Nando’s, Cambridge Retail Park – Cambridge (UK)

Those who have been reading my blog over the past 3 years know that it’s all about sharing my food experiences. I’m not a food critic or even a reviewer. I simply enjoy eating and writing about it! I don’t consider any place beneath me or not good enough for me to set foot in (that would make me a terrible food snob). Besides, I think it’s good to try a variety of places. Chains, independents, cheap eats, posh nosh… I think all of us have a balance, based on needs, budget and preferences. Whilst it’s obvious I definitely have a preference for independents (my father was a restaurateur), I’m not averse to popping into a chain once in a while. Paulo and I travel extensively for our work and sometimes we end up in towns with just chains as options, so I think it’s good for this blog to offer some alternatives, based on my own personal opinion of course.

When I received an email announcing that Nando’s opened its most sustainable restaurant right here in Cambridge, I was curious to see the building. Sustainable construction is of personal and professional interest to us. Appointed as a “Next Generation Nando’s”, the location at Cambridge Retail Park is the first in the world to be powered by 100% renewable electricity and gas. It has 97 solar panels that generate 10% of its overall activity.

The restaurant is complimented with eco-friendly additions such as natural insulation made of Cumbrian sheep’s wool, a living wall of plants and intricate lampshades made from mushrooms.

The timber frame building boasts a green insulated roof which keeps the restaurant warm on the inside. It’s also been cleverly designed to harvest rainwater to keep the plants hydrated. The location is a good one too, with plenty of free parking (making it easier for families to get there) and great chilli pepper-shaped bike racks for the cyclists.

The chilli pepper theme continues upon entering the restaurant, with fresh chilli peppers growing in abundance in the lobby (I was tempted to pick some).

I have to admit that I haven’t set foot in a Nando’s since 2004. When I lived in Chiswick, my tiny overheated kitchen located above a dry cleaner didn’t inspire me to cook much so I regularly succumbed to a cheeky Nando’s. I was also on a very tight budget then so this place was the ideal balance between a fast food joint and a restaurant. It still is. An overload of Nando’s and the increased ability to try new places put Nando’s to the wayside.

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Sunday Lunch at The Plough – Shepreth, Cambridgeshire (UK)

I’ve raved about The Plough before (here and here). It’s one of my favourite pubs as there is always something amazing going on, whether it is food, drink or entertainment related (check the What’s On section of their website). The Plough is located in the lovely village of Shepreth in Cambridgeshire, even though it has a Hertfordshire postal address. It’s located close to Cambridge, just a short drive or train ride away.

The Plough in Shepreth can now add one more thing to their list of offerings: a rather phenomenal Sunday Lunch menu. They have recently started doing this in partnership with popular catering company Boxed Events, owned by James Knight, a Cambridge based chef with an impressive culinary resumé that includes stints in France and Hong Kong. It’s a good match as the menu reflects The Plough’s desire to offer an informal social dining experience, definitely not “pub grub” or “gastro pub”. It’s just good food expertly prepared with fresh, local ingredients and their Sunday Lunch menu certainly delivers.

The menu changes slightly every Sunday, particularly the starters so they can offer seasonal choices. The mains always include the requisite roast with veg and Yorkshire pudding. However, there is also fish, burgers or a vegetarian option. There’s a great children’s menu too!

Last week, Paulo and I tried the Plough’s Sunday Lunch menu for the first time and we really enjoyed the food and ambience. Owner Nick Davis is a real music connoisseur and loves to spin records, as we do. The menu is matched with a musical theme and on our visit, it was 70s rock music. It wasn’t overwhelming, just loud enough to add some atmosphere and relaxing vibes.

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Cambridge Cookery School Café’s Saturday Evening Menu – Cambridge (UK)

We already know Cambridge Cookery School is a state-of-the-art learning facility (I wrote about their courses here and here) and their café serves some tasty food during the day (I wrote all about it here)… but did you know they are open on Saturday evenings too?

Every Saturday, Cambridge Cookery School Café transforms into a chilled out wine bar in the evening. It’s a bright, airy space with great views (no more construction, yay!) and ample seating outside. The décor is Scandinavian cool and features commissioned artwork by local artist (and foodie) Naomi Davies.

