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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Romano’s Big Fat Italian Supper Club – Cambridgeshire (UK)

When talented cook and baker Paola Davies-Romano thought about hosting a supper club, I jumped at the chance to help make it happen. I coordinated the promotion, bookings and payments whilst Romano’s website was under development… but the culinary brilliance was all Paola. My only involvement with the food was eating it!

Born in Essex to an Italian father and Spanish mother, Paola lived in Italy during her childhood and teenage years. It was only fitting for her very first supper club to have this theme so it was named Romano’s Big Fat Italian Supper Club. In true Paola style, Romano’s went BIG with lots of food, flavours and fun… all celebrated around an inviting communal table in her home. Paola even put together a set list of Italian music which added to the festive ambience.

Places for the supper club were extremely limited and they filled up very quickly. It was great to see that there are adventurous foodies out there who are up for this kind of experience. The exact location was only revealed a week before the event and the menu was kept a surprise until it was placed at the beautifully set table.

Paola drew inspiration from her roots in Italy’s Campania region which includes Naples, a city with one of the most renowned cuisines. Romano’s feast of Italian delights featured a three-course meal and some additional treats. The event was BYOB but bottles of still and sparkling water were provided.

The guests enjoyed an Aperol Spritz whilst they mingled and introduced themselves before being seated. Paola popped out of her busy kitchen to welcome the guests then the Romano’s team (Jerry, Arianne and Joe) sprang into action. Paola made regular appearances to announce and describe the dishes in each course, giving us some insight into the regions in Italy.

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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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Pie’za Pizzeria – Niagara-on-the-Lake (Canada)

Pie’za Pizzeria opened a little over a year ago in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a picturesque town and top tourist destination in Ontario. The restaurant was once a house and has been converted for commercial use. It’s a fitting location for a pizzeria that serves homestyle fare, namely Neapolitan pizza.

The Pie’za name is a reflection of this too. Even though it works with pie (as in pizza pie) and ‘za (slang for pizza), it’s really the colloquial pronunciation of paesano (paesà) that truly reflects the pizzeria’s ethos. The definition of paesano is “fellow countryman” but it also means “rustic, homey and genuine”.

This ethos is apparent in Pie’za Pizzeria’s menu as it follows the principles of the Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) movement, namely the use of certain types of ingredients, approved equipment and the traditional method of making pizza. Pie’za Pizzeria’s own version of Napoletana pizza includes specific ingredients such as Italian ‘00’ flour, San Marzano tomatoes and fior di latte (mozzarella cheese made from cow’s milk), a custom-made wood-fired oven from Naples and a trained/certified pizzaiolo (pizza chef). The dough is handmade daily using purified mineral water, single variety yeast and sea salt with a 24-hour natural fermentation process.

Photo courtesy of Pie’za Pizzeria

This background is all well and good but Pie’za Pizzeria really delivered on our visit. From the ease of booking through their website to the friendly service, it was a great experience from beginning to end. We sat at a lovely table by the window and took in the ambience with its colourful walls, interesting art, vibrant plates and even traditional good luck charms like the roguish figure Pulcinella and the corno (red horn) to ward off the evil eye. If you look closely at Pie’za Pizzeria’s logo, that little red horn serves as the apostrophe. Other playful details included a poster of Sophia Loren and the staff’s Straight Outta Napoli t-shirts.

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Momofuku – Toronto (Canada)

The Momofuku restaurant phenomenon, founded by Michelin-starrred chef David Chang, made its way to Toronto a few years ago and I finally had the chance to visit. Momofuku is adjacent to the Shangri-La Hotel and sits behind an astounding piece of public art created by celebrated artist Zhang Huan entitled “Rising”, a magnificent sculpture that rises over a reflective pool.

If that’s not impressive enough, Momofuku is located in an architecturally stunning three-storey glass cube. What can only be described as a complex, Momofuku comprises of five different concepts. There’s even a subtle map at the entrance to help find your way inside.

Momofuku boasts three restaurants. The Noodle Bar, with its communal tables and bar overlooking the open kitchen, is located on the ground floor. There’s also Daishō (steakhouse) and Shōtō (multi-course tasting menu) on the top floor.

