It is a rare occurrence that my husband and I get chance to go away for a weekend together without the kids in tow, so this weekend was a real treat! So what does someone who lives and breathes food do in their spare time...go on a foodie holiday! We have visited Cambridge before and was so impressed with the food scene there, we wanted to go back and try some of the places we hadn't tried. Amongst the imposing architecture, steeped in hundreds of years of history, the city is packed with fresh, contemporary eateries.
We started our gluttonous escapade on the Friday with a visit to Alimentum (which means 'food' in latin), the brain child of Mark Poynton who worked for 7 years at Midsummer House under Daniel Clifford. Alimentum's formal and stylish interior set the scene for beautifully presented food, with original and modern twists. We tried:
Cauliflower veloute, cheese, pickled cauliflower and goats curd
Braised neck of lamb, anchovy tempura, sheep's cheese and black olive
Roasted cod, alliums and caviar
Roasted loin of pork, carrot, black pudding, tarragon and mustard
Strawberry trifle and sorbet
Each course was punctuated with amuse bouche, one of which was an inventive 'gin and tonic': gin and lime mousse with grapefruit sorbet. Our meal was exceptional value - £35 per head for 3 courses, glass of wine and tea and coffee. From the standard of the food, it is easy to see how Alimentum achieved it's first Michelin star. The service was professional and efficient, but lacked the personality and charm of higher Michelin star establishments, but did not hamper the enjoyment of our meal.
Punting and Pudding
No trip to Cambridge would be complete without trying a bit of punting, and not wanting to spend an hour rowing in circles or falling into the River Cam, we decided to book onto a chauffeured tour with Scudamores, who took us for a relaxing ride down the river. To accompany our trip we stopped into the Cambridge Wine Merchants and were impressed with the vast array of wines and spirits from around the world. They even stocked our local favourite - Conker Gin which is made in Dorset's first gin distillery in Bournemouth, which can be hard to find in other parts of the UK, although is growing in popularity due to it's recent national acclaim. As a little sweet treat, we also stopped in at Fitzbillies and brought with us one of their world famous chelsea buns. They are so popular with celebrities, that they will ship them around the world as they can last up to 2 months, naturally preserved in the highly calorific sugar syrup. When Fitzbillies was threatened with closure, Stephen Fry (who was a Cambridge University graduate) started a campaign to save the shop and the legendary Chelsea Buns. He tweeted "No! No! Say it ain't so - not Fitzbillies? He supposedly had a Fitzbillies chelsea bun every day for breakfast when he was a student. Fitzbillies was rescued later in 2011 by husband and wife team Tim and Alison Hayward to the relief of locals and food lovers.
One of the main reasons for going to Cambridge was to meet a food hero and mentor/ inspiration - Gerla De Boer who is the owner of Cambridge Food Tours. We met at The Varsity Hotel on their roof top terrace which boasts stunning views over the city. We nibbled on olives and almonds and one glass of wine turned into a bottle as we whiled away the hours in the glorious summer sunshine talking everything food, business and pleasure.
To finish the night and to get a quick bite to eat, we stopped in at Thaikun on the quayside. The concept and decor were fun, emulating a thai shipping village - apparently all the interior decoration was imported from Thailand in order to have a greater sense of authenticity. The food was honest and unpretentious, good value and our partners found the 'giraffe' of beer entertaining. Who wouldn't want beer on tap at your table?!
Read on in Part 2 where I review the Cambridge Food Tour.