Provenance Brix + Mortar – Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire (UK)

Since launching their food truck business in 2015, Provenance have been serving delicious restaurant quality food from their Airstream and horsebox trailers all over Cambridgeshire and beyond at events, pop ups and private functions. Now with the addition of a bricks-and-mortar establishment (aptly named Brix + Mortar), Provenance can actually serve their innovative, modern British menu in a physical location – their permanent restaurant, café and deli in Whittlesford.

The location is convenient – it’s just seconds off the M11 and there is ample free parking. The building itself is impressive and there is lots of room, inside and outside. With dedicated spaces for the deli, café and restaurant, Brix + Mortar are able to expand their food offering.

There is a welcoming bar and the café is spacious, with a long communal table in the centre, individual tables on the side and cosy corners by the floating fireplace.

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La Cucina Italiana: A Big Friendly Do – Burwell, Cambridgeshire (UK)

We live in delicious times! Pop ups and supper clubs have been keeping the foodie scene in Cambridgeshire fresh and La Cucina Italiana is a relatively recent contributor. Sally Bycroft, a hugely talented cook inspired by the flavours of Italy, launched La Cucina Italiana last year to cater private dinners and events. Sally has taken her culinary journey a step further by hosting A Big Friendly Do, an Italian style lunch where her guests gather around a table on a Sunday afternoon and sample the recipes she has collected on her travels. This immensely popular pop up (it sells out fast!) takes place every month or so at the Elk café in Burwell, the perfect cosy spot for a group of 20 to relax and enjoy an afternoon of wonderful food. I almost expected to look out the window and see the Tuscan slopes!

We were impressed by the whole experience. I attended with Paulo and our friends Peter and Jenni, who travel to Italy very often to visit family and explore the country. I’m from Italian parents so I knew the 4-course menu was a reflection of what Italian cuisine should be – simple, honest food expertly prepared with quality ingredients. Sally is not a formally trained chef but started helping out her mum with frequent dinner parties at an early age. Although Sally’s background is in PR and marketing, her travels ignited her love of cooking. Italy is Sally’s spiritual home and she lived in Tuscany for a while, giving her the opportunity to hone her Italian culinary skills. It’s clear she understands the flavours and traditions, not to mention the organisation and timing required to host such an event. There was also a great team in place and the venue was just lovely –we’ll definitely be going back to Elk café.

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Gourmet Brownie Valentine’s Launch at Poets House – Ely, Cambridgeshire (UK)

I’ve been a fan of Gourmet Brownie since I first discovered Kirstyn and Andrew’s delicious brownies several years ago at one of my local markets. I’ve been hooked on their chocolaty goodness, crisp crust and rich centre ever since. I can honestly say that some of the best brownies come from their kitchen in Ely, Cambridgeshire. They’re all hand-baked in small batches with no artificial flavourings, preservatives or colourings – just fresh, quality ingredients.

I’m pleased that their signature all-butter brownies are being stocked in an increasing number of establishments and can also be ordered online (keep reading to find out how to get 15% off all Gourmet Brownie orders for Valentine’s Day). It takes an incredible amount of hard work, business savvy and creativity to take a business from strength to strength – and this is precisely what Kirstyn and Andrew are doing, with the help of a small team. So I was elated to receive an invitation to Gourmet Brownie’s launch of their 2019 Valentine’s range. It was held at the fabulous Poets House in Ely, where a group of bloggers gathered at the bar for cocktails and mocktails before proceeding to a private function room.

I don’t think any of us expected to feast our eyes on such a stunning tablescape. We were all impressed by the grazing table of brownies, beautifully laid out on carved wooden boards. The glass vases with gorgeous flower arrangements by Farm Flowers, tall candle holders, crisp white napkins, vintage style cutlery and dyed linen ribbons added to the sumptuous ambience.

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Le Bistrot Clandestin (The Food of Réunion) by Gourmandises Académie – Cottenham, Cambridge (UK)

Award-winning pâtissière Corinne Payet of Gourmandises has been hosting supper clubs and pop-up restaurants for years but they had been put on the back burner whilst she set up Gourmandises Académie, her home studio for workshops and events. Le Bistrot Clandestin, inspired by the wonderfully simple bistros and cafés off the beaten tracks in rural France, was created by Corinne to share the cuisine of Réunion, the tropical island where she was born.

Réunion, an overseas department and region of France, sits in a remote spot in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mauritius. It is a mosaic of cultures and culinary traditions, particularly from mainland Africa, Madagascar, China, India and France. In terms of flavours Reunionese cuisine can be described as a melting pot, where different foods and spices are blended to create flavourful dishes like their iconic cari. Réunion is also a mosaic – a combination of distinct elements coming together to create one beautiful picture. That is the spirit of Corinne’s Bistrot Clandestin.

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East Meets West Afternoon Tea by The Baking Jin – Cambridgeshire (UK)

On August 11, 2018 talented baker Jin Yee Chung of The Baking Jin hosted his very first pop up, titled East Meets West. I was delighted to experience Jin’s take on Afternoon Tea, along with a group of guests who were eager to try his bakes or have been long time fans. The pop up took place at Romano’s. We all gathered around an inviting communal table on a Saturday afternoon.

Jin, who hails from Borneo, is a software engineer by day (that’s Dr Jin – he has a PhD) and a baker by night. After winning the Cambridge Bake Off in 2015 with his stunning DNA cake, Jin continued baking, experimenting and perfecting his cakes. He is known for his light and airy chiffon cakes and has a growing list of customers for private orders. He also supplies a few cafés and has been featured in The Cambridgeshire Cook Book (2015) and The Cambridgeshire Cook Book: Second Helpings (2018).

East Meets West was loosely based on the concept of Afternoon Tea with a sweet and savoury parade of fusion dishes from Jin’s native Malaysia and beyond, paired with two intriguing teas: Jiaogulan and Chrysanthemum.

We were welcomed with a gorgeous mocktail which Jin named Blue Purple, because it changed colour. A carafe of lime-honey liquid was poured into each glass of blue pea flower liquid, which changed the colour of the mocktail from blue to purple. The batch of blue pea flowers, grown in the garden of Jin’s late grandparents in Malaysia, was picked and dried by his aunties. How special is that? On a more local note the honey was from East Hatley, only 15 miles from Cambridge. A pandan leaf was placed into the mocktail for a hit of its sweet, vanilla-like aroma. We nibbled on lobster crackers and keropok (prawn crackers) before we took our seats.

Photo by Ozzy Beck

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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. We loved every minute of it!

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