The Cambridgeshire Cook Book: Second Helpings – Cambridge (UK)

The first Cambridgeshire Cook Book published in 2015 by Meze Publishing was a huge success and I wrote all about the launch of this great publication here. Now three years later, with the food and drink scene in the Cambridge region evolving at a rapid pace, it was only fitting to come back for more with The Cambridgeshire Cook Book: Second Helpings. A celebration of the amazing food and drink on our doorstep, the book features over 50 beloved recipes put together by some of the finest independent restaurants, cafés, delicatessens, pubs, farm shops, producers and suppliers of the region. The cook book is beautifully photographed, the recipes sound delicious and each contributor’s story is nicely conveyed.

The Cambridge Cook Book: Second Helpings is a collection of stories and recipes from a cross-section of independent businesses of all types and sizes. Some of my favourites are in the book but there are also places I discovered for the first time, particularly those further afield.

I saw some familiar faces and met new people at the cook book’s official launch held on 17 July at The Shack, a covered outdoor space at The Gog. It was good to meet some of the people at Meze Publishing who were instrumental in producing the book. Publishing manager Anna Tebble compiled the contributors and food journalist Katie Fisher authored their individual stories.

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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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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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Carriages – Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire (UK)

I’ve always wanted to dine on a train. No, not a sarnie and a bag of crisps on the 1.45 to King’s Cross – I’m talking about eating in style with white tablecloths, fine china and weighty cutlery. I had that opportunity last month aboard Carriages, a series of refurbished vintage trains in a purpose-built railway station in Fen Drayton, less than 15 miles from Cambridge city centre.

Access to the railway-themed restaurant is through Bannold, a supplier of landscaping materials, where a staff member will lead you past the display gardens to the impressive station house and carriages.

There’s a railway station in Fen Drayton? Well, not quite. The trains are stationary so you’re not actually going anywhere, but a visit to Carriages does take you back to the 1920’s and 1930’s, the golden age of luxury rail travel. There are even moving train sound effects to complement the experience. Carriages is the brainchild of Bannold owner Michael Attle who was inspired to build the concept when he purchased a disused part of an old railway platform. The recreation is remarkable, complete with signal box and original Pullman style carriages.

The station house has been meticulously recreated with a booking hall, station master’s office, traditional waiting room, real fireplace, antique seats, cigarette dispenser, luggage trolley and old-fashioned suitcases.

The menu features cream tea (two scones, homemade jam or lemon curd and tea or coffee) or afternoon tea, which needs to be booked in advance for 1pm or 3pm. I made a reservation for afternoon tea to spend time with friends and celebrate Alison’s birthday along with Paola and Meggy. We loved every minute of it!

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The Boot – Histon, Cambridge (UK)

The Boot, located in Histon near Cambridge, is the latest addition to The White Brasserie Company’s portfolio of pubs in affluent villages and towns. The company, launched by celebrity chef Raymond Blanc (he sits on the board), has already accumulated a whopping 17 brasserie pubs in the last 4 years. The Boot is the latest addition and the first in Cambridgeshire. Refurbishing tired, old pubs into high end establishments with good, expertly prepared food is clearly a formula that works and The Boot is no exception. C’est magnifique!

I booked a table for 4 people on a Sunday evening and the place was buzzing when we arrived at 6pm. I was almost sorry to walk past the cosy pub area with its comfy seats and fireplace but then the space opened up with a real wow factor. Past the big, welcoming bar we were led to our table in the pub’s new extension – a stunning oak-beamed dining room filled with customers. My photos don’t do the place justice – I concentrated on the empty areas at the end of the evening so as not to bother my fellow diners.

It had been a busy day so we were told that some of the menu items had already sold out or were on the verge of selling out. As a newly opened brasserie adjusting to their supply and demand, this was understandable and we appreciated being informed at the start. No matter as there was plenty to choose from, including the daily specials.

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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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The Three Horseshoes – Madingley, Cambridge (UK)

The Three Horseshoes has been an integral part of Madingley, a lovely village three miles from the centre of Cambridge. The charming pub/restaurant entered an exciting new chapter in January 2018 when it joined Cambscuisine, a local independent restaurant group. The Three Horseshoes is Cambscuisine’s ninth venture, which includes their other country pubs The Cock (Hemingford Grey), The Tickell Arms (Whittlesford) and The Crown & Punchbowl (Horningsea). I’m a big fan of Cambscuisine’s model of good food, service and ambience. I’ve blogged about The Cock here and here, as well as The Crown & Punchbowl here.

Photo courtesy of Cambscuisine

It was a smooth transition as Cambscuisine inherited the excellent team at The Three Horseshoes. In addition, the building didn’t need a full redecoration and was already in fine order. However, some beautiful decorative touches recalling the building’s history have been added, such as antique saddles, mirrors with bridal leather surround and wall-mounted horseshoes. Gone is the formality of white tablecloths. The solid oak tables are bare and fuss-free, lending a more relaxed vibe to the dining experience.

The dog-friendly pub area is more approachable with its cosy corners and wood fire… and the pints are now cheaper – bonus!

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The Moringa Tree – Haslingfield, Cambridgeshire (UK)

The Moringa Tree, a small but perfectly formed café owned and run by Nilu Karun, is a welcome new addition to the village of Haslingfield, just south of Cambridge. Nilu named the café after a beloved tree in her native Sri Lanka.

This child and dog friendly café offers a warm welcome, friendly service, free wi-fi, great hot and cold drinks as well as light lunches and homemade bakes. There are potted plants for sale and books to peruse on site.

Every detail in the stunning space has been conceived with care, from the soothing pastel pink and green colours to the beautiful plant arrangements that adorn the shelves. It’s like stepping into a leafy oasis. The café is a real Instagrammer’s paradise and I couldn’t help taking photos. It’s just so pretty!

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The Red House – Longstowe, Cambridgeshire (UK)

The Red House in Longstowe, Cambridgeshire awaited its latest incarnation for a long time. An unloved pub that closed for a few years, the new owner painstakingly revitalised the Grade II listed building with a gorgeous refurbishment. Now a fantastic pub and restaurant with a great menu, it was worth the wait!

I recently visited The Red House to have lunch with fellow foodie friends Paola, Alison and Wendy. The attractive exterior made an excellent first impression with its beautiful surroundings, clear signage, well maintained car park and imposing front door.

It only got better on the inside. The interior, divided into cosy eating and drinking areas, still felt spacious. There is a designated dining space but we chose a table by one of the fireplaces in a spot decorated for Christmas. Staff were helpful in getting us settled in and we felt very welcome and at ease.

We all admired the place before we cast our eyes on the menus. In addition to the dining space, there is a nice bar area with a changing beer line-up, a relatively private corner to accommodate larger groups as well as cosy little nooks to sit by the fire and enjoy a chat and a drink. We were even impressed with the loo floor… I have never seen a floor so clean and shiny!

On to the food! The lunch menu offered a great selection of sandwiches but the dinner menu was also available. It’s not often I see a menu where I genuinely have a tough time choosing, as everything sounded so appetising. I particularly liked the menu “Favourites” featuring good, solid pub food such as fish & chips, burgers, pie of the day, mussels, sausages & mash and ham, eggs & chips. More elaborate dishes consisting of venison, pork belly, chicken, hake and various cuts of steak were included in “The Main Event”, ideally for a leisurely dinner.

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