The Tabla de Ibericos featured a tasty selection of Chorizo, Salchichon and Jamon
I loved this Ensalada de Queso de Cabra which included roasted goat’s cheese on raoman lettuce with walnuts, sultanas, cherry tomatoes with a honey and pomegranate dressing
This Patatas Bravas dish of triple cooked potato with a fiery brava chilli tomato sauce and aioli was excellent
Tabla de Quesos – the cheese board which we shared instead of dessert included four delicious and tasty Spanish cheeses, .Idiazabal, Manchego, Murciano and Azul Hojas
Tapas is a highly popular current foodie trend which has become well established in Cambridge with not one but two new authentic Spanish restaurants opening within a few weeks of each other. (See my last post for a review of Tabanco.) This week we enjoyed some traditional Spanish tapas at Tu Casa, where we drank Estrella Galicia on tap and Steve sampled an intense Spanish red wine Emilio Moro to accompany the cheese board which we shared.
Tu Casa offers a casual dining experience in a lively environment, traditional Spanish cuisine style. The staff are friendly and enthusiastic giving customers a warm welcome and the service is good and prompt. We visited on a wet midweek evening and it was pretty full and therefore loud with a couple of large groups in. I noticed that it was family-friendly and had attracted a wide-ranging clientele. The menu includes typical Spanish tapas and small plate dishes, traditional charcuterie and cheeses, as well as Paella and seasonal main courses and a small menu of desserts. The wine list offers Spanish Regional wines, Sangria, and beer lovers like us will appreciate having Estrella Galicia Premium pale lager and 1906 Reserva Especial available on draught. I thought that prices were on the high side but the tapas portions are generous and meant to be shared. We paid £37 per head for our meal with drinks. Recommended for groups and a welcome addition to the eclectic Mill Road dining scene. Tu Casa is sure to be popular so booking is advisable at weekends.
I loved the interior which has an authentic Spanish feel and ambience
Sardinas ahumadas Smoked sardine fillets, red pepper purée
Brócoli con gremolata y manchego. This tapas was my favourite – al-dente sprouted broccoli drenched in peppery, fresh gremolata and feather-light shavings of Manchego.
Chorizo a la plancha con boniato (Grilled chorizo with sweet potato)
Carrilleras de cerdo Braised pork cheeks, mash, PX sauce and crispy shallots
We shared the mixed Charcuterie board and Olives as a starter with bread
On a previous night out, Steve and I had ventured into Tabanco for a nightcap as we were interested to check out both the place and the menu. I was immediately impressed with the layout, the decor and the ambience of this new indie restaurant which opened last month. This week on the first warm and sunny evening of this year we returned with two friends for a selection of tapas and we were not disappointed. It serves a selection of barrelled sherries, fine wines, delicious small-plates and larger rustic Spanish-inspired dishes. Tabanco is the Cambridge-based sister of the hugely successful Drakes Tabanco, located on Windmill Street in London’s Fitzrovia, so it has an excellent pedigree. Note – the name “Tabanco” translates as “hangout” – a relaxed place where guests can drop by for a quick bite or plan a larger, more elaborate meal.
It’s easy to get carried away with the menu of enticingly descriptive tapas dishes – as we did and we ended up ordering 17 plates of food between the four of us! The bill with drinks came to a whopping £160.00 without service, but when I worked it out later it was only a modest £22 per head for the food and £18 a head for drinks and we had 4 drinks each.
Finally some small gripes about Tabanco. The service is fairly indifferent but acceptable, the bread is over-priced at £2.50 for four small pieces and there’s only bottled beer available. On the two occasions when we visited (both midweek) I was surprised to see them turning away potential diners at 9.30pm saying the kitchen was closed. Apart from that, it’s a great place for authentic tapas with a good atmosphere which when the shutters are open almost makes you feel like you are on holiday in Spain! Recommended for large groups.
