Any Canadian who has moved from their home country, like me, will invariably succumb to nostalgia and start missing their favourite foods. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started missing poutine so much but it probably coincided with my move from London to Cambridgeshire 10 years ago, when I finally felt settled in the UK. It took several more years for poutine to become well-known and it eventually made its way onto Cambridge menus – but without the all-important squeaky cheese curds. Although the combo of cheese, chips and gravy can only be a good thing, there is a specific way to make poutine and I have found very few places in the UK that are able to make proper poutine. Manchester’s Blue Caribou is one of those traders who have poutine down pat. They understand the holy trinity of fries, gravy and cheese curds and how to strike the right balance of flavours and textures.
Blue Caribou first started popping up in Manchester in 2016. It’s the creation of British-Québécois married couple Graham Gartside-Bernier and Vincent Bernier. They lived in Canada and now live in Manchester. They have eaten some of the best poutine in Québec, where it originated back in the 1950s. If their names seem familiar it’s because they recently appeared on BBC Two’s My Million Pound Menu with Fred Sirieix.
As a born and bred Montrealer, I can wholeheartedly state these guys know what they are doing when it comes to authentic poutine, plus they have the culinary skills to create delicious variations with ingredients like pastrami (La Reuben), kimchi (La Coréenne), roast chicken and peas (La Galvaude) and vegan doner (La Doner). Now that Blue Caribou have a permanent home at Arndale Market, they are able to expand their menu to other Canadian/Québec casse-croûte (snack bar) classics like pogos (corn dogs), hot chicken sandwiches and steamés (steamed hot dogs) that crop up occasionally on the menu.
Chi is Cambridge’s latest independent restaurant to open in Food Social, the burgeoning dining quarter in The Grafton, near PureGym and the Vue cinema. Chi offers Asian inspired street food cuisine like bao, banh mi, bubble tea, dumplings, bubble waffles, noodle/rice dishes and more.
This new addition to Cambridge’s food scene is expertly developed and designed but it’s definitely not a soulless corporate chain. It’s clear this place has heart and is driven by passion for good food.
Paulo and I were invited by co-owner Aidan to try the menu and it was nice to hear about his extensive (and impressive) experience in hospitality as well as his connection to our city. Aidan not only grew up in Cambridge, he also grew up in the restaurant business. His father, who’s from Hong Kong, owned a successful restaurant over 20 years ago just down the road from The Grafton.
Chi sits in a lovely, bright space at the back of Food Social. There are lots of tables and the chairs are comfortable. There is even counter seating with stools, complete with outlets for laptops. It’s also child friendly with highchairs and a kids’ menu featuring fun activities, including making paper lanterns. They even had some creations on display at the order counter. Very cute!
There’s no doubt the food scene in Cambridge has been steadily evolving but Cotto has remained a top dining destination for 12 years and counting, initially at its humble location on East Road and now at the luxurious Gonville Hotel. In fact, chef-owner Hans Schweitzer’s culinary presence in Cambridge goes even further back than that. He opened Confiserie Schweitzer on Magdalene Street in the late ‘80s and is responsible, along with a partner, for Midsummer House’s existence by converting the old Victorian home into a restaurant.
Hans Schweitzer trained as a Master Chocolatier (read on for the chocolate piano, one of his most famous creations). He qualified as a Master Chef (Maître de Cuisine / Küchenmeister) and earned a Michelin star at his restaurant in Germany, both before the age of 30. We are indeed fortunate to have a chef of this calibre in Cambridge.
With the move to a purpose-built section of the refurbished Gonville Hotel in 2017, Cotto now has the sumptuous setting to match its renowned tasting menu. Not to be confused with the hotel’s Atrium Brasserie, Cotto sits prominently in a modern glass extension at the front of the hotel, with a beautiful terrace overlooking Parker’s Piece.
This was me and Paulo’s first visit to the new location, after having dined several times at the previous one. We kicked ourselves for waiting so long to go back. After all, we stayed at The Gonville Hotel in the past and also enjoyed Enchanted Cinema’s screenings in their beautiful gardens so we really had no excuse for not booking dinner at Cotto sooner, other than time flies!
