These are unprecedented times. Yes, we are in lockdown due to COVID-19 but also unprecedented because I am baking. A lot. I hardly ever bake! It’s a comforting activity that’s keeping me sane all the while ensuring no produce goes to waste. Over the past several weeks, I made 4 loaves of banana bread and 2 batches of carrot muffins. Whoa.
Time is on my side so I’ve been perfecting my recipe for carrot muffins. I used less sugar the second time around and I was really pleased with the result. The natural sweetness of the carrots and little kick of cinnamon meant I could cut way down on the sugar (I went from 200g to 140g).
There’s olive oil rather than butter in the carrot muffins, making them lighter in texture. The recipe doesn’t use a lot of flour, which is difficult to find at the moment. So a little goes a long way. This recipe also uses up any carrots languishing in the fridge.
La Raza is a long standing, family run, independent business with an enviable location on Rose Crescent in the heart of Cambridge. This popular basement bar and restaurant has been feeding, watering and entertaining their customers since 2003. It is primarily known as a venue for events, live music, DJ nights and cocktails but also serves Mediterranean inspired cuisine. I admit I only thought of events and cocktails when it came to La Raza, having danced away there with The Early Night Club as well as attending their well organised Cambridge Cocktail Weekend in 2017 (I blogged about it here). I was invited to check out their food offering and came away suitably impressed.
Their superb tapas menu offers a variety of sharing dishes: meat, charcuteria, salads, seafood, vegetarian and croquetas. There is also a choice of four different types of paella, suitable for two to share, as the main course for heartier appetites. Sides & nibbles, desserts and a sharing plate round out the menu. The food complements their fantastic selection of cocktails – they really do make some of the best in town. I particularly liked their “What’s Your Flavour” chart, divided into four categories (smart, refreshing, rich, casual), to help choose a cocktail of my preference.
A lovingly refurbished pub with rooms surrounded by a 1,000-acre historic deer park in North Norfolk, The Gunton Arms hit the mark on all counts: stunning location, stylish accommodation, cosy pub, great staff, fantastic food & drink and impressive art collection. It was the perfect getaway, only two hours from Cambridge.
Paulo and I visited The Gunton Arms with our friends Peter and Jenni, who had dined at the restaurant and were keen to repeat the experience in our company, as well as stay on the estate.
The location was a little difficult to find but it added to the cachet of a unique hideaway. We spotted the neon sign to reception where we registered our arrival.
We were directed to the car park and once inside the remarkable inn, staff welcomed us and showed us to the residents’ lounge, the coffee/tea making facilities and our rooms.
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.
Food Social, the dining quarter in The Grafton, has added The Duck Truck to its exciting line up of independent restaurants near Vue cinema. Founder Ed Farrell, who hails from Bury St Edmunds, has already been operating The Duck Truck successfully in London as a food truck since 2012.
The Cambridge location, on the first floor of a shopping centre, required some tweaks to the mobile street food concept. The Duck Truck’s signature Airstream trailer was retained, but as a small, stationary version where orders are placed at the hatch, drinks are prepared and coffee is made in their La Marzocco machine.
Next to the Airstream’s gleaming façade is the spacious kitchen where the food is freshly cooked and placed at the pass when it’s ready. Upon ordering, customers are given a buzzer that glows and vibrates when they need to pick up their numbered order from the shelf. It’s a great system that allows diners to find a seat and relax with a drink whilst waiting.
The Duck Truck is nestled between fellow Food Social traders Amélie Flam-Kuche and Chi. The seating is well laid out, with a mix of chairs, booths, benches and stools. It’s a cheerful, pleasant space with a great vibe.
Signorelli’s Deli opened on Burleigh Street in 2017 and it’s been a huge success, due in no small part to the hard work of affable owner Alex Signorelli and his team. So when The Grafton started its massive refurbishment and creation of Food Social, it was only fitting that Signorelli’s have a presence there too.