This week I enjoyed lunch with a friend at the recently opened and ultra-stylish The Ivy Brasserie in Cambridge. I had been very keen to visit this new restaurant because it’s had many gushing and superlative reviews about the food and I’ve heard mixed ones about the service. My own experience was a curious one in several ways but nothing negative could be said about the food which we both agreed was excellent. We fully appreciated eating in this elegant and sophisticated restaurant which is a welcome addition to the Cambridge foodie scene. The rise of a new breed of gastro chains is a growing trend which has been led by The Ivy Collection group who have now rolled out 15 spin-off brasseries with more planned, including one which is due to open soon in Norwich.
The Ivy has own unique bright and vibrant style and the iconic ivy emblem is evident on everything from serviettes to sugar bowls! We observed exceptional attention to detail in the finish of this upmarket restaurant and clearly no expense has been spared. A special mention has to be given to the Cambridge-themed artwork which adorns the walls making it a visually stimulating environment of endless fascination.
The Ivy offers all-day casual dining and the restaurant is open 7 days a week for breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, including set menus. We chose to eat from the set menu on this occasion which is available from 11.30am–6.30pm Monday to Friday at a very reasonably priced £16.50 for two courses or £21 for three courses. Booking is advisable but the restaurant also has a dedicated number of unreserved tables available throughout the day for walk-ins. It’s a surprisingly big space and there is a private dining area downstairs.
Our starter of Potted kiln-roast salmon with lemon, dill crème fraîche and granary toast was a savoury delight.
Our main course of Pea, asparagus and goat’s cheese risotto, with rocket and baby shoot salad was a surprisingly generous sized portion and we could only eat half of it. The melting goats cheese sitting atop the risotto was a lovely twist to this classic dish.Our dessert of Lemon posset with Poppyseed shortbread was absolutely divine!
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned drinks so far in my review because it was rather a fiasco trying to get a soft drink at all, so more on that saga to follow. First, there was confusion on arrival in the lobby area where I was greeted warmly by one member of staff who took my coat and gave me a cloakroom ticket. So far so good until another member of staff appeared who without any interaction took the ticket from my hand and proceeded to give me my coat back when I assumed she would be showing me to my table! Note to the staff – what is wrong with speaking and communication?
When I was eventually seated I was offered still or sparkling water so I asked for tap water whilst I waited for my friend to arrive. A carafe of water was delivered promptly to the table but it wasn’t chilled. After my friend’s arrival, we perused the menus which were on the table and chose a soft drink each. We had to ask a member of staff for the Lunch and Early Evening set menu though and we gave our food order. Despite the restaurant being less than half full (and there seemed to be a lot of smartly dressed staff walking about) I felt the need to complain because I had waited over 30 minutes for my soft drink although my friends Ginger Beer had arrived without delay. I asked our server where my drink was only to be told that some of the components of my drink (a Strawberries and Cream Soda) were unavailable. I ordered a Fever-Tree Elderflower tonic as an alternative. What followed is too long a saga to relate here but we encountered rudeness from a member of the bar staff who eventually brought my drink order when we pointed out politely that it was wrong. There was a curious incident when a small copper jug appeared on the table without any explanation. After asking a member of staff if it was sauce for the fish starter it transpired the jug contained Elderflower cordial for me! Again I say to the staff – where are your communication skills?
When it came to paying the bill we noticed that we hadn’t been charged for my soft drink or for the carafe of tap water which has been refilled on request. I objected to being asked to pay the whopping discretionary 12.5% service charge due to the poor customer service experience we had encountered. When I explained why to the member of staff who took my card payment we were offered an apology and complimentary coffee or tea to complete our meal as compensation.
Despite these small incidents, the food was exceptionally good so both my friend and I plan to return to eat at The Ivy, and we especially like the look of their very moderately priced Afternoon Tea.
Finally two more hints I would pass onto any would-be visitors, – make sure you don’t get charged for tap water as the people at the next table to us were astonished to be billed for it, and be warned that it’s an awful long way to the toilets which are located downstairs and seem like something of an afterthought for a venue of this size.
Last week I enjoyed a first-class Afternoon Tea with a friend at Carriages, a splendid new restaurant with a vintage rail theme. Located in the village of Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire, which is about 15 miles from Cambridge, Carriages celebrates the golden age of rail travel and provides an opportunity to step back in time and eat out in style at a purpose-built railway station.