With the lights dimmed as it gets dark and enjoyable music in the background, the café becomes a wonderful spot for relaxing and socialising. It’s a great place to go if you want to avoid the Saturday night crowds in the city centre.

The Cambridge Cookery School Café is open until midnight on Saturdays and the menu features a selection of global platters, such as Scandinavian, Italian and Middle Eastern. They can be created to serve 1, 2 or 4 people and adapted to a vegetarian option. They use wonderfully fresh produce from Croxton Park in nearby St Neots. There is a cheese platter too and some fabulous mini desserts.

The drinks menu includes carefully sourced wines as well as cider, lager, ale and all the requisite aperitifs: G&T, Pamplemousse Rose, Aperol Spritz, Mojito, Negroni and Bloody Mary.

Paulo and I were kindly invited by co-owner Tine Roche to sample the Saturday Evening Menu and it did not disappoint. The table was beautifully set with flickering candles, crisp cloth napkins and colourful Iittala tableware. We were offered the Pamplemousse Rose, a refreshing cocktail made with Edmond Briottet pink grapefruit liqueur and Prosecco.

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The Cambridge Chop House – Cambridge (UK)

The Cambridge Chop House, one of the great restaurants in the Cambscuisine group, is located in the heart of town amongst many of the visitor attractions. However, this ideal location on King’s Parade doesn’t mean it’s a tourist trap. The Cambridge Chop House, a renowned dinner spot, has always consistently delivered excellent food, ambience and service.

So one can be forgiven if breakfast at The Cambridge Chop House doesn’t readily spring to mind. The good news is that a traditional British breakfast menu is now served every day between 9am and 11:30am.

It’s definitely worth popping in if you need to be in Cambridge early and want a hearty meal to start the day. Paulo and I went before the shops opened. We got to relax, admire the stunning views and enjoy a quiet, leisurely breakfast before the town came to life.

The ground floor is bathed in natural light with large windows wrapped around the corner of King’s Parade and Bene’t Street. It’s a cheerful spot to start the day right!

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Giggling Squid – Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk (UK)

Giggling Squid is a chain of Thai restaurants located in affluent market towns. There are 20 restaurants and counting but it certainly doesn’t feel like a soulless corporate entity. Perhaps it’s because the story of their beginnings is a humble and endearing one. Andy and Pranee Laurillard came up with the concept of Thai Tapas Sets and opened their first restaurant in Brighton back in 2002. And if you’re wondering where the quirky name came from, it’s the nickname of one of their children.

It was only a matter of time before Giggling Squid came to the historic town of Bury St Edmunds and it’s a perfect fit. It has become massively popular so be sure to book.

The décor is simply stunning. Muted colours, gorgeous lighting and layered textures create a relaxing and welcoming ambience, complemented by friendly and helpful service.

Paulo and I popped in for dinner, so we missed their famous lunch time tapas (this will soon be corrected with a return visit). The evening menu was filled with tantalising dishes, some of them quite original, others more traditional but all reflecting their ethos of simple, rustic, fresh Thai food.

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Squires Restaurant, Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa – Newmarket, Suffolk (UK)

Pies are a big deal in the UK so it’s no wonder we hold British Pie Week every March to celebrate our love of the humble pie. Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa in Newmarket got in on the celebrations and invited me and Paulo to try out their British Pie Weekend menu at Squires Restaurant.

This 2 AA Rosette restaurant, with Executive Head Chef Sean Melville at the helm, provides a modern dining experience in beautiful surroundings. The restaurant prides itself on sourcing their produce locally whenever possible, and their suppliers are all within a 50-mile radius.

We were greeted warmly by restaurant manager Manfred Seibert and shown to a cosy table in the corner with comfy armchairs. The excellent service continued throughout the meal.

We ordered drinks while we perused the three-course pie menu: Adnams Ghost Ship pale ale for Paulo and a glass of Prosecco for me.

