Alimentum – Cambridge (UK)

It’s no secret Alimentum went through a rough patch but despite losing their Michelin star last year and chef Mark Poynton recently leaving for pastures new, there is an already great team in place taking the restaurant forward. Run by Maxwell Allwood (Head Sommelier), John Moss (General Manager) and Samira Effa (Head Chef), Alimentum has seen some positive changes to the menu and service. A more relaxed service and a changing menu – featuring seasonal dishes executed with minimum fuss or alteration – are taking Alimentum to its next chapter.

Alimentum is a restaurant in transition but they are doing everything right. The whole team – each and every person working at Alimentum – is enthusiastic about the place. This was reflected in the magnificent food and service we received when we went for dinner. Samira Effa has risen to the challenge and there’s no doubt there are talented chefs in the kitchen.

Photo courtesy of Alimentum

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Provenance at The Cambridge Distillery Showroom – Grantchester, Cambridge (UK)

I first discovered Provenance’s fare at their launch party over 3 years ago. Since then, Provenance have been serving their delicious food in various locations in and around Cambridge and also catering wedding and events. The wood fired kitchen in their stunning Airstream produces a menu worthy of a top restaurant, offering modern British food sourced from local farmers and suppliers. They’ve even added a converted horsebox to the family, a smaller operation serving seasonal tacos.

Provenance have been popping up every second Friday of the month at The Cambridge Distillery Showroom, a unique space in Grantchester housed next door to the distillery where some of the best gin in the world is produced. The showroom not only welcomes lovers of gin but regularly hosts pop ups and food trucks as the perfect venue for great food and drink.

So it was only natural to combine Provenance’s impressive menu with The Cambridge Distillery Showroom’s wonderful ambience and surroundings. A relaxing dinner after a walk or cycle into the picturesque village of Grantchester is a lovely way to spend a Friday evening. The Cambridge Distillery Showroom also offers wine and a small selection of cocktails as an alternative to gin.

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Eat Cambridge 2018: The Main Event + Fringe Events – Cambridge (UK)

Sing it, “it’s the most wonderful tiiiiime of the year”! Eat Cambridge, a festival of local food and drink, made a welcome return after skipping 2017. Organised by Heidi White, the Main Event took place at The Guildhall on 19 May 2018 and kicked off two weeks of fantastic fringe events.

There were 40+ stallholders over two halls and 9 talks took place throughout the day in the Council Chamber. It was a full day of foodie fun and there was an excellent turnout despite sharing the date with the royal wedding.

I spent the day helping out so I was only able to briefly visit some of the stalls but I sent Paulo around with a shopping list! The photo below shows some of the products from our impressive haul. Yes, that is a 3-litre box of Pinkster gin!

Paulo also picked up a few things here and there for me to nibble on for lunch. I may have eaten all of the empanadas from La Latina Bustaurante – they were so good!

I offered to help out Alison Lusis of Ali’s Baltic Bakes who made her big comeback at Eat Cambridge, after having to take a break from making her delicious Pīrāgi, Latvian little yeast dough pies.

Photo by Jin Yee Chung

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Restaurant Twenty-Two – Cambridge (UK)

There’s an exciting addition to the Cambridge food scene and that’s the newly re-opened Restaurant Twenty-Two. It’s now in the hands of Sam Carter (chef) and his fiancée Alex Olivier (front of house manager) who are taking the restaurant to the next chapter of its 30-year history. It has been a labour of love for this lovely couple, who purchased the restaurant from the former owner and painstakingly refurbished it into a business and home.

The converted Victorian townhouse is a real gem along Chesterton Road, understated in its presence among the large pubs and shops but once noticed, it leaves a lasting impression. The exterior is beautifully presented with its muted tones of white walls and dark grey door and window frames, with some gold accents for a touch of luxury. The bespoke stained glass has been retained and sparks curiosity about what lies behind the Dining Rooms lettering.

The 22-cover dining room is small but there is still space between the tables to sit comfortably. It’s cosy but not overcrowded. There is also a private dining room upstairs that seats 14 people.

The venture is a match made in heaven as Sam has an impressive culinary resumé in Michelin-starred kitchens, and Alex is a former solicitor with experience in restaurant management. It’s apparent they have a great team in place as the food, drink and service during our dinner proved to be faultless.