This was the most unusual and delightful setting for Afternoon Tea that we had ever experienced. We were seated in a totally authentic recreation of a fine dining First Class carriage with superb attention to detail from the bespoke china down to the recorded steam train sounds.
The food was excellent with high quality, locally sourced ingredients and stylish presentation and we had a second pot of tea without any additional charge. We both thought the Afternoon Tea was very good value at £21.50 per person, and there was plenty of it. As you would expect the service was first-class too, and it’s the perfect venue for special birthdays or anniversaries in a choice of three beautifully restored 1950’s carriages which can accommodate large groups. This vintage railway-themed restaurant experience is highly recommended and we would certainly be happy to make a return visit.
Carriages Tea Room
Tel : 01954 233 279 (Booking in advance essential)
The Boot pub in Histon, which has recently reopened as a White Company Brasserie
Last night Steve and I braved the sub-zero temperatures and the snow to meet up with friends in the village of Histon, which is located a few miles north of Cambridge. We had booked a table at the newly reopened and refurbished pub The Boot which now includes a French-style brasserie, run by the company of celebrity chef Raymond Blanc.
We began our meal with a basket of stone-baked artisan baguette and Rustica olives.
Two of our party chose the Cheddar cheese soufflé for starters, which was served with a warm Ford Farm Coastal Cheddar sauce. It was perfectly light and utterly delicious!
Steve chose the Burgundian snails in garlic herb butter, served with a baguette
Another one of our starters was French onion soup, with Gruyère cheese croûtons
Two of our party chose the Cheddar cheese soufflé, served with warm Ford Farm Coastal Cheddar sauce. It was perfectly light and delicious.
Another one of our starters was French onion soup, with Gruyère cheese croûtons.
Steve chose the Burgundian snails in garlic herb butter, served with a baguette
Steve and one of our party chose Scottish Hebredian rope-grown mussels, steamed with traditional white wine and shallot marinière or creamy saffron mouclade, served with chips and baguette.
For my main course I chose this classic dish of Slow-cooked Bœuf Bourguignon, red wine, lardons, baby onions, mushrooms, with smooth mash.
Must say I liked the look of this Pie of the Week served with green beans
The Three-fruit marmalade crème brûlée was enjoyed by another of my dining companions
Steve chose the Cheese plate: Boy Laity Cornish Camembert, Lyburn Gold, Cheviot and Brighton Blue served with homemade chutney, dried fruit, nuts and crackers
For my dessert I couldn’t resist this Pistachio soufflé, famously light with rich chocolate ice cream.
The Boot is a fabulous conversion which includes a big new bar where dogs are welcome, cosy snugs, and open and log burner fires make it a warm and welcoming environment. The sensational oak beamed extension houses the main brasserie restaurant which is extremely attractive. The cuisine is a winning combination of French brasserie favourites and British pub classics with a choice of menus at competitive prices. The service is good and the staff are friendly. For home-cooked food in an informal setting, this place is going to become a firm favourite of mine for the soufflés alone! Highly recommended.
This week Steve and I enjoyed a 7-course menu at the newly refurbished Navadhanya, Indian Fine Dining on Newmarket Rd, Cambridge. This specially designed menu was only available for Valentine’s Day on 14th February and the restaurant was full of couples enjoying an exotic and romantic dinner accompanied by a choice of Valentine’s Day Special Cocktails. On arrival, all the female guests were presented with a red rose which I thought was a nice gesture!
A final flourish – strawberry dipped in dark chocolate to share!
7th course – Strawberry mousse stuffed jamun with mirror glaze
7th course – Strawberry mousse stuffed jamun with mirror glaze
4th course – Rose apple sorbet, which was served in a chilled bowl
It was a pleasure for us to return to dine at Navadhanya with it’s friendly and courteous service and the food is always of exceptional quality, so very deservedly it’s now listed in the 2018 Michelin Guide. Head chef Kamaladasan with his trademark style creates authentic dishes with a unique twist and he excels at artistic presentation. If you like Indian food this restaurant is perfect for a special occasion and comes highly recommended.
