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.
Paulo and I were impressed with the wholly vegetarian menu, brilliantly devised by chef Stuart Tuck. It’s no secret we are carnivores but the dishes were so delicious and filling we didn’t miss the meat at all. Also, we didn’t feel as though we compromised by “going veggie”. Some places have uninspiring meat-free alternatives but not here – the dishes were creative and brimming with fresh flavours.
We had a little taster of the menu at their pre-opening launch a few weeks ago so we went back for the whole dinner experience. We were warmly welcomed by general manager Lizz Kendon, a total force of nature responsible for overseeing the building’s refit and the restaurant’s core values of sustainability and seasonality. A real food champion in my eyes! There’s a great team in place to make it all happen.
Lizz presented us with a wine list featuring ‘natural’ wines made by hand with minimal chemical intervention, showing maximum respect for the environment. Paulo and I both chose white wines – a French one for me (Les Petits Clément Sauvignon-Mauzac, Clément Termes) and a Spanish one for Paulo (Rioja Blanco “Pharos”, Bodega Classica). The fantastic wines, the bread baked by Ely producer Grain Culture and the friendly service by Lizz and bar manager Alasdair got our meal off to a good start.
The two items on the menu’s To Start section were so tantalising we ordered both – macaroni cheese bites with roast chilli mayo and “chapchos” chapatti nachos with aubergine chutney and onion & tomato salad. The portion sizes are big and meant for sharing. We’ll have to go with two more friends so we can have these again and not get too full before our main courses. So worth it though!
The macaroni cheese bites were moreish with a nice crispy exterior and cheesy pasta on the inside. They were topped with crunchy spring onions and radishes for vibrancy and texture contrast. I would have preferred more of the roast chilli mayo as it was very tasty but also provided some moisture to the dryness and crispiness of the bites. Perhaps a dipping pot of that deliciousness on the side?
The “chapchos” were amazing and an improvement over the first time we had them. The chapattis were crisp but still retained a little of their chewiness, which made it easier to scoop up the delicious aubergine chutney. Fresh onions, tomatoes and coriander added flavour and pungency. This dish, original to 68 Market Street’s menu, is a genius creation. I don’t think I can ever enjoy regular nachos again after having these!
The Small and Large Plates make up most of the menu and again, the portions are big so they’re perfect for sharing. I couldn’t decide between the kohlrabi fritter and the sundried tomato scotch egg so I had both as small plates and was suitably stuffed! I think this would have been fine if I hadn’t nibbled on the two starters but it wasn’t a big sacrifice to gobble up all those nice fresh veggies.
The sundried tomato scotch egg, brand new to the menu, was served with crispy smoked aubergine and Caesar salad. I wasn’t sure if the sundried tomatoes would be too potent and intense but it was the best meatless scotch egg I’ve ever had. The sundried tomato was used sparingly to enhance rather than overpower. All the flavours in this dish worked really well together. At first, I thought the aubergine strips were too salty but then I realised that salt is needed to make them less bitter and soak up less oil so they’re not too greasy. The saltiness complimented the rest of the ingredients. I particularly loved the crunchy garlicky Caesar salad with its giant croutons, which I’m sure were from Grain Culture’s leftover bread.
The kohlrabi fritter was topped with a scrumptious slaw made of more kohlrabi, radish and other seasonal vegetables delivered that day from local suppliers. Everything was so fresh – I could really taste the difference.
Paulo had the spiced seitan kebab on flatbread, served with pickles, garlic mayo and smokey chilli sauce. Known as “wheat meat” seitan is all gluten and comes remarkably close to meat texture and flavour. Paulo didn’t miss the meat at all and gave this kebab a big thumbs up.
A side order of hand cut chips with ketchup and mayo rounded out his main course. (Whilst we’re still on the topic of main courses, another excellent Large Plate on the menu is the fried green tomato ‘sando’ with katsu sauce and pickles, using Grain Culture’s amazing milk bun. We sampled this at the pre-opening and highly recommend it.)
Although I was full, I still ordered dessert. I just had to try the builders tea panna cotta with custard cream ice cream sandwich. I couldn’t finish it all but was glad to have a taste of this comforting dish. (No food waste here, Paulo ate the rest!)
The coconut rice pudding doughnuts were another comforting dessert. The summer fruit coulis provided a sweet, tangy contrast. These doughnuts were crispier than the ones we had at the pre-opening launch. I believe more breadcrumbs (or perhaps coarser ones) were used this time but they were amazing both ways.
What I like most about 68 Market Street is it welcomes carnivores, flexitarians and vegivores, making us feel comfortable asking about vegetarian/vegan ingredients we may not be familiar with. There’s no judgement or condescending attitude towards meat eaters… just a celebration of good, honest, fresh food from some of Cambridgeshire’s best producers. There’s more to come from this fabulous place, including guest chef events (who may not have a 100% vegetarian menu) so stay tuned!
Dinner at 68 Market Street is based on my experience at my own cost and I did not receive compensation for my review.
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