When talented cook and baker Paola Davies-Romano thought about hosting a supper club, I jumped at the chance to help make it happen. I coordinated the promotion, bookings and payments whilst Romano’s website was under development… but the culinary brilliance was all Paola. My only involvement with the food was eating it!
Born in Essex to an Italian father and Spanish mother, Paola lived in Italy during her childhood and teenage years. It was only fitting for her very first supper club to have this theme so it was named Romano’s Big Fat Italian Supper Club. In true Paola style, Romano’s went BIG with lots of food, flavours and fun… all celebrated around an inviting communal table in her home. Paola even put together a set list of Italian music which added to the festive ambience.
Places for the supper club were extremely limited and they filled up very quickly. It was great to see that there are adventurous foodies out there who are up for this kind of experience. The exact location was only revealed a week before the event and the menu was kept a surprise until it was placed at the beautifully set table.
Paola drew inspiration from her roots in Italy’s Campania region which includes Naples, a city with one of the most renowned cuisines. Romano’s feast of Italian delights featured a three-course meal and some additional treats. The event was BYOB but bottles of still and sparkling water were provided.
The guests enjoyed an Aperol Spritz whilst they mingled and introduced themselves before being seated. Paola popped out of her busy kitchen to welcome the guests then the Romano’s team (Jerry, Arianne and Joe) sprang into action. Paola made regular appearances to announce and describe the dishes in each course, giving us some insight into the regions in Italy.
Browns has been a Cambridge institution since it opened its doors in 1987. The beautiful building was part of the old Addenbrooke’s Hospital originally built in 1766 and the outpatients department, with its majestic columns, was built as a memorial to King Edward VII in 1914.
I visited Browns a few times when I moved to Cambridge and I have to admit it was looking a little tired and the spaces didn’t flow. Browns has now been completely transformed thanks to an extensive interior refurbishment. It’s contemporary and luxurious with a touch of glamour in every area, from the sweeping bar and its grand piano to the various purposely designed spaces for public, semi-private and private dining. Ideal for parties, family gatherings, business meetings and romantic dinners, there are sections for every occasion.
Spring is in the air and with that comes an appetite for seasonal flavours. Café Rouge’s Executive Chef Bruno Balle, inspired by his recent travels across France, created a new Spring Menu featuring à la carte dishes and a set menu sourced from the best ingredients and suppliers. Having enjoyed Café Rouge’s excellent Autumn Menu last year (I wrote about it here), Paulo and I were delighted to return to the Cambridge location to sample the new menu.
I’ve been to other Café Rouge restaurants but I love the Cambridge location. It sits among Bridge Street’s historic buildings and even has a bicycle themed entrance to their secret garden.
The inside is quite charming and cosy with a pleasant and relaxing ambience. In fact, if you book after 7:30pm, you can enjoy your table for the rest of the evening, embracing the French way of life of taking your time and savouring the dining experience.
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.
I’ve raved about The Plough before (here and here). It’s one of my favourite pubs as there is always something amazing going on, whether it is food, drink or entertainment related (check the What’s On section of their website). The Plough is located in the lovely village of Shepreth in Cambridgeshire, even though it has a Hertfordshire postal address. It’s located close to Cambridge, just a short drive or train ride away.
The Plough in Shepreth can now add one more thing to their list of offerings: a rather phenomenal Sunday Lunch menu. They have recently started doing this in partnership with popular catering company Boxed Events, owned by James Knight, a Cambridge based chef with an impressive culinary resumé that includes stints in France and Hong Kong. It’s a good match as the menu reflects The Plough’s desire to offer an informal social dining experience, definitely not “pub grub” or “gastro pub”. It’s just good food expertly prepared with fresh, local ingredients and their Sunday Lunch menu certainly delivers.
The menu changes slightly every Sunday, particularly the starters so they can offer seasonal choices. The mains always include the requisite roast with veg and Yorkshire pudding. However, there is also fish, burgers or a vegetarian option. There’s a great children’s menu too!
Last week, Paulo and I tried the Plough’s Sunday Lunch menu for the first time and we really enjoyed the food and ambience. Owner Nick Davis is a real music connoisseur and loves to spin records, as we do. The menu is matched with a musical theme and on our visit, it was 70s rock music. It wasn’t overwhelming, just loud enough to add some atmosphere and relaxing vibes.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Their menu, which includes vegetarian and vegan options, is varied enough to keep it interesting whilst still offering staples such as toasties and soup.
White Cottage Bakery is located in Mark and Helen Underwood’s home, a charming white cottage in the picturesque village of Kingston, Cambridgeshire. Some of the most amazing bread has come out of that little bakery in Helen’s kitchen. I discovered Helen’s homemade bread last year at my local farm shops and I’ve been a White Cottage Bakery stalker ever since. Getting my hands on a fresh loaf is like winning the lottery! That’s because you can’t just pop into the bakery whenever you feel like it. The bakery isn’t open to the public. You need to follow White Cottage Bakery on social media (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) to see what Helen will deliver to select farm shops in Cambridgeshire. Helen bakes the amount of bread she can handle; no mass production there! Even so, it’s a testament to Helen’s passion and dedication to baking that she can produce as much as she does.
Helen also runs a series of workshops, which are aimed at groups of 4 to 6 people. I had the privilege of attending one of White Cottage Bakery’s full-day courses: the French Breadmaking Workshop, held in Helen’s lovely farmhouse kitchen.
All of the workshops are taught by Helen, an accomplished (and self-taught!) professional baker with decades of experience. The setting is friendly and cosy, as I was in a home and not a purpose-built cookery school. We were a group of 4 people and we were all made to feel very at home. We were led to the gorgeous dining room for a welcome breakfast featuring tea, coffee, jams and the bakery’s own bread. I especially loved the hazelnut and sour cherry loaf.
Helen ran through the workshop with the group. We would be learning to make a lot of French breads… pain de campagne, baguette, bâtard, pain d’épi, fougasse and pain de mie. C’est magnifique! We received our own folders with the day’s recipes as well as blank sheets and a pencil for making notes.
As tempted as I was to stay in the dining room and admire all of the lovely artwork and curiosities (there’s even a stuffed badger!), it was time to begin the workshop. With my energy replenished with cups of tea and fabulous bread, I was more than ready and put on my White Cottage Bakery apron.