The second floor is home to Nikai, a bar and lounge with food from the Noodle Bar’s menu. Also located on this floor is the Milk Bar, established by pastry chef Christina Tosi. This dessert shop is housed in a small refrigerated glass room.

We booked the Noodle Bar online through Momofuku’s website but it seemed they couldn’t find our reservation so we were shown to Nikai on the second floor. Actually, I’m not really sure what happened when we arrived as there was very little communication. Whether they had our reservation for the Noodle Bar but preferred to seat us in the bar and lounge or had no record of it, we’ll never know. Although we had a nice view overlooking the Noodle Bar below, we were seated on backless stools in a crowded corner so we immediately asked to change place as the stools would have been torture for Paulo’s chronic back problem. We were moved to the bar where the stools were much more comfortable but we had our backs turned to any kind of view of the surroundings. This was a bit disappointing until I realised that the very nice bartender would also take our food order so all was good. We had a captive audience… plus the cocktails were excellent!

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Bannock – Toronto (Canada)

Bannock is one of the unique and innovative restaurants in the Oliver & Bonacini portfolio, renowned in Canada and especially Ontario. The creation of Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini, Bannock is a Canadian comfort food restaurant and café enviably located in Hudson’s Bay flagship store in downtown Toronto.

The café is a great place to grab a quick sandwich, salad, pastry or coffee but the restaurant, past the centrally located open kitchen, is the place to be. The beautifully designed space is stunning and lends a real Canadian feel with its sweeping ceiling of interlocking hemlock boards reclaimed from a 150-year-old wharf in Lake Ontario. White washed pine, concrete imprinted with planks, banquettes, wooden chairs, marble tables, a communal table and atmospheric lighting all contribute to the modern Canadian aesthetic.

However, it’s not all style over substance. Bannock offers Canadian comfort food at its best. Although the restaurant is named after the traditional Scottish flatbread adapted by early Canadian settlers and indigenous peoples, the bread is their own take on bannock and is the inspiration for some of their menu items, such as the sandwiches and pizzas.

“Bannock’s honest approach to food is rooted in familiar, wholesome ingredients that are reflective of Canada’s rich regional and cultural diversity, delivered in an innovative and playful way”. (Official website)

Paulo and I couldn’t pass up Bannock’s excellent poutine so we shared a portion as our starter. Made with skin-on fries from Yukon Gold potatoes smothered in artisanal cheese curds and chicken gravy, there was so much to love in this classic Canadian dish. A sprinkling of spring onions and rosemary added some colour and elevated the poutine to posh status.

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Browns – Cambridge (UK)

Browns has been a Cambridge institution since it opened its doors in 1987. The beautiful building was part of the old Addenbrooke’s Hospital originally built in 1766 and the outpatients department, with its majestic columns, was built as a memorial to King Edward VII in 1914.

I visited Browns a few times when I moved to Cambridge and I have to admit it was looking a little tired and the spaces didn’t flow. Browns has now been completely transformed thanks to an extensive interior refurbishment. It’s contemporary and luxurious with a touch of glamour in every area, from the sweeping bar and its grand piano to the various purposely designed spaces for public, semi-private and private dining. Ideal for parties, family gatherings, business meetings and romantic dinners, there are sections for every occasion.

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Café Rouge’s Spring Menu – Cambridge (UK)

Spring is in the air and with that comes an appetite for seasonal flavours. Café Rouge’s Executive Chef Bruno Balle, inspired by his recent travels across France, created a new Spring Menu featuring à la carte dishes and a set menu sourced from the best ingredients and suppliers. Having enjoyed Café Rouge’s excellent Autumn Menu last year (I wrote about it here), Paulo and I were delighted to return to the Cambridge location to sample the new menu.

I’ve been to other Café Rouge restaurants but I love the Cambridge location. It sits among Bridge Street’s historic buildings and even has a bicycle themed entrance to their secret garden.

The inside is quite charming and cosy with a pleasant and relaxing ambience. In fact, if you book after 7:30pm, you can enjoy your table for the rest of the evening, embracing the French way of life of taking your time and savouring the dining experience.

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