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.
The Flying Pig is primarily known for its quality beer and live music, including their annual Pigfest charity music festival. However, this independent pub also serves lunch Monday to Friday, from noon to 2pm. I was kindly invited by the chef, Callum Templar, to try the menu.
I have to admit that I never thought of The Flying Pig as a lunch spot but it makes perfect sense. The pub is located on Hills Road near the station and office buildings so it’s a great location for the lunch crowd to come in for some good food in a cosy atmosphere. It’s certainly a different experience from lunching in a café or eating ‘al desko’ – a little break from the norm, perhaps?
The Flying Pig has bags of character with its extensive collection of porcine keepsakes and old posters adorning the walls and ceiling. There’s so much history there – in fact, there has been a pub on this Hills Road site since the 1840s. The landlords, Matt and Justine Hatfield, have been living above the pub for over 20 years and have made the place a hub for local residents and workers alike.
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.
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.
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 love it when a plan comes together. It’s no secret that I’m a great fan of the sweet treats produced by Andrew Hunter (Dulcedo), Jin Yee Chung (The Baking Jin) and Riadh Falvo (Bumble & Oak), but what if I brought together these three inventive makers for a special event? Some of us knew each other well, others only a little… but somehow they got on board with my idea for a collaboration, even though it was a lot of extra work for them. Jin and Riadh have full time jobs. Andrew and Joanna lost several hours of trade that day by closing early, not to mention the effort involved in all the preparation and using Dulcedo as the venue. I am so grateful for their trust in me to sell out the event.
The three of them concentrated on designing and developing the 8-course menu – a sweet (mostly) and savoury parade of innovative dishes, fusion bakes, high end patisserie and artisan chocolate. I took care of all the marketing and admin stuff, such as the event description, photos and ticket sales. Riadh came up with the name The Tasting Table.
The event formed part of my personal commitment to support independent producers and businesses so I didn’t charge for my services and paid for my own ticket and drinks. I did have a few advantages though, such as guaranteeing a ticket for myself and Paulo and getting a sneak peek at the menu so I could type it up and print individual copies. And of course, a glimpse behind the scenes is always a privilege.