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Eric’s Fish & Chips – Thornham, Norfolk (UK)

Eric’s Fish & Chips, located in the pretty village of Thornham on the North Norfolk coast, is home to some of the best fish and chips I’ve tasted. Well-known local chef Eric Snaith opened the restaurant in 2015 and it’s been a huge success with locals and visitors alike.

The minimalist décor is bright, cheerful and modern with a nod to the fish and chip shops of yore. Concrete floors, multi-coloured wall tiles, rustic jam jar lights as well as stools, chairs and tables with hints of vibrant yellow and green all add to the fun and welcoming atmosphere.

The focus is on local, seasonal produce… from the sustainable MSC-certified fish to the potatoes (there is even a sign indicating the potato of the day).

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The Ship Hotel – Brancaster, Norfolk (UK)

The Flying Kiwi Inns is an independent group of luxury hotels in coastal Norfolk purchased by New Zealand Master Chef Chris Coubrough who has settled in the area. The Ship Hotel in Brancaster is one of those luxurious hotels. I already stayed at The Crown Hotel in Wells-next-the-Sea and blogged about it here a few years ago. Paulo and I really enjoyed the great food, wine, service and ambience and were eager to repeat the experience at The Ship Hotel. I’m pleased to say we were not disappointed.

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We had a bit of a stressful drive during Storm Doris but when we arrived at The Ship Hotel, check-in couldn’t have been more effortless. Within minutes we were shown to room 9, which I requested upon booking over the phone, where we could unwind before dinner.

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The deluxe Moroccan-themed room on the top floor featured a comfy King-size bed, a luxurious roll top bath, separate shower cubicle and a great little nook with a sofa bed nestled in the corner.

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Room 9 on the top floor was the pub’s attic before the refurbishment but the high ceiling in the roof’s apex and the original wooden beams made the room feel spacious.

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Signorelli’s Deli – Cambridge (UK)

There was a time when authentic Italian pizza was hard to come by in Cambridge. In the last few years, there have been some excellent cafes, delis, restaurants and even mobile pizzerias serving this popular Italian classic all over our fair city. So much so, that we are now spoilt for choice, as there are many different kinds of pizza with their origins throughout Italy. Each region has their own way of making pizza, with Naples and Rome among some of the best known cities.

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Most people are only familiar with the round single serving pizzas, sometimes baked in a wood fired oven. Signorelli’s Deli, which opened recently on Burleigh Street by The Grafton Centre, serve their pizza differently. They specialise in pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice), where the dough is spread out in a rectangular tray, topped with a choice of ingredients, baked in an electric oven and cut into slices. It’s not meant to be served hot. The rectangular slices are easy to eat on the go but Signorelli’s Deli boasts a welcoming spacious interior with some of the friendliest staff I have ever encountered. The pride and passion for what they create is apparent and they are very helpful in answering any questions about their products. There is definitely a great team there!

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Signorelli Deli’s pizza al taglio has a thick (but not dense) crumb that’s puffy and similar to focaccia. The dough, obviously made from high quality ingredients, is full of air bubbles, resulting in an airy, chewy foundation robust enough to support a variety of toppings.

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1H+K – Vaasa (Finland)

Once in a while you stumble upon the perfect little restaurant that has it all: great food, ambience and service. 1H+K is that place, although it happens to be in Vaasa, Finland so I’m not able to pop in nearly as often as I’d like. However, I did make the most of my short stay and enjoyed dinner at 1H+K twice.

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1H+K stands for one (1) room (huone) + kitchen (keittiö) and that’s exactly what it is, although there is a private dining room available (they call it a cabinet). The restaurant (ravintola) is tucked away on the first floor above the Pentik shop but it isn’t part of the store. It’s completely independent and is accessed through the main entrance with its own staircase. However, you can spot the restaurant from inside the shop.

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Its relatively hidden premises is part of the charm. It’s like discovering a secret location for those “in the know”. It certainly feels as though it’s the type of place only locals know about, as there is no English version of their website. Fortunately, I was able to find their main menu on their Facebook page that included the English translation. The dishes feature local produce and seasonal cooking, which means that the menu changes a few times a year and remains small (as it should be) with 4 or 5 items per course.

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