Camino – King’s Cross, London (UK)

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 Exterior

Camino sign

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 Outside

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.
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Tortiglioni with Tomato and Aubergine

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.

Pasta Norma in pan

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!

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Vera, Drink Up! – Shepreth, Cambridgeshire (UK)

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.

The Plough Shepreth Vera Drink Up Tables

Vera Drink Up Lyndsey Spellman

The Plough Shepreth

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.

Romano's Collage

Vera Drink Up Collage

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.

Photo courtesy of The Plough

Photo courtesy of The Plough

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Early Night Club May Ball – Cambridge (UK)

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.

Early Night Club Cambridge Union Building

Early Night Club outside

Early Night Club Welcome Drinks Collage

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!

Early Night Club Cocktail

Early Night Club Tom Korni

Early Night Club Performers

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).

Early Night Club Fun Stuff

Guerrilla Kitchen Cambridge Union Collage

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.

Early Night Club Cambridge Union outside

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The Plough – Shepreth, Cambridgeshire (UK)

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.

The Plough Shepreth

The Plough Shepreth Interior

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 Collage

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.

Vera's Gin Club Nibbles

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!

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Eat Cambridge 2016: The Main Event + Fringe Events – Cambridge (UK)

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.

Eat Cambridge Main Event Entrance

Eat Cambridge Main Event

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.

Eat Cambridge Main Event 1

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Sunday Best, a fringe event for Eat Cambridge – Swaffham Prior, Cambridge (UK)

Sunday Best, a fringe event for Eat Cambridge, took place on 22 May, 2016 at Church of St Cyriac and St Julitta, a historic church no longer used for regular worship. When the creative minds of organisers Alex Ruczaj and Vicky Fenton of My Little Festival met with talented chef Jay Scrimshaw of Guerrilla Kitchen, the result was a superbly organised event featuring a sumptuous three-course Sunday Lunch in a stunning, communal setting. Plus, the energetic Taffeta Scrimshaw, a fantastic team of helpers and an impressive selection of drinks from revamped horsebox The Spirited Mare all contributed to making Sunday Best a real feasting extravaganza!

Collage Sunday Best

Photo courtesy of Guerrilla Kitchen

Photo courtesy of Guerrilla Kitchen

Sunday Best church

Church of St Cyriac and St Julitta

While lunch was being prepared for this family friendly event, people were seated on bales of hay or spread out on the lawn outside the church, reading the Sunday papers, playing board games or just chilling out with a drink. The Spirited Mare was on hand with a menu featuring Prosecco on tap (frizzante, to be precise), Gin & Tonic, Bloody Mary (including Kimchi Bloody Mary), Aperol Spritz, Ginger & Lemongrass, Brewdog beers, soft drinks and wine (white, red and rosé).

Vicky The Spirited Mare

Collage Sunday Best drinks

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Cambridge Eat Up! Pot Luck Lunch, a fringe event for Eat Cambridge – Cambridge (UK)

On 14 May 2016, Cambridge Eat Up! (exclamation mark intended) held its first ever Pot Luck Lunch, a fringe event for Eat Cambridge. The lovely and talented Karen Harvey had the foresight to create the Cambridge Eat Up! group on Facebook (you can read about its origins in her blog post here) and it has grown organically since then. It’s become a great virtual “meeting point” for food enthusiasts of all types (not just bloggers) to share good foodie news and plan get-togethers.

Sign

Photo by Karen Harvey

Photo by Karen Harvey

Photo by Lisa Durbin

Photo by Lisa Durbin

So when Eat Cambridge organiser Heidi White thought the group would be ideal for a fringe event, Karen and I jumped at the chance to create something. In the spirit of Cambridge Eat Up!, we wanted to hold an event that reflected foodies coming together, sharing and supporting each other. The result was a Pot Luck Lunch where everyone would bring a dish and we would gather around a table in an informal setting to enjoy each other’s company and good food/drink. We planned this back in December and the next thing we knew, the application was submitted, the entry fee paid (courtesy of Paulo at P A Safety Management Limited) and my home was confirmed as the location. Everyone jumped at the chance to be included and the places filled up very quickly, as soon as the Eat Cambridge programme was released. I even increased the numbers from 15 to 20 but there was still a long waiting list. However, this indicated that the pot luck format appealed to a great number of people, so the group is discussing hosting more of them.

Photo by Ozzy Beck

Photo by Ozzy Beck

Cambridge Eat Up group 1

Photo by Lisa Durbin

Photo by Lisa Durbin

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Sticks’n’Sushi – Cambridge (UK)

I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of Sticks’n’Sushi to Cambridge so when I was invited to attend a preview of their menu, I jumped at the chance. After all, I’m already a big Sticks’n’Sushi fan (I wrote about my visit at the Covent Garden location here). I was really curious to see how it would look and operate in Cambridge. They definitely got off to a good start with an ideal location in the Old Library, part of the Guildhall, right across the street from the Corn Exchange.

Sticks n Sushi Cambridge Door

Paulo and I attended the first practice run at dinnertime where staff were being trained. It didn’t feel like it at all. We were greeted enthusiastically at the door, with the customary “namasté” exclamation which we found fun and welcoming.

Sticks n Sushi Cambridge Bar

Sticks n Sushi Cambridge Kitchen

We admired the sleek Scandinavian décor with gorgeous lighting and stunning bar. We peeked into the open kitchen at the back. There was seating there too and the ambience there was different, in the midst of all the action.

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Prana – Cambridge (UK)

Prana is the Sanskrit word for “life force” so when Prana on Mill Road recently relaunched after an extensive refurbishment, it was like breathing new life into this Indian/Bangladeshi restaurant. I visited Prana three times so far and my first visit was an invitation to the relaunch. To be honest, I’m glad I was invited because Prana stopped being on my radar after passing by many times and always seeing it closed. After speaking to owner Kobir Ahmed, I now understand the issue. When Prana was first purchased it operated as a tiny Chinese and Indian takeaway while Kobir continued his job as a banker. Then it was a proper restaurant but it was limited by a very small space with seating in the basement. A decision was made to close the restaurant and extend it significantly, which took quite a long time.

Seating Prana Cambridge

It was worth the effort as the restaurant is now spacious with stunning decor. Once you pass through the front door and manoeuvre the small step (limitations of the building), there is welcoming staff on hand to show you to tables topped with crisp, white tablecloths and napkins. The place is comfortable yet elegant, but not stuffy.

Prana Cambridge Inside

Kobir has made running the restaurant his full time job and his sister Rosie is also on board. Both are passionate about the restaurant and its food. There’s a real family connection as Kobir and Rosie’s uncle is the owner of renowned Maliks in Cookham, Berkshire (with other locations in Gerrards Cross and Marlow in Buckinghamshire). Prana is based on the exclusive menu designed by Maliks 30 years ago, which has evolved and now includes some of Kobir’s family recipes. We are fortunate to have this prestigious culinary link right here in Cambridge. Many dishes have secret spices but one thing is clear: Prana do not use curry powder. The results are clean, vibrant flavours that are a delight to the taste buds.

Prana Cambridge

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