I was delighted to get a sneak peek of The Wine Rooms ahead of their official opening on 8 June. Located at 57 Hills Road near Station Road, this place is an exciting new addition to Cambridge’s independent food and drink scene. The focus is on wines paired with a modern, seasonal menu with New Zealand-born Cambridge chef Liz Young at the helm.
The Cambridge based owner of The Wine Rooms is an experienced vintner and wine management and cellarage provider so the wines naturally take centre stage. It’s more of a wine bar and shop for high end wines than a restaurant but that in no way diminishes the food offering. The changing menus, featuring an All Day Bar Menu of Small Things and Sweet Things and an Evening Menu of more substantial dishes, are designed to complement the carefully curated wines by the glass.
The wall of wine bottles on wooden shelves (some only accessible by ladder), the combination of table and counter seating, the specials boards next to the small window into the kitchen, the bar at the back complete with brass pendant lights and antiqued mirror… they all set the scene for fine wine and good food in an unpretentious atmosphere with friendly, knowledgeable service.
For over two years now, Amélie’s father-son duo Régis and Alex Crépy have been regaling customers in their Cambridge restaurant with Flam-kuche, their take on the 14th century Alsace dish known as Flammekueche (a super thin flatbread with crème fraîche and fresh toppings, baked in a very hot oven until the edges are crisp and the top is golden). I wrote about Amélie here, soon after the exciting launch of the restaurant in 2018.
Lockdown meant Régis and Alex had to adapt Amélie to these challenging times so they created the DIY Flam-kuche Flatpack for local delivery. It soon garnered praise as a quick and easy home kit that’s several notches above fast food. And now they have launched their UK-wide delivery service for more people to enjoy preparing and eating this tasty meal in their own kitchen.
In the Amélie Store, there are 7 flavours of build-your-own Flam-kuche Flatpacks: Authentic, Goat Cheese & Beetroot, Margherita, Mozzarella & Pepperoni & Olives, Mushroom & Mozzarella, Parma Ham, and Pulled Pork Shoulder – each with 4 rectangular bases, 5 toppings and the choice of their signature crème fraîche or deep red tomato sauce. Other options in the store are beef short rib, cheese fondue, homemade hummus, homemade pesto and packs of 4, 8 or 12 dough bases (for adding your own toppings or baking separately to use in dips).
I chose to receive the Authentic Flatpack and it came in a cheerful yellow and white rectangular box with dark blue lettering for the restaurant’s name, phone number and website. The brand colours and font took me back to Amélie’s stationary Citroen H van in The Grafton. The box was sealed and cleverly identified with the label “Authentique and on fleek!” and once open, I was greeted by “Bon Appétit!” printed on the side. A good start, non?
I am still baking during lockdown and I’m enjoying making my tried and true recipe for orange rosemary drizzle cake. I’ve been testing similar recipes over the past few years and I’ve adapted them into one recipe I am very happy with. My Orange Rosemary Drizzle Loaf is my go-to recipe when I need a good dessert or am contributing to a charity bake sale (hopefully those days will come back soon).
I am avoiding supermarkets as much as possible. Fab local shop Meadows in Newnham has been a godsend, delivering fruit, vegetables, butter, milk, cheese, pasta, sauces, freshly baked goods, tea, chocolate and more, including some of the products in this recipe. The Washington variety oranges from Italy (supplied by La Sovrana), Cacklebean eggs from the Cotswolds and rosemary infused olive oil imported from Fattoria di Tullio in Abruzzo by Cambridgeshire’s Cucina di William really elevated this cake to new heights.
Those who have made my previous recipe for carrot muffins will know that I prefer using olive oil rather than butter as the bakes are lighter in texture. Rosemary and oranges make a great flavour combo, with the subtle hint of rosemary complementing the citrus.
Using an olive oil already infused with rosemary is a good shortcut but just olive oil works too, with the option to add finely chopped dried rosemary to the batter (or leave out the herb altogether if you’re not a fan).
La Raza is a long standing, family run, independent business with an enviable location on Rose Crescent in the heart of Cambridge. This popular basement bar and restaurant has been feeding, watering and entertaining their customers since 2003. It is primarily known as a venue for events, live music, DJ nights and cocktails but also serves Mediterranean inspired cuisine. I admit I only thought of events and cocktails when it came to La Raza, having danced away there with The Early Night Club as well as attending their well organised Cambridge Cocktail Weekend in 2017 (I blogged about it here). I was invited to check out their food offering and came away suitably impressed.
Their superb tapas menu offers a variety of sharing dishes: meat, charcuteria, salads, seafood, vegetarian and croquetas. There is also a choice of four different types of paella, suitable for two to share, as the main course for heartier appetites. Sides & nibbles, desserts and a sharing plate round out the menu. The food complements their fantastic selection of cocktails – they really do make some of the best in town. I particularly liked their “What’s Your Flavour” chart, divided into four categories (smart, refreshing, rich, casual), to help choose a cocktail of my preference.
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!