Pint Shop Tasting Lunch – Cambridge (UK)

I was invited to a Tasting Lunch for Press & Bloggers to try out Pint Shop’s exciting new menu, developed by acclaimed food writer and chef Rosie Sykes. It was also an opportunity to check out Pint Shop’s revamp, namely its two new private dining rooms on the first floor and the covered, heated courtyard garden.

Pint Shop’s motto may be “Meat Bread Beer” but the new menu is so much more than that, with a greater selection of vegetarian options and a new vegan dish. Meat lovers can still enjoy beer brined chicken and tender pork belly cooked on their charcoal spit roast, as well as selections from the menu’s dry aged beef section. Dishes from Pint Shop’s charcoal grill include their house curry, grilled stone bass, lamb loin chops and a cauliflower cheese soufflé. But that’s not all… the menu features sharing platters, scotch eggs, small plates, flatbread kebabs, sides and desserts too. The redesigned menu offers greater flexibility so diners can share a variety of small plates as nibbles with drinks or order one of the small plates as a starter, as part of a 3-course meal.

The beer matrix is more impressive than ever with an extra 7 lines added to the bar but there is a fantastic selection of gins too.

To take home, I was given a can of Appalachian Green dry-hopped US pilsner brewed by Marble Brewery in collaboration with Pint Shop as part of their 20th Birthday Collaboration Series. What a treat!

Non-alcoholic options include hand-brewed Shrb sodas that are very low in sugar. I enjoyed Shrb’s Orange Ginger, one of the 4 flavours on the menu. It has a vibrant taste as the ingredients are steeped in cider vinegar for two whole days.

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Ox – Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)

I travelled to Belfast twice over a four-week period and was wowed by the foodie scene. I shared my Belfast exploits through my #one2Belfast hashtag on Instagram and clearly there was no shortage of fabulous restaurants, cafes and bars for me to explore. Not to diminish the other wonderful places I visited but I just have to share my experience at Ox, an amazing Michelin starred restaurant near the Belfast Waterfront.

Paulo and I managed to squeeze in lunch at Ox before catching our flight back to Stansted. We booked a table ahead of time and were delighted that the timing fit in with our work and travel schedules.

Ox looked a bit dark and unassuming from the outside but once we entered, the small restaurant was flooded with natural light from the double-height picture windows. We took in the beautiful decor with its high ceiling, serene shade of blue, modern light fixtures and wooden church chairs (with prayer book holders on the back).

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The Architect – Cambridge (UK)

I first wrote about The Architect in 2014 (here) when it re-opened, following an extensive refurbishment and change of name (it was previously the County Arms). The Architect’s independent tenancy changed recently and after closing for a spruce up and menu overhaul, the pub has had another re-opening.

Cambridgeshire locals Luke Edwards and Stuart Tuck, who now run this great pub in Castle Hill, retained The Architect’s name, logo and many of the beautifully designed features, such as the bar and fireplaces. They bring with them their combined experience running The Blue Lion, a successful and award-winning pub in Hardwick, which they now run alongside The Architect.

The Architect has a completely different vibe and is the only pub in Cambridge dedicated to fish & chips and pie & mash. Architects are designers so the pub’s “design your own meal” concept is quite fitting.

For starters or just snacks with drinks, the menu features options to design your own sharing board. There is even a scotch egg taster which includes three different types (classic, smoked haddock and spiced falafel) with half pint beer pairings.

The main courses focus on two pub classics – fish & chips and pie & mash – but the innovative options give the menu a real twist. The menu is a great visual guide through the various combinations. There is lots of choice and the fish & chips combinations offer more than just fish, with vegetarian options such as halloumi and seasonal veggies.

The fabulous bar – a must for any pub – offers a great range of gins, craft beers and guest ales, which can be enjoyed with a meal or in one of the pub’s cosy areas.

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Tamburlaine Restaurant and Bar – Cambridge (UK)

Cambridge’s Tamburlaine hotel opened last March to a lot of fanfare, particularly their launch party (which I missed due to illness). There was a great buzz about the place, bringing some life to the developing area by the train station.