Based on the concept of a town centre square, La Piazza by Signorelli’s is a place to gather, day or evening, for food, drinks and good company. The area, right by H&M on the ground floor, is certainly eye catching with its plush velvet seats and fantastic lighting. It’s family friendly too, with highchairs and lots of space for prams.
Their counter is laden with hot dishes, salads, cakes and gelato. Signorelli’s bread (including their award-winning ciabatta) is freshly made every day in their on-site bakery at the Deli and there are a variety of sandwiches for a quick bite.
Cam Spice has been on my list of Indian restaurants to try so I’m happy we finally had the chance to visit. It’s located in Great Eversden, Cambridgeshire in a pub named The Hoops and it has retained its charm despite the refurbishment. The big car park is a bonus.
The restaurant makes great use of the space with a cosy bar that’s popular with the locals, an area with additional seating amid the exposed beams as well as round tables ideal for groups behind the impressive bubble water wall.
Paulo and I were warmly welcomed by Baba and given a table in a little nook by the window – very charming! Baba was very helpful and helped us decide what to order, as the menu was so tantalising it was hard to choose. He was the perfect person for a foodie like me to talk to as he is a chef himself and he took the time to understand our tastes and preferences. I liked the fact that the kitchen was flexible enough to adjust any of the dishes – in my case less spicy and for Paulo, kicking the chilli level up a few notches.
UPDATE: Blue Caribou are no longer at Arndale Market.
Any Canadian who has moved from their home country, like me, will invariably succumb to nostalgia and start missing their favourite foods. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started missing poutine so much but it probably coincided with my move from London to Cambridgeshire 10 years ago, when I finally felt settled in the UK. It took several more years for poutine to become well-known and it eventually made its way onto Cambridge menus – but without the all-important squeaky cheese curds. Although the combo of cheese, chips and gravy can only be a good thing, there is a specific way to make poutine and I have found very few places in the UK that are able to make proper poutine. Manchester’s Blue Caribou is one of those traders who have poutine down pat. They understand the holy trinity of fries, gravy and cheese curds and how to strike the right balance of flavours and textures.
Blue Caribou first started popping up in Manchester in 2016. It’s the creation of British-Québécois married couple Graham Gartside-Bernier and Vincent Bernier. They lived in Canada and now live in Manchester. They have eaten some of the best poutine in Québec, where it originated back in the 1950s. If their names seem familiar it’s because they recently appeared on BBC Two’s My Million Pound Menu with Fred Sirieix.
As a born and bred Montrealer, I can wholeheartedly state these guys know what they are doing when it comes to authentic poutine, plus they have the culinary skills to create delicious variations with ingredients like pastrami (La Reuben), kimchi (La Coréenne), roast chicken and peas (La Galvaude) and vegan doner (La Doner). Now that Blue Caribou have a permanent home at Arndale Market, they are able to expand their menu to other Canadian/Québec casse-croûte (snack bar) classics like pogos (corn dogs), hot chicken sandwiches and steamés (steamed hot dogs) that crop up occasionally on the menu.
Chi is Cambridge’s latest independent restaurant to open in Food Social, the burgeoning dining quarter in The Grafton, near PureGym and the Vue cinema. Chi offers Asian inspired street food cuisine like bao, banh mi, bubble tea, dumplings, bubble waffles, noodle/rice dishes and more.
This new addition to Cambridge’s food scene is expertly developed and designed but it’s definitely not a soulless corporate chain. It’s clear this place has heart and is driven by passion for good food.
Paulo and I were invited by co-owner Aidan to try the menu and it was nice to hear about his extensive (and impressive) experience in hospitality as well as his connection to our city. Aidan not only grew up in Cambridge, he also grew up in the restaurant business. His father, who’s from Hong Kong, owned a successful restaurant over 20 years ago just down the road from The Grafton.
Chi sits in a lovely, bright space at the back of Food Social. There are lots of tables and the chairs are comfortable. There is even counter seating with stools, complete with outlets for laptops. It’s also child friendly with highchairs and a kids’ menu featuring fun activities, including making paper lanterns. They even had some creations on display at the order counter. Very cute!
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!