I’ve been a fan of Gourmet Brownie since I first discovered Kirstyn and Andrew’s delicious brownies several years ago at one of my local markets. I’ve been hooked on their chocolaty goodness, crisp crust and rich centre ever since. I can honestly say that some of the best brownies come from their kitchen in Ely, Cambridgeshire. They’re all hand-baked in small batches with no artificial flavourings, preservatives or colourings – just fresh, quality ingredients.
I’m pleased that their signature all-butter brownies are being stocked in an increasing number of establishments and can also be ordered online (keep reading to find out how to get 15% off all Gourmet Brownie orders for Valentine’s Day). It takes an incredible amount of hard work, business savvy and creativity to take a business from strength to strength – and this is precisely what Kirstyn and Andrew are doing, with the help of a small team. So I was elated to receive an invitation to Gourmet Brownie’s launch of their 2019 Valentine’s range. It was held at the fabulous Poets House in Ely, where a group of bloggers gathered at the bar for cocktails and mocktails before proceeding to a private function room.
I don’t think any of us expected to feast our eyes on such a stunning tablescape. We were all impressed by the grazing table of brownies, beautifully laid out on carved wooden boards. The glass vases with gorgeous flower arrangements by Farm Flowers, tall candle holders, crisp white napkins, vintage style cutlery and dyed linen ribbons added to the sumptuous ambience.
Award-winning pâtissière Corinne Payet of Gourmandises has been hosting supper clubs and pop-up restaurants for years but they had been put on the back burner whilst she set up Gourmandises Académie, her home studio for workshops and events. Le Bistrot Clandestin, inspired by the wonderfully simple bistros and cafés off the beaten tracks in rural France, was created by Corinne to share the cuisine of Réunion, the tropical island where she was born.
Réunion, an overseas department and region of France, sits in a remote spot in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mauritius. It is a mosaic of cultures and culinary traditions, particularly from mainland Africa, Madagascar, China, India and France. In terms of flavours Reunionese cuisine can be described as a melting pot, where different foods and spices are blended to create flavourful dishes like their iconic cari. Réunion is also a mosaic – a combination of distinct elements coming together to create one beautiful picture. That is the spirit of Corinne’s Bistrot Clandestin.
On August 11, 2018 talented baker Jin Yee Chung of The Baking Jin hosted his very first pop up, titled East Meets West. I was delighted to experience Jin’s take on Afternoon Tea, along with a group of guests who were eager to try his bakes or have been long time fans. The pop up took place at Romano’s, the welcoming home of Paola Davies-Romano which is set up for her popular supper clubs and cookery classes. We all gathered around an inviting communal table on a Saturday afternoon.
Jin, who hails from Borneo, is a software engineer by day (that’s Dr Jin – he has a PhD) and a baker by night. After winning the Cambridge Bake Off in 2015 with his stunning DNA cake, Jin continued baking, experimenting and perfecting his cakes. He is known for his light and airy chiffon cakes and has a growing list of customers for private orders. He also supplies a few cafés and has been featured in The Cambridgeshire Cook Book (2015) and The Cambridgeshire Cook Book: Second Helpings (2018).
East Meets West was loosely based on the concept of Afternoon Tea with a sweet and savoury parade of fusion dishes from Jin’s native Malaysia and beyond, paired with two intriguing teas: Jiaogulan and Chrysanthemum.
We were welcomed with a gorgeous mocktail which Jin named Blue Purple, because it changed colour. A carafe of lime-honey liquid was poured into each glass of blue pea flower liquid, which changed the colour of the mocktail from blue to purple. The batch of blue pea flowers, grown in the garden of Jin’s late grandparents in Malaysia, was picked and dried by his aunties. How special is that? On a more local note the honey was from East Hatley, only 15 miles from Cambridge. A pandan leaf was placed into the mocktail for a hit of its sweet, vanilla-like aroma. We nibbled on lobster crackers and keropok (prawn crackers) before we took our seats.
A new and unique eating experience has come to the UK and it’s all taking off in Cambridge – specifically at Food Social, The Grafton’s open plan dining quarter by the Vue cinema. Amélie is the first UK restaurant dedicated to serving Flammekueche, a dish dating back to the 14th century from the Alsace region of France, close to the German border. Flammekueche is made with thinly stretched dough topped with fresh ingredients and baked in a very hot oven for about 90 seconds, leaving the edges crisp and slightly charred. It may be quick to prepare and bake but it’s not your average fast food. It’s an upgrade from fast food – top quality ingredients are used and everything is freshly cooked. Flammekueche is the Alsatian word for this delicacy, which Amélie have loosely translated as French fire bread. It’s also called tarte flambée in French and Flammkuchen in German.
Food Social is part of The Grafton’s extensive refurbishment and Amélie is the first independent restaurant – of hopefully more indie brands – to occupy a space. The shopping centre’s refurbishment is coming along nicely (thumbs up to the loos!) and Amélie has already given the place a wow factor with its yellow Citroen H van on the upper floor.