The hotel’s stylish rooms and venues certainly have the wow factor. It’s a gorgeous place to visit and I did pop into their stunning bar a while back and really enjoyed their cocktails.

I had read conflicting reports about the restaurant so Paulo and I decided to try it for ourselves. We visited on a Wednesday evening without a reservation. There was no need as the restaurant was fairly empty. We were warmly welcomed and given a choice of nice tables by the window, near the open kitchen.

The Brasserie-style dining room is elegant and quite large, almost a little too large for any kind of warm ambience. Still, additional people in the room would have made for a more intimate experience but it looked like the other diners were lone hotel guests who didn’t feel like venturing into Cambridge’s busier areas.

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The Muddlers Club – Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)

Tucked away in a back street of Belfast’s vibrant and bustling Cathedral Quarter, The Muddlers Club is a real find. The place is steeped in history as it’s named after the secret society that used to meet there over 200 years ago.

Passageways illustrated with street art lead to an industrial building displaying fairy lights and a welcoming sign.

Its hidden location suggests an air of secrecy and exclusivity, yet The Muddlers Club is friendly and informal. A snooty place it isn’t but make no mistake, the food is top class yet reasonably priced for its exceptional quality.

The cool industrial-style décor, with its muted greys and exposed ducts, is complemented by the warm tones of the wooden floors, tables and chairs. The restaurant is dimly lit with light coming from the large windows, open kitchen, modern chandeliers and flickering candles.

The Muddlers Club offers a small, focused menu with fresh, local ingredients at the forefront. The dishes don’t have names. They are described by their ingredients which makes the presentation a surprise, especially the desserts. The dishes are simple but they’re meticulously prepared. Every single item we ordered was a work of art!

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Hot Numbers – Gwydir Street, Cambridge (UK)

In 2011 coffee shop Hot Numbers opened its first location at Dale’s, the decommissioned brewery on Gwydir Street just off Cambridge’s vibrant Mill Road. Combining owner Simon Fraser’s love for coffee and music, Hot Numbers was named after the former record store in neighbouring Kingston Street (check out the restored mural/ghost sign there).

Since then, Hot Numbers has firmly established itself as an independent specialty coffee company with the addition of a roastery, a coffee wholesale business, a second site on Trumpington Street and an extensive refurbishment at the original location. Hot Numbers hosts a variety of musical, artistic and foodie events such as live music, vinyl listening nights, art exhibitions and weekly food trucks. A unique spot in Cambridge, Hot Numbers delivers the whole package as a place for social interaction, fuelled by quality coffee, drinks and food. It’s firmly on its way to becoming a Cambridge institution.

It’s evident that Hot Numbers strives for progress and maintains a competitive edge, as any good business would do. After all, at one time Mill Road was severely lacking in quality food and drink establishments but it is thriving now. Not resting on its laurels, Hot Numbers has recently developed an exciting new brunch menu for their Gwydir Street location that stands out from run-of-the-mill offerings. It’s a bold move rendered possible by completely changing the kitchen and bringing in a development chef/consultant so the food can be made in-house. The result strikes the perfect balance between innovation and familiarity. It’s an inventive menu that elevates the humble brunch from the norm yet still retains familiar elements.

It all kicks off at 7:30am with “breakfasty” options available till 11am. Choose from apricot yoghurt panna cotta with roasted peaches and granola, coconut milk porridge with raspberries, as well as freshly baked cornbread with three choices for toppings (honey & goats cheese, raspberries & Greek yoghurt and peaches & whipped ricotta).

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Soboro Bakery – Cambridge (UK)

Soboro Bakery is the latest venture by Dong Hyun Kim, owner of Wasabi, Kimchee and Kimchee To Go. After what seemed like an eternity waiting for the empty unit in the Lion Yard to open, Cambridge finally has the honour of being Soboro Bakery’s very first location.

It was worth the wait. The shop is beautifully designed and well laid out. Its minimalist décor offers clean lines and muted tones. There’s a good feeling about the place: it’s bright, cheerful and welcoming.

