Nando’s, Cambridge Retail Park – Cambridge (UK)

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.

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Sunday Lunch at The Plough – Shepreth, Cambridgeshire (UK)

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.

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Cambridge Cookery School Café’s Saturday Evening Menu – Cambridge (UK)

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.

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Signorelli’s Deli – Cambridge (UK)

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.

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signorellis-deli-pizzas

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!

signorellis-deli-interior

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.

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Steak & Honour Restaurant – Cambridge (UK)

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.

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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.

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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.

steak-honour-stairs

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Café@abantu, Wysing Arts Centre – Bourn, Cambridge (UK)

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).

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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.

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Their menu, which includes vegetarian and vegan options, is varied enough to keep it interesting whilst still offering staples such as toasties and soup.

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White Cottage Bakery’s French Breadmaking Workshop – Kingston, Cambridgeshire (UK)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ely Markets Food Tour – Ely, Cambridgeshire (UK)

On 24 September 2016, I had the pleasure of attending a “meet and eat” food bloggers tour of Ely Markets, organised by fellow blogger Alex Higgs who is doing some work for the markets. Alex was accompanied by Ely Markets representatives Julia Davis and Lisa Quin and took us on a 3-hour tour, sampling the delights of the food and farmers markets.

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Saturdays are real foodie days at Ely Markets, especially every 2nd and 4th Saturday when they hold the Farmers Market in conjunction with the Food, Craft & Collectables Markets. The Market Square has a food aisle every Saturday, which includes excellent street food and other food traders. I was impressed by the quality and variety of food stalls. I will definitely return on a Saturday morning to do some foodie shopping! Paulo drove me to Ely (just over a half hour drive) but the market is also easily accessible by train. Parking was so easy to find, especially in the morning. The short stay car park has free parking for 4 hours, which allows plenty of time to wander the markets. If you want to spend more time in Ely, then the long stay car park is best.

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We tasted and nibbled our way through various delicious food and drink stalls and by the end of the tour I was happily stuffed!

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Vera, Drink Up! – Shepreth, Cambridgeshire (UK)

On 9 July 2016 Vera, Drink Up!, a collaboration between Vera’s Gin Club and Cambridge Eat Up!, took place at The Plough in Shepreth, near Cambridge. It was presented by “Vera” (gin expert Lyndsey Spellman) who took us through the history and horticulture of three gins. Lyndsey’s presentation was entertaining and interactive and she had everyone laughing and having fun from the very beginning.

The Plough Shepreth Vera Drink Up Tables

Vera Drink Up Lyndsey Spellman

The Plough Shepreth

Lyndsey leads a monthly Vera’s Gin Club at The Plough (I wrote about it here). As a member of Cambridge Eat Up!, the Facebook group for foodies, I wanted to include Vera in a foodie event so Lyndsey and I organised Vera, Drink Up!, a food and drink extravaganza featuring 3 premium gins + Fever-Tree tonic, Vera’s fun and informative gin presentation and a plateful of exquisite food by Romano’s.

Romano's Collage

Vera Drink Up Collage

We held Vera, Drink Up! from 5pm to 7pm so we could include a hearty dinner. The monthly Vera’s Gin Club features more gin (5 gins) and less food (The Plough’s nibbles) but for this special occasion we were fortunate to have a tasty menu created by the fabulous Paola Davies-Romano. The Plough were kind enough to lend us the space and have Romano’s as guest kitchen for the event. We also had The Foraging Fox on board, who supplied us with bottles of their delicious beetroot ketchup.

Photo courtesy of The Plough

Photo courtesy of The Plough

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The Plough – Shepreth, Cambridgeshire (UK)

The Plough is located in Shepreth, one of those villages that have a Hertfordshire postal address but are part of South Cambridgeshire. It’s a lot closer than you think – only a 12-minute train ride from Cambridge to the railway station, then a 5-minute walk from there.

The Plough Shepreth

The Plough Shepreth Interior

This village pub was closed for a long while and after the new owners gave it an extensive transformation, it officially re-opened 2 years ago. Since then, The Plough has been an integral part of the village, not only serving good food and drink, but also hosting a variety of events such as concerts, art exhibitions and Vera’s Gin Club. Check out the What’s On section of their website.

Vera's Gin Club Collage

Vera’s Gin Club, presented by vivacious Lyndsey Spellman, has built quite a following, taking place every third Wednesday of the month from 8pm to 10pm. It’s a two-hour fun tasting of 5 gins, featuring nibbles by The Plough’s kitchen and a large G&T of your choice.

Vera's Gin Club Nibbles

Lyndsey, who transforms into funny and witty “Vera”, has quite the extensive gin knowledge and creates a different presentation each month. Her themes are creative and take us through the history and horticulture of the gins she chooses to feature. I have learned so much about gin through Lyndsey, in such a fun and social way too! To attend one of the monthly Vera’s Gin Club events (priced at £20), just ring The Plough to reserve your space. Vera’s Gin Club will be celebrating its one-year anniversary on 20 July and a little birdie told me there will be a gin cake!

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