The menu, which changes every fortnight, focuses on contemporary British dishes with a creative twist. There is a definite emphasis on seasonality with many of the ingredients sourced from local producers. An à la carte menu is available but I heartily recommend the tasting menu (five or seven-course) for the complete gastronomic experience. Paulo and I went for the seven-course menu with the additional cheese board option because we wanted to taste ALL OF THE THINGS. Luckily we agreed as the tasting menu must be ordered by the whole table. Each bite was an explosion of flavours and textures and I found myself eating every last crumb and scraping the last bit of sauce on my plate. The food was that good.

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The Waterfront Restaurant and Y Spa, Wyboston Lakes Resort – Wyboston, Bedfordshire (UK)

Wyboston Lakes, located between Cambridge, Bedford and Milton Keynes, is a 380-acre resort offering conference facilities, a training centre, serviced offices, a golf course, spa, hotel and restaurant. With such a focus on business, it’s easy to forget that The Waterfront Hotel houses a luxury spa and a wonderful restaurant. Admittedly the premises have a corporate and industrial feel – our first impression driving in the area – and the exterior of the hotel is a tad dated but all that was quickly forgotten upon entering the bright welcoming space.

I was invited to experience Y Spa, including lunch, then enjoy dinner afterwards at The Waterfront Restaurant. Men are welcome at the spa; they even offer treatments especially for couples, so I was delighted to have a little luxury break with Paulo in this peaceful oasis.

The spa was simply outstanding. All of the staff were friendly, helpful and welcoming. The facilities feature the spa café, treatment rooms, relaxation areas and thermal spa suites, including an 11-metre outdoor hydrotherapy pool, saunas, steam rooms and showers. We received waterproof wrist bands at check-in which proved handy to charge any food or drinks, open doors and securely lock our lockers.

After filling in a medical questionnaire, we were welcomed at the café with a mango tea, complete with hourglass to time the desired brewing strength.

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Romano’s Paella Masterclass, a fringe event for Eat Cambridge – Dry Drayton, Cambridgeshire (UK)

Romano’s Paella Masterclass, a fringe event for Eat Cambridge, took place on 24 May 2018 at the newly refurbished Black Horse café/pub in Dry Drayton. It was a great paella party! Our fun group learned to make this typical Spanish dish with Paola Davies-Romano, a fantastic teacher with an extensive culinary background. During the interactive class, we all helped out in the cooking of two big Valencian paellas, then enjoyed eating our delicious creation.

The Black Horse, run by Amanda and Colin O’Neill, was the perfect place for the event. The class was set up in the function room and the bar stocked a variety of drinks for participants to purchase, including a white wine from Spain (Torres Viña Sol 2017) just for the occasion. Amanda even made a Spanish orange and almond cake. The cosy pub atmosphere added to the success of the event and the group got to know each other over nibbles (provided by Romano’s) and drinks.

I helped out in the planning and promotion of the event and I assisted on the night. However, Paola had all the equipment and ingredients organised and it was easy to set up the room, with the cooking area at the front and tables for eating at the back. It was a big group so there were two paella stations. It was like being on a cookery show!

Paola, with decades of teaching experience, is a natural speaker and soon put the class at ease. No tedious talks. She gave tips and tricks to making good paella, a recipe handed down by her Spanish mum.

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The Ivy Cambridge Brasserie – Cambridge (UK)

The Ivy Cambridge Brasserie is the latest addition to The Ivy Collection’s string of sister restaurants to The Ivy, the renowned London landmark in Covent Garden founded in 1917. Staying true to the restaurant’s premium heritage brand, the Cambridge location on picturesque Trinity Street delivers the same elegance and prestige but still retains the individual elements of this historic city. There are many nods to Cambridge including artwork inspired by academia, science, punting, rowing and cycling. There’s even a cocktail named Newton’s Apple. The Ivy’s notable harlequin stained glass has been recreated for the front doors to showcase the brand’s iconic look.