Taking its name from the classic Korean sweet bun, Soboro Bakery is very much a reflection of its founder Dong Hyun Kim who was born in Korea, learned his trade in Japan and makes London his home. The website states that Soboro is “based on the fine traditions of Japanese and Korean bakery” but it also offers many British favourites so it’s not strictly an Asian bakery. Actually it’s not just a bakery either. It’s more like a café as it serves sandwiches, soups, salads and yogurt pots in addition to its wide selection of buns, doughnuts, cakes, pastries, muffins, tarts, danish and cookies.

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Issho – Leeds (UK)

Leeds’ booming food scene now includes Issho, a contemporary Japanese rooftop restaurant and bar located at Victoria Gate. This latest venture by luxury restaurant group D&D London is accessed via a lift to the third floor or up a spectacular spiral staircase.

The whole development is an architectural stunner but Issho’s presence is understated, giving it an air of exclusivity. Once we spotted the signs on the ground floor and again at the entrance, we felt as though we had found a hidden gem.

The interior design is simply breathtaking, punctuated with bamboo accents and muted colours that flow into the separate dining areas. Issho boasts a restaurant space, a terrace with views over the city centre, the Kori Bar and an open kitchen with counter top seating.

A curved wall of wine links the bar and restaurant areas and the abundance of windows ensures the whole space is bathed in natural light. I may be going on about the beautiful design and décor but Issho is definitely not a case of style over substance. The menu is a real winner with its selection of tantalising Japanese and pan-Asian dishes as well as extensive list of wines, sake and cocktails.

Issho’s Executive Chef is Ben Orpwood, an acclaimed chef with an impressive culinary resumé spanning more than a decade of experience. He has created his modern yet authentic Japanese dishes in cities like Istanbul, Dubai, Sydney and London and has travelled extensively throughout Japan. He came to our table to say hello and thank me for the Instagram pics I was posting live. And he’s from Cambridge. Two pleasant surprises!

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SmokeWorks – Station Road, Cambridge (UK)

The opening of a second SmokeWorks on Station Road is great news for BBQ lovers and fans of the restaurant. A bigger kitchen means they can offer an expanded menu such as brunch and dessert options. All of the SmokeWorks favourites are still on the menu, with some items only available at this sister restaurant. They take reservations at this location – bonus!

Executive Head Chef Vladimir Hromek is still at the helm with his expertise in the culinary arts. His vast knowledge of traditional and modern BBQ techniques, complemented by extensive travel and research, brings the authentic flavours and textures to SmokeWorks. They have their own smokers and ovens imported from the US and they smoke, pull, brine and season their own classic BBQ food.

There’s no denying SmokeWorks is a meat lover’s paradise but there are some non-meat options such as salads, fish, eggs and vegetable dishes.

The building gives SmokeWorks the room it deserves to thrive. There is ample seating, spread out over two floors, with a nice bar area for drinks, cocktails and nibbles.

As with all restaurants in the Cambscuisine group, the interior design is stunning. The décor features science fantasy, technology and industrial elements. The wheel cogs on the wall not only reflect SmokeWorks’ logo but also the train theme, a nod to the restaurant’s location on Station Road, near Cambridge train station.

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Jump – Toronto (Canada)

Jump, the first restaurant in the Oliver & Bonacini collaboration, was also the first in Toronto’s Financial District. It’s been around since 1993 and has been offering its globally inspired cuisine ever since. When I lived in Toronto I always worked uptown so many downtown restaurants escaped my attention. Fortunately, this was finally remedied.

The stunning restaurant is located in a glass atrium and boasts a beautiful bar, lighted liquor display, gorgeous lighting and courtyard patio. The décor is classic New York style with modern touches.

I loved the frog statues, surely a nod to the restaurant’s name. The jumping font on the logo and menu is clever too.

It’s also a popular place for special occasions. There was a wedding in a private room on the evening we were there but it did not intrude on our dinner. Service was impeccable and our waiter ensured no one was inconvenienced by the wedding party.

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