Ely’s foodie scene is expanding and 68 Market Street is an exciting addition to the city’s food and drink offering. It’s all in the name. Not only is it the address but the word market denotes freshness, provenance and sociability… and this eco-friendly, sustainably-focused restaurant delivers in spades.
The street name is certainly a lucky coincidence but the rest is down to a clear vision of sustainability and a strong environmental ethos. The focus is on the region’s seasonal produce which supports farmers, producers and the local community. Food wastage is also of utmost importance as it impacts the environment. This is one of the reasons for 68 Market Street’s already popular Sunday Spread, which needs to be booked in advance.
It doesn’t stop there – the business recycles as much as possible with all non-recyclable waste going to a zero-landfill waste carrier. The furniture has been reused or repurposed. There are even bespoke branded tables. Works by local artists adorn the walls.
The bar area is a welcoming little space to sit and have a drink. In fact, the whole refit is well laid out, considering the limitations of the building and awkward corners and levels.
Independent business Eric’s Fish & Chips is a welcome sight amongst the giant fast food chains in Abbey Retail Park in St Ives, Cambridgeshire. It may appear to be an unlikely location at first but once you know where it is, it works. It’s a destination restaurant with a fun and unique vibe, serving sustainably caught beer battered fish, beef dripping chips, quality meat, small plates, drinks and more. Ample free parking makes it easy to pop in for a take-away or eat in. This is executive chef Eric Snaith’s second opening, built on the success of Eric’s Fish & Chips in Thornham on the north Norfolk coast, which I have visited several times and wrote about here.
Granted, the experience isn’t fish & chips near the sea in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but once you step inside, the blue and green subtle maritime décor and stone-embedded front counter evoke the Norfolk coast and you almost forget you’re in a retail park unit. The exposed whitewashed brick, multi-coloured wall tiles, plush teal banquette seating and circular light fittings create a welcoming, modern atmosphere.
I eagerly awaited the opening of Eric’s Fish & Chips in St Ives to see how the food and ambience would compare to the one in Thornham, where we have been known to take a day trip just to feast on their fish & chips. So when the invite came to visit the new location, I welcomed the opportunity to taste more of their menu.
It’s been over 3 years since Prana relaunched after an extensive refurbishment (I wrote about it here). Since then, this upscale Indian restaurant on Mill Road has taken its place among Cambridge’s best eating establishments and even won a few prestigious awards along the way. It’s no secret Paulo and I have been regular customers – the food has always been flavoursome and prepared with quality ingredients.
The food and drink scene in Cambridge, particularly on Mill Road, has been evolving and expanding. Prana’s bar now offers over 40 gins, making them the biggest Indian restaurant gin bar in Cambridge. There are gins from all over the world as well as local ones. The front of the restaurant facing Mill Road is the area for walk-ins to enjoy a G&T or two. It’s not necessary to dine in to try the gin bar (snacks are available) but we decided to have our G&Ts with our dinner (Silent Pool for Paulo, Brockmans for me). There is a choice between Fever-Tree and Schweppes tonics (we’re team Fever-Tree).
Owner Kobir Ahmed kindly invited us to try Prana’s new menu, which has been streamlined, thereby putting less pressure on the kitchen, generating less food waste and simplifying the previously overwhelming choice. Most of the favourites are still on the menu and these dishes continue to be several notches above the bog standard curry houses. The new menu features five additional dishes, some exclusive to Prana, which have replaced a few of the traditional ones that made the old menu so extensive.
Curiosity got the better of us so we ordered all three of the new starters. They were packed with clean, vibrant flavours as Prana continue to use their own spice blends rather than curry powder. The Samosa Chaat (vegan) was a feast for the eyes as well as the palate with its spicy heat that wasn’t too overpowering. It was beautifully presented, consisting of crushed chickpeas and potato, topped with a vegetable samosa and drizzled with sweet and tangy sauce, all on a bed of fresh salad leaves with pomegranate seeds and a sprinkling of Bombay mix from fellow Mill Road trader Al-Amin.
There’s a new chef in town (well, the pretty Cambridgeshire village of Eltisley) and it’s Jamie Mountford, a man with an impressive culinary resumé. If his name seems familiar, it’s because he was a finalist in Masterchef: The Professionals in 2016. He has built his reputation in some of the finest kitchens in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, in addition to his tireless fundraising work.