Last month my daughter and I enjoyed a fabulous six-day spa break at Champneys Tring, a health resort and well-being retreat which is set in 170 acres of idyllic Hertfordshire countryside. The once Rothschild family-owned estate complete with a Downton style driveway impressed from the moment we arrived. Outside the front entrance is a dramatic, modern fountain.
Inside, the decor is modern, cool and elegant with an instantly calming sense of light and space.
Britain’s original health spa was established by eccentric naturopath Stanley Lief in 1925 at Tring and it’s the flagship property of the Champneys Group.
A frosty start to a sunny morning at Champneys, Tring. This was the splendid view from the patio of our Ground Floor Garden Room.
We exchanged the routine of work and the stresses and strains of everyday life for a week of healthy eating, exercise classes and treatments in the tranquil bubble of the spa.
The Champneys Plate illustrates what a balanced diet actually looks like, showing how
much should be eaten from each of the three main food groups, with an equal proportion of 33 percent. The Champneys food philosophy relies on the principle of balance, moderation and variety and therefore, all Champney’s cuisine is high in fibre, low in fat and uses complex carbohydrates. For guests who are looking to lose weight, Champneys also has a Light Diet Menu and Plate offering 25 percent complex carbohydrates, 25 percent protein and 50 percent fruit/vegetables.
One of my choices for a typical nutritious breakfast! Champneys soaked muesli with soya milk and added nuts. Half a banana, Orange juice, and for a treat – a mini blueberry muffin.
Examples of the desserts which were available every day at the lunchtime buffet
We usually started our lunch with a bowl of delicious soup every day
At all the Champneys resorts the dress code is relaxed during the daytime and most guests wear their signature white towelling robes for breakfast and lunch, although for dinner smart casual wear is requested in the evening. At lunchtime, there is soup, a choice of hot dishes and a selection of colourful superfood salads. Desserts were of the healthy variety and came in small portions including an apple crumble, coconut rice pudding and fruit mousses, with the additional choice of fresh fruit or yoghurts.
The spacious dining room is split-level with upholstered dining chairs and white linen tables, and the large French windows let in lots of light. We helped ourselves from the extensive self-service buffet for breakfast and lunch, and for dinner which is table service in the restaurant, there was a three-course meal with a wide range of healthy eating or light diet choices of starters, mains and desserts.
Dinner is a rather grand affair and on our first evening, a pianist was playing in the restaurant. I particularly enjoyed some excellent fish dishes which were accompanied by flavoursome sauces that certainly didn’t taste low cal but were the epitome of healthy, nutritious cuisine. Game and poultry are on offer and even some red meat dishes. Champneys take food intolerances seriously with plenty of gluten-free and lactose-free choices. There is no bar at Champneys Tring but they do offer wine or Prosecco with meals. We were very good and just drank copious amounts of water and soft drinks for the duration of our stay.
Incidentally, all meals are included in the price of the Champneys spa stay packages which make it excellent value. Guests could spend a whole week here and not pay anything extra unless you want to add treatments or drinks.
Everything you could wish for in a spa is on offer at Champneys Tring: a 25-metre pool, a well-equipped gym, two activity studios with a wide range of classes and a host of thermal experiences.We spent a lot of time in the water during our week at Tring, as we attended Aquafit classes twice every day, and enjoyed using the Thalassotherapy pool and jacuzzi frequently too. One day when the temperatures were barely above freezing we even braved the large outdoor whirlpool for a very short while! A separate area houses the largewarm saltwater thalassotherapypool which has glass windows overlooking the grounds and a wall of slate with a soothing waterfall running down it. The water is enriched with minerals like magnesium, zinc, potassium and iron to nourish the skin and aid the detoxification process whilst the pool’s hydrotherapy jets stimulate and tone. It was my daughters’ favourite place at the spa!
The surrounding 170 acres of gardens and woodland make Champneys Tring a peaceful and quiet place to relax and provides the opportunity for a countryside stroll. However, we only ventured out once for a short walk around the beautiful grounds on a cold and frosty morning when the sun was shining.
