great pub in Castle Hill, retained The Architect’s name, logo and many of the beautifully designed features, such as the bar and fireplaces. They bring with them their combined experience running The Blue Lion, a successful and award-winning pub in Hardwick, which they now run alongside The Architect.

The Architect has a completely different vibe and is the only pub in Cambridge dedicated to fish & chips and pie & mash. Architects are designers so the pub’s “design your own meal” concept is quite fitting.

For starters or just snacks with drinks, the menu features options to design your own sharing board. There is even a scotch egg taster which includes three different types (classic, smoked haddock and spiced falafel) with half pint beer pairings.

The main courses focus on two pub classics – fish & chips and pie & mash – but the innovative options give the menu a real twist. The menu is a great visual guide through the various combinations. There is lots of choice and the fish & chips combinations offer more than just fish, with vegetarian options such as halloumi and seasonal veggies.

The fabulous bar – a must for any pub – offers a great range of gins, craft beers and guest ales, which can be enjoyed with a meal or in one of the pub’s cosy areas.

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Tamburlaine Restaurant and Bar – Cambridge (UK)

Cambridge’s Tamburlaine hotel opened last March to a lot of fanfare, particularly their launch party (which I missed due to illness). There was a great buzz about the place, bringing some life to the developing area by the train station.

The hotel’s stylish rooms and venues certainly have the wow factor. It’s a gorgeous place to visit and I did pop into their stunning bar a while back and really enjoyed their cocktails.

I had read conflicting reports about the restaurant so Paulo and I decided to try it for ourselves. We visited on a Wednesday evening without a reservation. There was no need as the restaurant was fairly empty. We were warmly welcomed and given a choice of nice tables by the window, near the open kitchen.

The Brasserie-style dining room is elegant and quite large, almost a little too large for any kind of warm ambience. Still, additional people in the room would have made for a more intimate experience but it looked like the other diners were lone hotel guests who didn’t feel like venturing into Cambridge’s busier areas.

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Cambridge Cocktail Weekend 2017 – Cambridge (UK)

Cambridge Cocktail Weekend is back for a second year, taking place at the Cambridge Corn Exchange 25 to 27 August 2017. The event was founded by Muddle and Mint to highlight the cocktail offering in Cambridge. It features a selection of Cambridge cocktail bars showcasing a menu of classic, signature and cutting edge cocktails. Local spirit and liqueur producers as well as premium national brands are on board too, giving attendees the opportunity to discover what they can do with their products

Cambridge Cocktail Weekend also offers an educational and interactive experience through workshops, masterclasses, live music and the WFA World Championship Grand Slam Competition where the world’s best flair bartenders compete in the art of juggling bar equipment to entertain and make great cocktails. Cambridge has the honour of hosting the fifth of seven annual Grand Slams held across the world.

Paulo and I attended on Friday, the opening day. There were ten bars selling cocktails and Nanna Mexico served up a variety of dishes made with nachos.

The little booklet prepared by Cambridge Cocktail Weekend, called a compendium, was well put together and contained all the information required for the event. We could peruse each bar’s cocktail menu and take our pick. It was a difficult choice to make! Some of the bartenders were happy to talk us through their cocktails, which helped us decide. The compendium also listed the masterclasses and workshops. Belvedere vodka ran two very popular ones on Friday.

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The Muddlers Club – Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)

Tucked away in a back street of Belfast’s vibrant and bustling Cathedral Quarter, The Muddlers Club is a real find. The place is steeped in history as it’s named after the secret society that used to meet there over 200 years ago.

Passageways illustrated with street art lead to an industrial building displaying fairy lights and a welcoming sign.

Its hidden location suggests an air of secrecy and exclusivity, yet The Muddlers Club is friendly and informal. A snooty place it isn’t but make no mistake, the food is top class yet reasonably priced for its exceptional quality.

The cool industrial-style décor, with its muted greys and exposed ducts, is complemented by the warm tones of the wooden floors, tables and chairs. The restaurant is dimly lit with light coming from the large windows, open kitchen, modern chandeliers and flickering candles.

The Muddlers Club offers a small, focused menu with fresh, local ingredients at the forefront. The dishes don’t have names. They are described by their ingredients which makes the presentation a surprise, especially the desserts. The dishes are simple but they’re meticulously prepared. Every single item we ordered was a work of art!

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Texas Style Smoked Beef Brisket

Paulo has been honing his BBQ skills ever since we got our Big Green Egg last year. Smoking a whole beef brisket is the ultimate challenge and he decided to do it Texas style, following the method of legendary pitmaster Aaron Franklin. After all, the brisket trend originated in Texas and barbecue beef brisket is considered their national dish.

It’s important to note that US brisket is different to what we know as brisket in the UK, namely a rolled and tied cut of meat that is slow roasted in the oven. Cattle breeds in the UK are smaller so the brisket needs to be treated more delicately as it’s less able to endure heat and doesn’t have the protective fat content and connective tissue for the cooking process. Brisket from the USA is larger, juicier and more stable.

Brisket comes from the cow’s lower chest area, which has coarse muscle fibres that are tightly bound together so it’s a notoriously difficult cut of meat to get right. Get it wrong and it will be tough and hard. Brisket should be cooked low and slow in a smoker as it breaks down the connective tissue for a juicy, tender result. It’s very time-consuming but so worth it for smoky, smooth, buttery brisket with a soft, sticky crust (bark) packed with flavour!

The whole brisket, known as a “packer cut” in the US, comes vacuum packed and is left untrimmed. More on trimming the fat later but in essence, the fat helps keep the brisket moist during the cooking process. The whole brisket includes the point (the thicker, fattier end) and the flat (the flatter, leaner end). Some cooks separate the two for better control over the cooking but we did it Franklin style.

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