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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Supper Club 22 “Un peu de soirée française” at The Plough – Shepreth, Cambridgeshire (UK)

The Plough in Shepreth, a lovely village in South Cambridgeshire that lies halfway between Cambridge and Royston, is one of those places that has something for everyone. Good food and drink, great people, fun events, live music, art exhibitions… the list goes on! It’s only a 5-minute walk from Shepreth railway station and easily accessible from Cambridge, so there’s no excuse not to visit!

Photo courtesy of The Plough

I’ve blogged about The Plough’s events and food, most recently about their Sunday Lunch, a partnership with catering company Boxed Events. For the past few months there’s been another collaboration between The Plough’s Nick Davis and Boxed Events’ owner/chef James Knight: Supper Club 22, a monthly dinner with 22 people gathered around two tables to share a themed menu and listen to live jazz. And at the price of £22 per person, it’s extremely good value!

Supper Club 22 is held in the Mandolin bar where there is a stage for local jazz musicians. The space is large enough to accommodate the 22 guests but small enough to encourage the communal experience of a supper club. The cosy and chilled out ambience is enhanced by the warm glow of sparkly gin bottles and the mellow sounds of live jazz piano and guitar.

I attended their inaugural supper club in March (a delicious Asian-inspired menu) and another called “Kilners, Verrines and Terrines” in May, serving terrines and other dishes in glasses and jars. I missed their “Starsky & Hutch” 70s retro dinner!

July’s Supper Club 22, titled “Un peu de soirée française”, featured a classic French menu. Before my francophone friends and family point out the dodgy français, rest assured I did mention to Nick that the correct French is “une petite soirée française”. We both had a giggle over it and I came to the conclusion that his version has charm… a bit of Del Boy French. C’est la crème de la menthe, n’est-ce pas? Ooh la la!

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Romano’s Big Fat Italian Supper Club – Cambridgeshire (UK)

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.

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Browns – Cambridge (UK)

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.

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Café Rouge’s Spring Menu – Cambridge (UK)

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.

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