The Marine and Wellness Spa is a new feature exclusive to the Tring resort with its own Reception area so we were keen to see what was on offer there. We booked in for a guided wellness “journey”, a combination of treatments designed to de-stress, detox, slim or rejuvenate. The full treatment lasts for two-and-a-half hours and costs £125, but we chose the shorter version which was £75 and included a foot spa, a salt scrub, an algae wrap and a session in the salt and oxygen inhalation chamber.
My daughter and I have been guests at many different health resorts and spas over the years but Champneys Tring is the very best we have ever experienced for location, treatments, classes, food, facilities, and customer service. If you are looking to rejuvenate your mind, body and soul and beat the winter blues this place has it all and is highly recommended.
Last week Steve and I enjoyed a 3-day winter break in Whitstable which is a quaint fishing and harbour town on the North coast of Kent. It’s located 5 miles north of Canterbury and 2 miles west of Herne Bay, and very popular with visitors, especially from London. Harbour Street has many independent shops and there is a wide selection of pubs, cafes and restaurants in the town which has the working harbour as it’s focal point. This was our first visit and a post-Christmas gift to me from Steve as he knew I have been wanting to stay in Whitstable for years and had never got around to it.
The Official Brewery of the world-famous Whitstable Oyster Company. We enjoyed sampling several of the beers!
The Royal Native Oyster Stores in Kent is a seafood restaurant offering some of the very best oysters, fish and crustacea. The restaurant is located on the beach and offers stunning views of the company’s oyster grounds.
We found this gem of a pub and restaurant serving real ales, fine wines, delicious seasonal produce and live music. Just a stone’s throw from the sea in Whitstable.
The Hotel Continental is in a prime location as it’s the only beach front hotel in Whitstable.
We stayed in one of these 150-year old converted Fisherman’s Huts, which were formerly fishermen stores and are now run by the Hotel Continental. They provided the perfect setting for something of a unique overnight accommodation experience that is quirky and fun. The huts are situated just metres from the beach in the centre of Whitstable offering magnificent sea views of the Thames estuary. Breakfast was served at the Hotel Continental which is about 10 minutes walk away from the huts and included in the price.
The Hotel Continental is in a prime location as it’s the only beachfront hotel in Whitstable.
After a bracing walk we enjoyed a pint of local beer and fish finger sandwiches with salad and chips at The Old Neptune
Some of the interesting images we found in Harbour Street, Whitstable by local enigmatic graffiti artist Catman, a Banksy-style street painter – who apparently keeps his identity firmly under wraps!
So what did I make of our winter break in Whitstable? It certainly has a unique appeal and I can’t really compare it to anywhere else, although I felt that there are similarities with Aldeburgh and Wells-next-the-sea. Our stay in the fisherman’s hut, a meal in one of the best fish restaurants and a pint of a local brew in one of the seafront pubs sums up the charm of quintessential Whitstable: a combination of the classic rugged, cosy seaside town aesthetic and a touch of the modern bohemian! Well worth a visit, a short stay or as a base for a holiday.
We will certainly return whenthe weather is warmer!
Last night Steve and I enjoyed an excellent meal at The Tiffin Truck bar and restaurant which only opened very recently and serves Indian Market food. It’s the sister restaurant of Navadhanya which is one of our favourites so we arrived with high expectations and we weren’t disappointed. The welcome, the presentation of the food and the service were all of the same exceptional standard. It’s centrally located on Regent Street in Cambridge on the site which was formerly Anatolia, a Turkish restaurant.
Two of the bright and colourful images which decorate the walls at The Tiffin Truck. I admired all the graphics!
We loved the Naan bread which was drizzled with Truffle oil
My starter of Mini Masala Dosa was beautifully presented
Red Pumpkin Curry was another tasty side dish we sampled
This side dish of Crispy Kale Chaat was most unusual and tasted delicious
Vegetable Fried Rice and Paneer Butter Masala were two of the many dishes we enjoyed
We were too full for a dessert so we sampled a Kata Mita Margarita and a Bengal Tiger cocktail
At The Tiffin Truck you can eat in, take away or book a delivery
One of the bright and colourful images which decorate the walls at The Tiffin Truck. I loved the graphics!
