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!
Ely’s foodie scene is expanding and 68 Market Street is an exciting addition to the city’s food and drink offering. It’s all in the name. Not only is it the address but the word market denotes freshness, provenance and sociability… and this eco-friendly, sustainably-focused restaurant delivers in spades.
The street name is certainly a lucky coincidence but the rest is down to a clear vision of sustainability and a strong environmental ethos. The focus is on the region’s seasonal produce which supports farmers, producers and the local community. Food wastage is also of utmost importance as it impacts the environment. This is one of the reasons for 68 Market Street’s already popular Sunday Spread, which needs to be booked in advance.
It doesn’t stop there – the business recycles as much as possible with all non-recyclable waste going to a zero-landfill waste carrier. The furniture has been reused or repurposed. There are even bespoke branded tables. Works by local artists adorn the walls.
The bar area is a welcoming little space to sit and have a drink. In fact, the whole refit is well laid out, considering the limitations of the building and awkward corners and levels.
Independent business Eric’s Fish & Chips is a welcome sight amongst the giant fast food chains in Abbey Retail Park in St Ives, Cambridgeshire. It may appear to be an unlikely location at first but once you know where it is, it works. It’s a destination restaurant with a fun and unique vibe, serving sustainably caught beer battered fish, beef dripping chips, quality meat, small plates, drinks and more. Ample free parking makes it easy to pop in for a take-away or eat in. This is executive chef Eric Snaith’s second opening, built on the success of Eric’s Fish & Chips in Thornham on the north Norfolk coast, which I have visited several times and wrote about here.
Granted, the experience isn’t fish & chips near the sea in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but once you step inside, the blue and green subtle maritime décor and stone-embedded front counter evoke the Norfolk coast and you almost forget you’re in a retail park unit. The exposed whitewashed brick, multi-coloured wall tiles, plush teal banquette seating and circular light fittings create a welcoming, modern atmosphere.
I eagerly awaited the opening of Eric’s Fish & Chips in St Ives to see how the food and ambience would compare to the one in Thornham, where we have been known to take a day trip just to feast on their fish & chips. So when the invite came to visit the new location, I welcomed the opportunity to taste more of their menu.
It’s been over 3 years since Prana relaunched after an extensive refurbishment (I wrote about it here). Since then, this upscale Indian restaurant on Mill Road has taken its place among Cambridge’s best eating establishments and even won a few prestigious awards along the way. It’s no secret Paulo and I have been regular customers – the food has always been flavoursome and prepared with quality ingredients.
The food and drink scene in Cambridge, particularly on Mill Road, has been evolving and expanding. Prana’s bar now offers over 40 gins, making them the biggest Indian restaurant gin bar in Cambridge. There are gins from all over the world as well as local ones. The front of the restaurant facing Mill Road is the area for walk-ins to enjoy a G&T or two. It’s not necessary to dine in to try the gin bar (snacks are available) but we decided to have our G&Ts with our dinner (Silent Pool for Paulo, Brockmans for me). There is a choice between Fever-Tree and Schweppes tonics (we’re team Fever-Tree).
Owner Kobir Ahmed kindly invited us to try Prana’s new menu, which has been streamlined, thereby putting less pressure on the kitchen, generating less food waste and simplifying the previously overwhelming choice. Most of the favourites are still on the menu and these dishes continue to be several notches above the bog standard curry houses. The new menu features five additional dishes, some exclusive to Prana, which have replaced a few of the traditional ones that made the old menu so extensive.
Curiosity got the better of us so we ordered all three of the new starters. They were packed with clean, vibrant flavours as Prana continue to use their own spice blends rather than curry powder. The Samosa Chaat (vegan) was a feast for the eyes as well as the palate with its spicy heat that wasn’t too overpowering. It was beautifully presented, consisting of crushed chickpeas and potato, topped with a vegetable samosa and drizzled with sweet and tangy sauce, all on a bed of fresh salad leaves with pomegranate seeds and a sprinkling of Bombay mix from fellow Mill Road trader Al-Amin.
There’s a new chef in town (well, the pretty Cambridgeshire village of Eltisley) and it’s Jamie Mountford, a man with an impressive culinary resumé. If his name seems familiar, it’s because he was a finalist in Masterchef: The Professionals in 2016. He has built his reputation in some of the finest kitchens in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, in addition to his tireless fundraising work.
Jamie has taken over The Eltisley’s kitchen with a completely overhauled menu. Now under new management, Jamie’s food finally does justice to this lovely village pub. Out with gimmicks (food on hooks) and a niche menu (100% gluten free) – in with dishes brimming with fresh flavours and quality produce. Featuring a delicious list of starters, sharers, mains, steaks (fillet, sirloin, flat iron), sauces, sides, pizzas, sweets and even kids meals, the menu is varied enough to suit many preferences and appetites but it’s not overly fussy. The vegetarian options are not an afterthought as in many pubs and gluten free dishes are still available.
I was invited to try the brand new menu a few weeks ago. It was only their second day serving the dishes and the team (kitchen, servers, bartenders and front-of-house) were all fantastic. The place was full too, so word has clearly gotten out about the positive changes!
