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!
We arrived a little early for our reservation so we enjoyed drinks in the bar – a glass of Prosecco for me and a Sidecar for Paulo. His cocktail wasn’t on the menu but the mixologist successfully rose to the challenge.
We mentioned that we were dining at the restaurant so we were given the menu to peruse whilst relaxing with our drinks. Our amuse-bouche was also served to us in the bar. The salmon tartare and trout caviar, accompanied by duck liver pâté in a little round sandwich, got our taste buds tingling.
Hans’ lovely wife Ruth, a partner in the restaurant, greeted us warmly. Service provided by every staff member was professional, friendly and not the least bit snooty. We were very impressed with the new restaurant’s décor, including the comfy crushed velvet chairs. I even had my own handbag stool.
We chose an excellent Portuguese white wine as well as fresh bread from Cotto’s impressive selection. Their bread and accompanying butters have always formed part of the gastronomic experience so I was glad they kept this up at the new premises. The bread was so good we had to remind ourselves not to fill up on it.
Our starters were beautifully presented, mine a delightful flamed beef tataki with vincotto drizzle, sourdough crisp and whole grain mustard ice. The tender beef, highlighted by the unique sweet and sour flavour of vincotto, practically melted in my mouth. The tube of crisped bread and scoop of mustard ice provided a contrast of textures and sensations.
The panko crusted farm egg, with the requisite gently oozing yolk inside its golden shell, was complemented by earthy field & forest mushrooms and aromatic late summer truffle. Paulo enjoyed this starter tremendously.
Never ones to resist the noble turbot and its delicate flavour, we both ordered the same main course (turbot, herb beurre blanc, late summer vegetables and galette). The fillets were perfectly pan-seared, expertly stacked and crowned with crisp, whisper-thin slices of potato. A gorgeous dish in every way!
For dessert, Paulo went for the British cheese selection, featuring Cave Aged Vintage Barber Cheddar, Wobbly Bottom Goat, Baron Bigod, Cropwell Bishop Stilton and Oxford Isis, served with grapes, fig, celery, apple and plenty of crackers.
Although I was tempted by the choice of incredible desserts, I couldn’t resist Hans Schweitzer’s pièce de résistance I enjoyed so much in the past – The Chocolate Piano Composition from Single Plantations. This veritable work of art, originally created in Pavarotti’s honour during Hans’ time at Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados, is a permanent fixture on Cotto’s menu. It has to be… there would be an uproar if Hans ever removed it! I noticed that the dessert varies in presentation, which keeps diners intrigued and the chef creatively motivated. The delicious cloud of spun sugar that seemed to float above the instrument was new to me but the chocolate piano was still as expertly made and finely detailed as usual. The ultimate experience for chocolate lovers!
We had the opportunity to enjoy more of Hans’ quality chocolate with the petits fours served with our tea and coffee, featuring creations with yuzu, coffee, cherries and orange. I would also advise getting a box of “Hans Made Chocolates” to take home – they are just too good!
Hans Schweitzer’s wealth of hospitality expertise is a valued contribution to Cambridge’s high end food scene. There’s something to be said about a restaurant like Cotto upholding such high gastronomic standards over the years, with an unwavering focus on quality, ambience and service.
Dinner at Cotto is based on my experience at my own cost and I did not receive compensation for my review.
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