Mercado Central is bringing expertly prepared, market fresh produce to the heart of Cambridge. The painstakingly refurbished building on Green Street now has a cohesive presence with its uniform colour and striking hand painted sign. This independent restaurant is warm, classy and welcoming – the type of place that stops you in your tracks and makes you want to step right in.
The interior is elegant and modern, with subtle Spanish accents such as greenish-blue tiles (reminiscent of Cambridge Blue) and a gorgeous Sargadelos ceramic tap for pouring Estrella Galicia beer. There is a cosy area near the bar where customers perched on stools can enjoy drinks and nibbles.
There are more tables at the back but the main dining area is on the first floor. It’s a stunning space with high ceilings, soft lighting, beautiful wood flooring, sumptuous curtains, linen napkins, wooden and velvet chairs as well as tables without stuffy tablecloths.
The inspiration lies in Spain’s historic markets and restaurants and Mercado Central certainly deliver. It’s clear in their excellent food and drink offering but the owners (the majority Cambridgeshire locals) have the background, expertise and experience to bring a restaurant of this calibre to Cambridge. They are Daniel Grana of local company Pata Negra Spanish Food, Spanish retired footballer Gaizka Mendieta who is a childhood friend of Daniel’s, and brothers Lee and Mark Hughes, part of the popular Provenance Catering Airstream and horsebox.
Mercado Central is all about traceability and quality, from their carefully curated Spanish wine list to their sustainable, high welfare produce from specialist, small-scale suppliers. Sustainability is key: grass fed beef is sourced from British farms whilst fish and seafood are from the British Isles and Spain. They even help reduce packaging waste by providing (free of charge) still or sparkling filtered water in a branded, reusable glass bottle.
Paulo and I were invited to Mercado Central’s soft launch two days before their official opening. What an honour to be one of the first customers to dine there! We were welcomed with some Cava and given a table in the dining room upstairs, near a window overlooking pretty Green Street.
Many wines are available by the glass so I chose a Tempranillo red (Pinna Fedelis 2017, Ribera del Duero). Paulo had a pint of Estrella Galicia. We nibbled on some amazingly plump Mercado Olives (I highly recommend these).
Even though staff were still being trained and going through the learning process, we couldn’t fault the food and service. Our waiter explained some of the dishes and ingredients and helped us choose from the menu. We ordered a few starters from the Sharing Plates section. I noticed the absence of the word “tapas”, which I’m all for as it could imply that this restaurant is a tapas bar when, in reality, it offers the full dining experience: nibbles, starters, mains, desserts and an impressive wine list.
We started with flavourful red prawns from Huelva, Andalucía – Gambas al Ajillo, which were fried in oil with garlic and chilli. The oil was so succulent we mopped it all up with fantastic sourdough made in-house by their baker, José.
The cured beef from León, Cecina de Wagyu & Cebón, was of incredible quality – delicate, nutty and melt-in-the-mouth tender. A real delight to have such superior quality charcuterie.
The Galician Octopus, served with potato purée and mojo rojo (red sauce), was so tender and soft – no chewy, rubbery texture here! The sauce provided a bit of heat and the purée captured all the flavours. It’s honestly the best octopus dish I have ever eaten.
The Tortilla had a runny centre, as it should be. It was topped with confit piquillos, which provided a nice flavour contrast.
Main courses included paella (seafood and vegetarian), fish and meat dishes, with a choice of three sides (green salad, tenderstem broccoli and patatas bravas & alioli). I ordered the paella, Paulo the cod and we shared a lovely green salad as a side dish – not your average salad!
The presentation of the Seafood Paella was spectacular and completely unexpected! The paella was baked in a bespoke metal tray, which was then served in the wooden one.
The Seafood Paella was topped with quality prawns from Spain. Finely chopped squid was mixed into the bomba rice from La Albufera de Valencia. The paella was spread out in the tray in a thin layer but it was filling and very tasty. I enjoyed the socarrat caramelised flavour and toastiness all around the edges.
Paulo’s main course, Cod a la Bilbaína, was fresh and delicious. The sauce’s tangy flavours from the sherry vinegar and garlic contrasted nicely with the chickpeas and cod, which was sourced from the British Isles.
We ended our meal with all three desserts (Crema Catalana, Tarta de Santiago and Chocolate Torte), followed by Hot Numbers coffee, lemon verbena tea and a luscious Noé 30 Year Old Pedro Ximénez sherry.
There is a great team at Mercado Central. It’s evident that everything, from the impressive refurbishment to the remarkable menu, has been thoughtfully planned and prepared. Mercado Central brings a high quality food and drink experience to Cambridge and is totally deserving of its prestigious location.
I was invited by Mercado Central for a discounted dinner for two, as part of their soft launch. I did not receive compensation for my review. All views are my own.
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