Prana, launch of new menu and gin bar – Cambridge (UK)

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.

Prana Indian Restaurant Cambridge gin bar

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).

Prana Indian Restaurant Cambridge gin and tonic

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.

Prana Indian Restaurant Cambridge Mill Road menu

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.

Prana Indian Restaurant Cambridge samosa chaat

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The Eltisley – Eltisley, Cambridgeshire (UK)

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!

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The Tasting Table with Dulcedo, The Baking Jin and Bumble & Oak – Cambridge (UK)

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 Tasting Table at Dulcedo Cambridge

The Tasting Table Dulcedo Cambridge

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 Tasting Table Cambridge Dulcedo, One Two Culinary Stew, Bumble & Oak, The Baking Jin

Photo by Jin Yee Chung

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.

The Tasting Table Dulcedo Cambridge Pina One Two Culinary Stew

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Sleepy Sundays at The Crown & Punchbowl – Horningsea, Cambridge (UK)

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.

The Crown & Punchbowl Horningsea Cambridge

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.

The Crown & Punchbowl Horningsea Cambridge pub restaurant rooms

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).

The Crown & Punchbowl Horningsea Science Wing

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).

The Crown & Punchbowl Horningsea Cambridge Hawking room keys

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Mozzarella Class by Biagio Staiano at Signorelli’s Deli – Cambridge (UK)

In March, Cambridge welcomed master cheesemaker Biagio Staiano for a fun and hands-on Mozzarella Class at Signorelli’s Deli. The event was made possible by Francesco Amato of online Italian food shop Agrumia who collaborated with Alex Signorelli to bring Biagio’s ‘art of making mozzarella’ to a group of 30 enthusiasts of Italian cheese.

Biagio showed us how to make the famous mozzarella from his family’s well-respected cheese factory in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, Caseificio Staiano. It was such a privilege to draw on its 100-year history of artisan methods and taste the ingredients local to the ‘Milky Mountains’ (Monti Lattari) along the coast.

We enjoyed a welcome drink (a requisite Aperol Spritz for me) and our gregarious host Alex introduced Biagio and his lovely wife Karolina, who was the interpreter.

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Parker’s Tavern, University Arms – Cambridge (UK)

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!

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The Brampton Mill – Brampton, Huntingdon (UK)

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.

Photo by The Brampton Mill

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Provenance Brix + Mortar – Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire (UK)

Since launching their food truck business in 2015, Provenance have been serving delicious restaurant quality food from their Airstream and horsebox trailers all over Cambridgeshire and beyond at events, pop ups and private functions. Now with the addition of a bricks-and-mortar establishment (aptly named Brix + Mortar), Provenance can actually serve their innovative, modern British menu in a physical location – their permanent restaurant, café and deli in Whittlesford.

The location is convenient – it’s just seconds off the M11 and there is ample free parking. The building itself is impressive and there is lots of room, inside and outside. With dedicated spaces for the deli, café and restaurant, Brix + Mortar are able to expand their food offering.

There is a welcoming bar and the café is spacious, with a long communal table in the centre, individual tables on the side and cosy corners by the floating fireplace.

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Gourmet Brownie Valentine’s Launch at Poets House – Ely, Cambridgeshire (UK)

I’ve been a fan of Gourmet Brownie since I first discovered Kirstyn and Andrew’s delicious brownies several years ago at one of my local markets. I’ve been hooked on their chocolaty goodness, crisp crust and rich centre ever since. I can honestly say that some of the best brownies come from their kitchen in Ely, Cambridgeshire. They’re all hand-baked in small batches with no artificial flavourings, preservatives or colourings – just fresh, quality ingredients.

I’m pleased that their signature all-butter brownies are being stocked in an increasing number of establishments and can also be ordered online (keep reading to find out how to get 15% off all Gourmet Brownie orders for Valentine’s Day). It takes an incredible amount of hard work, business savvy and creativity to take a business from strength to strength – and this is precisely what Kirstyn and Andrew are doing, with the help of a small team. So I was elated to receive an invitation to Gourmet Brownie’s launch of their 2019 Valentine’s range. It was held at the fabulous Poets House in Ely, where a group of bloggers gathered at the bar for cocktails and mocktails before proceeding to a private function room.

I don’t think any of us expected to feast our eyes on such a stunning tablescape. We were all impressed by the grazing table of brownies, beautifully laid out on carved wooden boards. The glass vases with gorgeous flower arrangements by Farm Flowers, tall candle holders, crisp white napkins, vintage style cutlery and dyed linen ribbons added to the sumptuous ambience.

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Le Bistrot Clandestin (The Food of Réunion) by Gourmandises Académie – Cottenham, Cambridge (UK)

Award-winning pâtissière Corinne Payet of Gourmandises has been hosting supper clubs and pop-up restaurants for years but they had been put on the back burner whilst she set up Gourmandises Académie, her home studio for workshops and events. Le Bistrot Clandestin, inspired by the wonderfully simple bistros and cafés off the beaten tracks in rural France, was created by Corinne to share the cuisine of Réunion, the tropical island where she was born.

Réunion, an overseas department and region of France, sits in a remote spot in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mauritius. It is a mosaic of cultures and culinary traditions, particularly from mainland Africa, Madagascar, China, India and France. In terms of flavours Reunionese cuisine can be described as a melting pot, where different foods and spices are blended to create flavourful dishes like their iconic cari. Réunion is also a mosaic – a combination of distinct elements coming together to create one beautiful picture. That is the spirit of Corinne’s Bistrot Clandestin.

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