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.
We skipped the wine list and ordered from the cocktail menu. Paulo had a cocktail from the “Prohibition Ends At Last” section. Named Aviation, it was made with gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and lemon.
It was nice to see a local producer, Cambridge Gin, on the menu so I ordered the Cambridge Sour from the Tamburlaine Classics section. This lovely cocktail featured Cambridge Gin, lemon, egg white, floral bitter and sugar. Both cocktails were expertly prepared.
We chose from a selection of breads presented to us in a basket. Our slices were fresh and flavourful but the presentation of the butter in a saucer could have used a little more finesse. More bread was offered later on and although we declined, we were pleased that we were given the choice.
Paulo’s starter was described as “hot smoked salmon, asparagus salsa, saffron rouille, nori toast”. The salmon was high quality and cooked to perfection. However, the “nori toast” seemed to be just toasted baguette slices so either this was substituted without our knowledge or the chef’s interpretation lacked any sort of discernible seaweed flavour. The dish was garnished with pea shoots which were more for presentation than taste.
My starter featured Binham Blue cheese mousseline, pear & walnut salad and rosemary biscuits. As much as I liked the mousseline, three scoops of this blue cheese proved to be too much of a good thing. I would have preferred less of the pungent cheese and more biscuits. The overload of cheese in this dish gave me “cheese nightmares” for the first time that night. Well, not nightmares but definitely wacky dreams! The accompaniments were an odd combination of flavours, ranging from sweet (pear and walnut pieces) to vinegary (pickled walnuts). The garnish with pea shoots was unnecessary. Too much going on with this dish in terms of flavours and presentation.
We both ordered the same main course, described on the menu as “seared scallops, saffron potatoes, leek, peas, crispy rocket”. This dish was an overall disappointment on many levels. The peppery nuttiness of the “crispy rocket” I was looking forward to tasting was substituted with – yeah you guessed it – pea shoots. The peas, however, were garden-fresh but the dried pods that formed part of the presentation were not necessary. I don’t like inedible “ingredients” on my plate. The leeks that served as a bed for the scallops were good.
The amount of saffron potatoes on the plate served more as decoration than a proper item. To make matters worse, they were overly salted so they left a horrid taste in our mouths. We left them on the plate and were not asked why we didn’t eat them. We did order chunky beef dripping chips and champ mash on the side. These would have been much better if, again, they were not overly salted.
Perhaps the main ingredient in this dish would have been the saving grace, but the “seared scallops” were undercooked and therefore lacked proper caramelisation. They should have been crisp and brown on the outside and soft and tender on the inside. However, the plump scallops were high quality. We still enjoyed them to an extent and certainly enough not to send them back. Although at a whopping £25 for this main course, the scallops should have been spot on.
The less-than-spectacular meal so far was redeemed by their fantastic desserts. Paulo didn’t expect a deconstructed cake when he ordered the strawberry cheesecake with maple basil and strawberry sorbet but he was pleasantly surprised. He loved all the flavours and textures in this beautifully presented dish.
My dessert was wonderful too: iced lemon meringue parfait with confit fennel and cinnamon beignets. The lemon had just the right amount of tang to offset the cool creaminess of the parfait. The confit fennel was a work of art with its clear, almost glass-like shard punctuated with actual fennel seeds. It was tasty and not overly sweet. The dessert was a tower of deliciousness with its cascading flowers, fresh raspberries and meringue with soft, springy beignets as the crowning glory.
Paulo finished the meal with an excellent espresso.
So it proved to be a hit-and-miss dining experience at Tamburlaine’s restaurant, which was frustrating as we really wanted to like it. Impressed by a previous visit at the bar with their expertly prepared cocktails, we were looking forward to enjoying a meal in their beautiful surroundings. The experience fell short for a variety of reasons. Their menu is on the pricier side, which is fine, as long as the Tamburlaine can deliver, but they didn’t in our case. Overall, the food and service need to be faultless for a menu of this price and calibre. The service, although it did not deter us from leaving a tip and wasn’t rude in any way, needs to be carried out by experienced staff to match the fine dining menu. Rookie mistakes like taking the menus away before we could place our order, leaving the butter dishes on the table after the bread plates were removed, not warning of scalding hot plates before placing them in front of us… are not reflective of a fine dining experience.
The almost soulless ambience is another concern. It’s a vicious circle as not enough customers are coming in and the ones that do are dining in an empty restaurant that feels rather cavernous, despite the beautiful décor. A more reasonably priced table d’hôte menu should be made available, especially on off-peak days. This would attract more locals and add to the ambience, as the impression I get at the moment is the restaurant is geared towards hotel guests… ones that are just visiting and won’t be giving them repeat business. It’s the Cambridge crowd that can do that.
Although we left feeling underwhelmed by our dining experience, not all is lost with us. I’m still looking forward to trying their afternoon tea in their magnificent Garden Room. We’ll definitely be back for their fabulous cocktails and believe they are worth the higher price to match their luxurious setting. I really do believe that the Tamburlaine can be great. The initial hype focused more on style than substance. That got the attention of Cambridge people… Tamburlaine now need to focus on delivering an impeccable product and service to keep them coming back.
The owners, managers or staff did not invite me to visit this establishment and were unaware that my experience would be the basis of a written review. It is based on my experience at my own cost and I did not receive compensation for my review.
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