The interior design is pure art deco opulence, featuring striking contemporary art, vibrant colours, polished marble floors, bronzed antiques, plush armchairs, buttery leather banquettes, soft lighting and a shimmering bar. The bartenders are clad in white jackets and black bow ties. There’s a coat check at the door. The whole building is the epitome of glamour!

The restaurant is bigger than it looks from the outside as it goes quite far back. There’s even The Boat Room, a private dining room in the basement.

The layout is open with some seating facing outwards so you can see and be seen – in true Ivy celebrity style. There are also cosy corners that still give a sense of space. The ambience is conducive to socialising without being loud.

The Ivy Cambridge Brasserie is sophisticated and polished, but it’s also approachable and casual, as reflected in their “smart casual” dress code. It’s old-school hospitality without the stuffiness, a relaxed atmosphere amid high luxury. The best of both worlds!

The kitchen at The Ivy Cambridge Brasserie is overseen by Head Chef Stuart Conibear. Food and drinks are served from dawn to dusk, offering an all-encompassing menu of British classics and global contemporary dishes. Breakfast, elevenses, weekend brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, lights snacks, dinner and cocktails – they promise a lot. So how’s the food? Is the restaurant merely style over substance?

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Old Crown – Girton, Cambridge (UK)

The Old Crown in Girton near Cambridge recently changed pub operators and was refurbished to a high standard. The lease of this beautiful village pub restaurant, owned by Greene King, was acquired by the Macmillan family who own Stuart Inns, a Suffolk-based restaurant and pub company with an excellent track record. The Old Crown is their first venture in Cambridgeshire.

Following a six-figure investment, the Old Crown is nothing short of stunning with its new art deco look based on the heritage of the 1920’s building. There is luxury in every detail, from the plush fabrics of the comfy seating to the premium fixtures and fittings. The bar makes a striking sight with its copper top and art deco tiles.

There’s no doubt that the pub is aimed at the high-quality end of the market but it’s warm, welcoming and child friendly. The areas are distinct but flow well with an extended dining space, cosy corners with fireplaces, sumptuous stools by the bar and an abundance of outdoor seating.

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Bill’s – Cambridge (UK)

I’ve heard good things about Bill’s, being one of the better chains, so Paulo and I had dinner at their restaurant in Cambridge. Its location on pretty Green Street has a very welcoming exterior.

The interior is cosy with a rustic feel but there’s a definite emphasis on the visual. The décor is a juxtaposition of distressed wood and sparkly chandeliers, with an abundance of Bill’s products lining the shelves and blackboards scrawled with recipes and products. It was sensory overload and I couldn’t help feeling that the barrage of information was a not-so-subtle hint to buy, buy, buy. I get it, Bill’s… but I don’t need the constant reminders to buy into the brand. Service and good food will do that for me and I have to say that Bill’s delivered on both counts during our visit.

When I walked past the stairs towards the back, I realised that the restaurant is much bigger than I expected with lots of room for more tables. There’s even a little corner with comfy sofas. There are a few long tables so it’s an ideal place for big groups.

Even though the décor is nice, the restaurant feels more like a shop than a place to unwind over a leisurely dinner. Perhaps this ambience is more suitable for breakfast or lunch. Nevertheless, the friendly and pleasant service from our waitress went a long way in making us feel relaxed.

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Cafe@abantu – Cambridge (UK)

Cafe@abantu moved to Cambridge in January 2018 and is a welcome addition to the independents in the city centre. When popular café Stickybeaks decided to close their doors, Cafe@abantu’s owner Wendy Slade saw an opportunity to take her business to the next level and moved the café from Bourn to Cambridge.

I’ve been following Abantu’s journey since I first started this blog, from their original location at Manor Farm in Bourn (here), their subsequent move to Wysing Arts Centre (here) to their new premises on Hobson Street, at the heart of Cambridge city centre.

It can be argued that Cafe@abantu’s prominent location means it can no longer be described as a hidden gem. It’s visible at the end of Sussex Street, a very pretty pedestrian area. However, Cafe@abantu is still a gem amongst the usual high street chains and retains all of its charm.

The interior hasn’t changed much from Stickybeaks but I’m happy that my favourite table, the tiled colourful one, has been given pride of place by the window. It’s also heartwarming to see that Abantu’s original wooden sign has been retained.

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