Jamie has taken over The Eltisley’s kitchen with a completely overhauled menu. Now under new management, Jamie’s food finally does justice to this lovely village pub. Out with gimmicks (food on hooks) and a niche menu (100% gluten free) – in with dishes brimming with fresh flavours and quality produce. Featuring a delicious list of starters, sharers, mains, steaks (fillet, sirloin, flat iron), sauces, sides, pizzas, sweets and even kids meals, the menu is varied enough to suit many preferences and appetites but it’s not overly fussy. The vegetarian options are not an afterthought as in many pubs and gluten free dishes are still available.
I was invited to try the brand new menu a few weeks ago. It was only their second day serving the dishes and the team (kitchen, servers, bartenders and front-of-house) were all fantastic. The place was full too, so word has clearly gotten out about the positive changes!
I love it when a plan comes together. It’s no secret that I’m a great fan of the sweet treats produced by Andrew Hunter (Dulcedo), Jin Yee Chung (The Baking Jin) and Riadh Falvo (Bumble & Oak), but what if I brought together these three inventive makers for a special event? Some of us knew each other well, others only a little… but somehow they got on board with my idea for a collaboration, even though it was a lot of extra work for them. Jin and Riadh have full time jobs. Andrew and Joanna lost several hours of trade that day by closing early, not to mention the effort involved in all the preparation and using Dulcedo as the venue. I am so grateful for their trust in me to sell out the event.
The three of them concentrated on designing and developing the 8-course menu – a sweet (mostly) and savoury parade of innovative dishes, fusion bakes, high end patisserie and artisan chocolate. I took care of all the marketing and admin stuff, such as the event description, photos and ticket sales. Riadh came up with the name The Tasting Table.
The event formed part of my personal commitment to support independent producers and businesses so I didn’t charge for my services and paid for my own ticket and drinks. I did have a few advantages though, such as guaranteeing a ticket for myself and Paulo and getting a sneak peek at the menu so I could type it up and print individual copies. And of course, a glimpse behind the scenes is always a privilege.
I’ve been to Cambscuisine’s The Crown & Punchbowl several times since it opened three years ago after an extensive refurbishment. I wrote all about their seasonal, modern British food here but had never stayed in their accommodation until now.
This country pub, restaurant and inn located in Horningsea, just 3 miles from the centre of Cambridge, offers the best of both worlds with a village setting but still close enough to the city. Our home is in the midst of renovations so we took advantage of the Sleepy Sundays deal for a little getaway, looking forward to good food and a comfy bed.
Sleepy Sundays at The Crown & Punchbowl features a double, ensuite room on Sunday evenings for only £50 when you spend £75 on dinner in the restaurant, including food and drinks. However, you need to book the deal by contacting The Crown & Punchbowl directly (not through their website) and it excludes Bank Holiday weekends and breakfast (which is an extra £10 per person – more on that later).
There are five rooms (Erasmus, Coleridge, Forster, Woolf and Marlowe) in The Crown & Punchbowl’s traditional old part of the building, where the restaurant is just down the stairs. Our room, the Hawking, was on the upper floor of the adjacent Science Wing, their latest extension featuring a total of four rooms named after influential scientists with a connection to Cambridge (Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing, Rosalind Franklin and Jane Goodall).
In March, Cambridge welcomed master cheesemaker Biagio Staiano for a fun and hands-on Mozzarella Class at Signorelli’s Deli. The event was made possible by Francesco Amato of online Italian food shop Agrumia who collaborated with Alex Signorelli to bring Biagio’s ‘art of making mozzarella’ to a group of 30 enthusiasts of Italian cheese.
Biagio showed us how to make the famous mozzarella from his family’s well-respected cheese factory in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, Caseificio Staiano. It was such a privilege to draw on its 100-year history of artisan methods and taste the ingredients local to the ‘Milky Mountains’ (Monti Lattari) along the coast.
We enjoyed a welcome drink (a requisite Aperol Spritz for me) and our gregarious host Alex introduced Biagio and his lovely wife Karolina, who was the interpreter.