This is a bar and restaurant where you can enjoy Indian market food dishes alongside Indian craft beers and cocktails, and it’s a splendid new addition to the dining scene in Cambridge.
If you like Indian food you will enjoy something completely different at The Tiffin Truck which has the authentic atmosphere of an Indian bazaar for lunch or dinner, to eat in or take away. Their menus have been inspired by famous Indian street food favourites and home-style tiffin lunches enjoyed by workers across India.
According to their website ‘Tiffin dates back to the days of the Raj where British afternoon tea was replaced with the local Indian practice of taking a light meal at that hour. Every weekday in Mumbai, where the tiffin tradition began, you can still see hundreds of tiffin wallahs racing around the streets with their bicycles piled high with stainless steel tiered boxes, delivering hot lunches to workers.’
For a small deposit, you can collect your takeaway in one of their stylish steel tiffin boxes. The food is very good value and we paid £36 for eight dishes without drinks. Highly recommended and we shall definitely be making a return visit!
It’s been a couple of months since my last blog post for various reasons but recently my jaded palette was revived when I sampled the excellent and tantalisingly alternative Christmas Menu at The Olive Grove Greek restaurant in Cambridge.
The Olive Grove is located on Regent Street in Cambridge
The restaurant has a lovely light interior
The Christmas Menu at The Olive Grove has a wide range of interesting options for starters, mains and dessert which shows the versatility of Greek food to its full advantage. It features locally sourced seasonal produce with an authentic Greek twist and offers an exciting alternative to traditional Christmas fare. There is something for everyone with a choice of vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and lactose-free dishes clearly defined on the menu. It’s worth noting that all food is freshly cooked to order at The Olive Grove and special diets can be catered for.
To accompany the meal this Mega Spileo Cuvee Vinatge 2016 Greek fine wine is highly recommended
My companion and I enjoyed sampling eight dishes from the Christmas menu which all tasted delicious and were beautifully presented. Our starters included the Stilton Gougere drizzled with Spicy Cranberry Marmalade, – which was a new take on a seasonal favourite. Scallops on a bed of Celeriac Cream, with Green Apple, Wild Cherry Compote and Vanilla Mayonaisse, and Fish Croquettes, withTomato sauce, Baby Rocket and White Truffle Oil. We both considered the Stilton dish to be our preferred choice, although for me the perfectly cooked Scallops came a close second.
We sampled three main courses including the Pan-seared Duck Breast on a bed of Celeriac Mousseline with a Vinsanto Santorini and Dry Fig Jus. The Lamb Selection of Lamb Cutlets and Short Saddle Lamb, with Parsnip Puree, Baked Heritage Carrots and Mavrodaphne Jus. The Pork Fillet Tournedo and Slow-Cooked Caramelised Pork Belly,withSaute Spinach, Baked Heritage Carrots and Mavrodaphne Jus. Of the three dishes, I thought that the cooking of the Short Saddle Lamb was outstanding, as it was so moist and tender.
Although my dining companion and I aren’t big meat-eaters we really enjoyed the Duck, Lamb and Pork which we wouldn’t usually choose, and we loved the way the selection of vegetables were prepared and served as an integral part of each dish. I also liked the sound of the Prosecco Saffron Salmon and the Stuffed Butternut Squash which were the alternative choices on the menu for main courses. We were almost too full to sample the desserts but we managed to do justice to the extremely rich and decadent Lemon Cream, Chocolate Ganache, Almond and Biscuit Crumble, and the Mastiha Panna Cotta marinated in Fresh Forest Fruit and Blackcurrant Sorbet which were a delightful way to complete our meal.
If you are looking for a restaurant in Cambridge for your Christmas gathering with a cuisine that offers something different The Olive Grove can cater for small and large groups and comes highly recommended. I have enjoyed eating there several times over the last few years and it never disappoints on food, service and ambience. You will be guaranteed a meal to remember with a taste of the Mediterranean and that famous Greek hospitality!
Prices for the Christmas menu is £33 for 3 courses for dinner or £29 for lunch, booked in advance. email: email@example.com