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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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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À Mesa Supper Club: A Blossoming Spring – Cambridge (UK)

Stella Pereira is a true artist in every sense of the word. Her artistry is well known in Cambridge and the media, particularly her stunning Instagram. Stella’s artwork and culinary creations are inspired by the changing of the seasons, perfect timing for her latest À Mesa Supper Club held on 25 March. Titled “A Blossoming Spring”, the supper club (or “gathering”, as Stella prefers to call it) was held in her cosy living room. I had the honour of attending two of Stella’s previous gatherings in her home (An Autumnal Gathering) and at Espresso Library (Twelve at EL), which you can read about here and here.

We were a small group of (lucky) people who snapped up a place at À Mesa (Portuguese for “at the table”). Even though I have been to Stella’s supper clubs before, she still amazed me with her dishes, presentation and setting. It’s more than a supper club or gathering, it’s an EXPERIENCE.

Stella is a firm believer that food brings people together so the biggest part of her supper clubs is the comfortable, intimate environment where guests eat, drink, sing, laugh… and leave as friends. She serves modern Portuguese cuisine inspired by traditional ingredients (featuring staples in Portugal such as pork and salt cod) but she presents her dishes with a contemporary twist and this is where her artistic spirit really shines.

Preparations for A Blossoming Spring started way before the food and this was apparent in the little details, meticulously created to make up a truly unique experience. Stella’s tablescape was dotted with freshly picked blossoms, sliced bread (charmingly stacked in glass jelly moulds) and olives, both symbolising peace. We were intrigued by the variety of items handcrafted by Stella herself or her husband Carlos. All of the pieces on the table came together to tell a story, a reflection of Stella’s skills as a gifted food stylist.

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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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Steak & Honour Restaurant – Cambridge (UK)

I’ve been raving about Steak & Honour for years and have been stalking tracking their burger van since it first hit the streets of Cambridge a few years ago. It was so popular, a second Citroen H van was added to keep up with the demand for their delicious gourmet burgers. In January 2017, Steak & Honour launched the long awaited restaurant on Wheeler Street, next door to the Corn Exchange.

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Cambridge is burger heaven with Steak & Honour’s two vans trading at various locations as well as the bricks and mortar site. There is even a handy Steak & Honour app to keep track of their daily schedules and receive restaurant offers and rewards.

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The restaurant reflects the street food experience with its open kitchen so you can see the chefs in action while you are queueing or waiting for your meal. There are about 40 seats spread out over three floors, mostly on the first and second floors up the colourful stairs.

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Café@abantu, Wysing Arts Centre – Bourn, Cambridge (UK)

Café@abantu is a popular tearoom in Bourn and I’m relieved they managed to find another location in the same village near Cambridge. I wrote about them here a few years ago. They moved to Wysing Arts Centre in July 2016 and it’s really a perfect fit, with the same cosy seating inside and lots more space outside. They offer the same fantastic homemade cakes and treats as well a menu featuring hearty dishes with fresh ingredients (Fairtrade and locally sourced as much as possible).

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Café@abantu isn’t just a run-of-the-mill village tearoom. It’s a destination in itself. You can walk along the trails and admire the outdoor sculptures by the artists at Wysing Arts Centre (ask for a map at the café) but their cakes and treats are definite highlights. Make sure you check out the cake counter at the till for their bakes of the day.

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Their menu, which includes vegetarian and vegan options, is varied enough to keep it interesting whilst still offering staples such as toasties and soup.

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Café Rouge – Cambridge (UK)

I’m born and bred in Quebec, the French part of Canada, so I grew up enjoying many of the French classics. When the crisp autumn air set in, I found myself craving comfort foods the French do so well, such as rich soups and stews. I was delighted to discover that Café Rouge have added some new warming dishes to their Autumn Edition menu to help make our farewell to summer a bit less painful.

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I’ve been to Café Rouge before (it’s one of my favourite chains) but never visited the location on Bridge Street in Cambridge. It’s housed in a lovely building with a cosy and charming ambience.

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Paulo and I were greeted warmly and shown to a table by the window. The extensive wine list offered a variety of tipples so we decided to pair our meal with some Prosecco. We were drawn to all of the new items on the menu, which included some of our favourite French dishes.

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My Persian Kitchen Pop Up at Espresso Library – Cambridge (UK)

My love for Persian food comes from my “brutha from anutha mutha” Ali, who was born in Iran. You can imagine my delight when I heard My Persian Kitchen were planning to bring their traditional fare to Cambridge through their new pop up and shared dining experience concept. In fact, the duo behind My Persian Kitchen, Sirous V Naderi and Abigail Plet, are no strangers to pop ups. You may remember them as Workshop Kitchen specialising in French and Italian cuisine, in which Sirous trained professionally. However, it is through Sirous’ grandmother and mother that he developed his passion for Persian cooking.

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Cambridge was definitely ready for something new and exciting. Their pop up at Espresso Library on Saturday, 22 October completely sold out! Attendees ranged from newbies intrigued by the menu to Persians who were proud to introduce this cuisine to their friends.

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Persian cuisine is exquisite and varied so there’s a lot I haven’t explored yet. My Persian Kitchen’s three-course menu included dishes steeped in tradition, made with quality ingredients. The menu wasn’t fussy or complicated but it was a great idea to have a description of the dishes printed in the back of the menu, as well as a brief history of Iran. Reading all about the dishes really helped set the tone for the evening whilst we waited for the food to be served.

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The ambience was welcoming and relaxed, with dimmed lights, flickering candles and a lovely jazz soundtrack. Espresso Library have a nice drinks menu so Paulo and I shared a bottle of Belstar Prosecco to go with our meal.

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Lagona – Cambridge (UK)

There’s a welcome addition to Mill Road in Cambridge and that’s Lagona, a new Lebanese restaurant offering good, reasonably priced food. The location used to house Jaffa Net Café but now it’s a bright, cheerful restaurant that includes a separate shisha area at the back, if that’s your sort of thing. A little something for everyone… to me, that’s what Mill Road is all about.

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Lagona opened fairly recently, in July 2016, and judging from the steady stream of customers, word has already gotten out that this is a must-visit. They don’t have a website [update: they do now] and have very little social media presence so their custom is basically all word of mouth. That’s a good thing! I recommend this place for a casual, relaxed lunch or dinner. The portions are generous and service is friendly and helpful.

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We did encounter some minor problems but not anything that would deter us from returning. I believe the issues stemmed from being rushed in the kitchen, perhaps due to it being busy that evening. I have to say that the staff were excellent in dealing with our complaint and quickly rectified the issue. More on that later.

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