The 55-cover family friendly restaurant has an open kitchen with individual and communal seating. The menu, designed for sharing (only if you wish), focuses of both savoury and sweet Flammekueche but also features a selection of starters such as dips, salads and meat boards. There are lots of options on the menu so there’s something to please everyone, even a mini Flammekueche for children.
The first Cambridgeshire Cook Book published in 2015 by Meze Publishing was a huge success and I wrote all about the launch of this great publication here. Now three years later, with the food and drink scene in the Cambridge region evolving at a rapid pace, it was only fitting to come back for more with The Cambridgeshire Cook Book: Second Helpings. A celebration of the amazing food and drink on our doorstep, the book features over 50 beloved recipes put together by some of the finest independent restaurants, cafés, delicatessens, pubs, farm shops, producers and suppliers of the region. The cook book is beautifully photographed, the recipes sound delicious and each contributor’s story is nicely conveyed.
The Cambridge Cook Book: Second Helpings is a collection of stories and recipes from a cross-section of independent businesses of all types and sizes. Some of my favourites are in the book but there are also places I discovered for the first time, particularly those further afield.
I saw some familiar faces and met new people at the cook book’s official launch held on 17 July at The Shack, a covered outdoor space at The Gog. It was good to meet some of the people at Meze Publishing who were instrumental in producing the book. Publishing manager Anna Tebble compiled the contributors and food journalist Katie Fisher authored their individual stories.
It’s no secret Alimentum went through a rough patch but despite losing their Michelin star last year and chef Mark Poynton recently leaving for pastures new, there is an already great team in place taking the restaurant forward. Run by Maxwell Allwood (Head Sommelier), John Moss (General Manager) and Samira Effa (Head Chef), Alimentum has seen some positive changes to the menu and service. A more relaxed service and a changing menu – featuring seasonal dishes executed with minimum fuss or alteration – are taking Alimentum to its next chapter.
Alimentum is a restaurant in transition but they are doing everything right. The whole team – each and every person working at Alimentum – is enthusiastic about the place. This was reflected in the magnificent food and service we received when we went for dinner. Samira Effa has risen to the challenge and there’s no doubt there are talented chefs in the kitchen.
I first discovered Provenance’s fare at their launch party over 3 years ago. Since then, Provenance have been serving their delicious food in various locations in and around Cambridge and also catering wedding and events. The wood fired kitchen in their stunning Airstream produces a menu worthy of a top restaurant, offering modern British food sourced from local farmers and suppliers. They’ve even added a converted horsebox to the family, a smaller operation serving seasonal tacos.
Provenance have been popping up every second Friday of the month at The Cambridge Distillery Showroom, a unique space in Grantchester housed next door to the distillery where some of the best gin in the world is produced. The showroom not only welcomes lovers of gin but regularly hosts pop ups and food trucks as the perfect venue for great food and drink.
So it was only natural to combine Provenance’s impressive menu with The Cambridge Distillery Showroom’s wonderful ambience and surroundings. A relaxing dinner after a walk or cycle into the picturesque village of Grantchester is a lovely way to spend a Friday evening. The Cambridge Distillery Showroom also offers wine and a small selection of cocktails as an alternative to gin.
A trip to Suffolk is always a delight. It’s close to Cambridge and there is so much to see and do… not to mention eat and drink! Paulo and I visited the charming town of Long Melford to enjoy the food, drink and accommodation at the very lovely Long Melford Swan, a boutique restaurant with rooms. The adjoining Duck Deli was a bonus – a real foodie haven where we had lunch and stocked up on goodies.
The Long Melford Swan and Duck Deli are part of the establishments run by family business Stuart Inns. I wrote about the Old Crown – their latest venture and first in Cambridgeshire – here. I’ve also been to their excellent Lavenham Greyhound restaurant, so I knew a visit to the Long Melford Swan would be a wonderful experience – and I was right!
The Long Melford Swan is an impressive property with so much to offer – luxury boutique bedrooms, a cosy bar, beautiful garden area, the Duck Deli and a 2 AA rosette restaurant in the gorgeous Garden Room. There is also a chef’s table seating 6-8 people in a private room next to the kitchen where guests can indulge in a six-course tasting menu, which is also available in the restaurant.
Sing it, “it’s the most wonderful tiiiiime of the year”! Eat Cambridge, a festival of local food and drink, made a welcome return after skipping 2017. Organised by Heidi White, the Main Event took place at The Guildhall on 19 May 2018 and kicked off two weeks of fantastic fringe events.
There were 40+ stallholders over two halls and 9 talks took place throughout the day in the Council Chamber. It was a full day of foodie fun and there was an excellent turnout despite sharing the date with the royal wedding.
I spent the day helping out so I was only able to briefly visit some of the stalls but I sent Paulo around with a shopping list! The photo below shows some of the products from our impressive haul. Yes, that is a 3-litre box of Pinkster gin!
Paulo also picked up a few things here and there for me to nibble on for lunch. I may have eaten all of the empanadas from La Latina Bustaurante – they were so good!
I offered to help out Alison Lusis of Ali’s Baltic Bakes who made her big comeback at Eat Cambridge, after having to take a break from making her delicious Pīrāgi, Latvian little yeast dough pies.
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.