There’s an exciting addition to the Cambridge food scene and that’s the newly re-opened Restaurant Twenty-Two. It’s now in the hands of Sam Carter (chef) and his fiancée Alex Olivier (front of house manager) who are taking the restaurant to the next chapter of its 30-year history. It has been a labour of love for this lovely couple, who purchased the restaurant from the former owner and painstakingly refurbished it into a business and home.
The converted Victorian townhouse is a real gem along Chesterton Road, understated in its presence among the large pubs and shops but once noticed, it leaves a lasting impression. The exterior is beautifully presented with its muted tones of white walls and dark grey door and window frames, with some gold accents for a touch of luxury. The bespoke stained glass has been retained and sparks curiosity about what lies behind the Dining Rooms lettering.
The 22-cover dining room is small but there is still space between the tables to sit comfortably. It’s cosy but not overcrowded. There is also a private dining room upstairs that seats 14 people.
The venture is a match made in heaven as Sam has an impressive culinary resumé in Michelin-starred kitchens, and Alex is a former solicitor with experience in restaurant management. It’s apparent they have a great team in place as the food, drink and service during our dinner proved to be faultless.
The menu, which changes every fortnight, focuses on contemporary British dishes with a creative twist. There is a definite emphasis on seasonality with many of the ingredients sourced from local producers. An à la carte menu is available but I heartily recommend the tasting menu (five or seven-course) for the complete gastronomic experience. Paulo and I went for the seven-course menu with the additional cheese board option because we wanted to taste ALL OF THE THINGS. Luckily we agreed as the tasting menu must be ordered by the whole table. Each bite was an explosion of flavours and textures and I found myself eating every last crumb and scraping the last bit of sauce on my plate. The food was that good.
We had champagne with our meal – Sophie Baron Grand Réserve Brut with its pale straw colour and fine bubbles. However, the next time we will accompany the meal with a five-glass wine flight. Their sommelier, Dan Smith, has thoughtfully curated an excellent wine list and we’re keen to repeat the experience with his recommended pairings.
The first course featured “snacks” but they were so much more than that. After our appetites were whet by vibrant, plump nocellara olives from Sicily, we were served a delicate creation featuring taramasalata, cucumber and caviar. We marvelled at the skill required to put together this explosion of fresh flavours.
The deep-fried macaroni cheese bites leaned heavily toward the earthy flavour of truffles. They were less cheese, more truffle and all of delicious. I could have munched on a whole bowl of these addictive, tasty morsels.
We were delighted to get a taster of miso braised pig’s head in puffed pork skin, topped with apple purée. It was heavenly – such depth of flavour from the unctuous meat. Was it a sneak peek at the new menu? Who knows, but let’s hope it’s on there!
Two types of bread were served with matching butters: their now legendary Guinness bread with Guinness butter and a springy shallot & thyme brioche with cultured butter. Both were sprinkled with sea salt flakes for a final flourish.
The amuse bouche, a refreshing pea, mint and lemon velouté, was served chilled and cleansed our palates for the next course.
The Cambridgeshire asparagus (from Ely) in our starter was thick, meaty and tender. Accompanied by mushrooms tasting like chicken and homemade ricotta lending creaminess to the dish, the flavours and textures in this starter were a revelation.
The next course featured orange, ginger, beetroot and carrot flavours that worked well with the firm, meaty Cornish monkfish.
The 60-day aged Hereford beef was melt-in-the-mouth tender, accompanied by more beefiness: beef fat Jersey royals and a deep-fried ball of beef shin. With turnip, English peas, broad beans and dollops of creamy horseradish adorning the plate, it was a hearty and tasty dish. We both agreed we would return for the à la carte version so we could feast on a bigger portion. This course was the highlight of the meal.
By this time we were quite full. But did we go for the optional cheese board before the two desserts? Of course we did! Who in their right mind says no to cheese? The selection of five cheeses, served with homemade oatcakes and rye bread, featured: Sparkenhoe Vintage Red Leicester, Lincolnshire Poacher, Baron Bigod, Cropwell Bishop Stilton and Bosworth Ash goat’s cheese.
The pre-dessert was made with baked yogurt, raspberry and shiso granita. The creaminess from the yogurt contrasted nicely with the tartness of the raspberries and shiso. The citrusy flavours of the granita made a nice palate cleanser.
Dessert was a feast of flavours – white chocolate, pistachio and Sicilian lemon – topped with a piece of light-as-air meringue dusted with pistachio. The meringue instantly melted on my tongue leaving a tingly feeling. It was like magic and quite an incredible sensation. What an amazing end to the dinner, or was it? We decided to linger and have coffee and tea to end our meal.
Paulo ordered coffee – cafetière, no espresso machine – which came with an hourglass to let him know when it was time to press the plunger in order to separate the grounds from the brewed coffee. The cafetière yielded three cups of excellent coffee.
I had a peppermint infusion from Kandula, a Cambridgeshire based company supplying teas grown and hand picked on the ethical tea plantations of Sri Lanka.
We were surprised with delightful petits fours to accompany our hot drinks so we were glad to have ordered them. We savoured the end of this memorable meal with a few last bites of blackcurrant & elderflower jelly and chocolate orange macaron.
As we made our way out the door, we took a moment to appreciate that this outstanding establishment is so local to us. Restaurant Twenty-Two is a destination restaurant, one that people will travel from all over to experience. It is receiving all kinds of well-deserved accolades and it’s going to be increasingly difficult to get a table so you would be wise to book. We truly have something special right here in Cambridge.
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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