I’ve been to Cambscuisine’s The Crown & Punchbowl several times since it opened three years ago after an extensive refurbishment. I wrote all about their seasonal, modern British food here but had never stayed in their accommodation until now.
This country pub, restaurant and inn located in Horningsea, just 3 miles from the centre of Cambridge, offers the best of both worlds with a village setting but still close enough to the city. Our home is in the midst of renovations so we took advantage of the Sleepy Sundays deal for a little getaway, looking forward to good food and a comfy bed.
Sleepy Sundays at The Crown & Punchbowl features a double, ensuite room on Sunday evenings for only £50 when you spend £75 on dinner in the restaurant, including food and drinks. However, you need to book the deal by contacting The Crown & Punchbowl directly (not through their website) and it excludes Bank Holiday weekends and breakfast (which is an extra £10 per person – more on that later).
There are five rooms (Erasmus, Coleridge, Forster, Woolf and Marlowe) in The Crown & Punchbowl’s traditional old part of the building, where the restaurant is just down the stairs. Our room, the Hawking, was on the upper floor of the adjacent Science Wing, their latest extension featuring a total of four rooms named after influential scientists with a connection to Cambridge (Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing, Rosalind Franklin and Jane Goodall).
When friends and family come to visit, I tend to see Cambridge through the eyes of a tourist. My cousin Marc from Montreal stopped by Cambridge for a quick visit after his business trip to Wales. He was only here for one afternoon and evening so I had to carefully consider where to show him around. Cambridge has so much to offer, more than just the colleges but I did want him to experience the city’s stunning architecture in the few short hours he was here.
In terms of dining options I chose Parker’s Tavern, the restaurant at the extensively refurbished University Arms hotel. Its décor has the feel of a University college. The dishes, drinks and even the cups are linked to Cambridge’s history, without being too gimmicky. And what’s more, Parker’s Tavern – which operates independently from the hotel – is headed by award-winning chef Tristan Welch, who grew up near Cambridge and has returned to live here with his family. It’s also nice to know that the focus is on producers from Cambridge and East Anglia.
I have been to Parker’s Tavern many times over the past 8 months (breakfast, dinner and Sunday Lunch) so I was confident that we would have a great experience. I wasn’t looking for fine dining – just good, unpretentious, modern British cooking (with a little twist) in a relaxed and informal setting. We all felt at ease having a good catch up over dinner but still experienced a touch of luxury.
We were the first to arrive for dinner so the room was empty (I wouldn’t have taken photos otherwise) but the place filled up shortly after we arrived. The stained-glass windows overlooking Parker’s Piece are stunning!
UPDATE: This restaurant has changed location to 2 The Pavement (still in St Ives) and is now known as Di Rita’s at No 2 (The Old Bank).
I was born and raised in Canada but I’m from Italian parents (Lazio and Molise regions). I often miss the old-school Italian food I grew up on. I’m talking comforting plates of pasta, succulent sauces and traditional favourites. As much as I love modern cuisine, sometimes I’m just looking for some no-nonsense linguine. Di Rita’s Italian Cuisine is just the place we needed to be on a Monday evening.
With an enviable location right by St Ives’ historic bridge in Cambridgeshire, Di Rita’s is open Mondays to Saturdays. The family-run restaurant lights up this little corner of Bridge Street with colours of the Italian flag above their sign and soft purple tones inside.
It’s popular with families, children, couples and groups – these customers and the staff give the place its warm ambience. What it lacks in décor, it makes up in charm and friendliness… and Di Rita’s has these in spades. Their video below is a good representation of their food and atmosphere – it tells the story better than my pics. I didn’t want to photograph the other diners (the place was buzzing) and the multi-coloured lighting made it tricky to take proper photos.
The Brampton Mill, near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, underwent a stunning refurbishment and re-opened on 16 February 2019. I was delighted to be invited to their press night for an exclusive first look a few days before their big re-opening. The invitation included dinner and drinks for 4 people so I brought along Paulo and our good friends Peter and Jenni.
I had visited The Brampton Mill in the past and it was lovely. Located down Bromholme Lane with its riverside views by the River Great Ouse, extensive garden and cosy seating areas, this 500-year-old pub was already impressive. However, the significant investment by Mitchells & Butlers – one of the largest operators of pubs, bars and restaurants in the UK – has given their Premium Country Pub a more contemporary look and feel whilst still maintaining its traditional features, like the fully functioning water wheel. It really is a sight to behold!
The whole place is now more modern, open and stylish. It was dark when we arrived so I couldn’t see the garden area and outdoor bar but they have added new furniture. The Brampton Mill have kindly provided some daytime photos.
Photo by The Brampton Mill
Photo by The Brampton Mill
Photo by The Brampton Mill
As soon as we stepped in, we were wowed by the gorgeous makeover. What a difference! We were shown to the bar for pre-dinner drinks and canapés. For the event, they had a gin station with a large selection of garnishes to personalise our G&Ts.