A first visit to Aromi

Aromi, the new Sicilian cafe in Cambridge (in Bene’t Street, on the corner next to the Arts Theatre) finally opened today. I made it there just in time for them to unlock the front door.
The counter is divided into savoury (various filled ciabatta sandwiches, pizette, arancini and other snacks) and sweet (cannoli, open pastries, truffles and other delicious looking things).
I hadn’t had breakfast so I wanted something sweet and the cannoli looked just like what I was looking for:

Cannoli at Aromi

The crunchy pastry combined with the smooth filling (from the top, ricotta, cream and chocolate mousse) was a joy if a little bit messy to eat. The macchiato was one of the best I’ve had so their claim of looking after their coffee well is also justified.

It was rather busy when I had finished my breakfast so I did not go back for savoury seconds. I will be back on Tuesday evening before I go to the theatre. I am going to find out then if they also cook some of the savoury items to order or you just pick them up from the cold counter.

A short note on the layout: The counter where you order your food and pay is right at the front and there is not much space in which to queue so those waiting stand between the tables on street level and you need to squeeze past the queue when you leave. At busy times (and I anticipate times to be rather busy as word spreads) this might be a bit inconvenient but I don’t see how they could remedy the situation without removing some of the tables. There is, however, also seating in the basement.

There were a few service niggles which were entirely forgivable in the first minutes of opening (they started serving others while I was still waiting to pay after receiving my orders and I had to remind them twice) but I have no doubt Aromi will be a fantastic addition to the independent café scene in Cambridge.

Dinner at Brasserie Chavot

Brasserie Chavot only opened last month to rave reviews so I was eager to try it and jumped at the opportunity when a friend was looking for someone to share a table reservation he had acquired at short notice. The brasserie is a long, narrow room with pretty mosaic tiles on the floor and dark wooden furniture and wall panelling. This makes the room a bit dim but it was enough to see our food clearly. The menu is rustic French with a few more modern dishes.

Snails

For starter, I had the snails which were served in a glass bowl in a thick sauce with meatballs, covered with a layer of potato espuma, basically an aerated mash. The snails were perfectly cooked and not chewy at all, very good indeed.

Rump of venison

For main I had chosen the rump of venison which was served with a well reduced jus, savoy cabbage and a few sauteed potatoes, served in a casserole dish. The meat was cooked medium rare (not rare as the waitress had suggested it would be but that was fine) and had excellent flavour.

Rum Baba

The portions being as big as they were, I was feeling rather full already but couldn’t possibly leave without dessert. Hoping the Rum Baba would be light, we both ordered it. It was indeed light and moist and had a nice rum punch to it. Served with very thinly sliced pineapple and chantilly cream, it was a nice whay to end. It did, however, defeat me and I had to leave a bit behind.

I really enjoyed my meal and my companion raved about his as well. He had chosen the soft shell crab as starter and the choucroute for main. I was thinking of ordering the choucroute but was still porked out from the Dingley Dell dinner and went for a leaner option.

If well cooked, rustic French food is your thing, I can only recommend Brasserie Chavot. Considering its Mayfair location it isn’t exactly cheap but you certainly feel like you received value for money when you’re rolling out the door, full and content.

Dingley Dell Flying Visit at Tuddenham Mill, 17/04/13

This month’s Dingley Dell Flying Visit took place at Tuddenham Mill in Suffolk.
First on the schedule was a stroll around the meadow led by John Rose of Botanica to see if we could find some forageable plants. Due to the late season there wasn’t much but there was some. John was a font of knowledge not just on the edibility of plants and herbs but also their historical and medicinal uses.

Foraging with John Rose of Botanica

Back at the Mill, a selection of canapés prepared by head chef Paul Foster and his brigade were served: crackling with pea mousse, chickpea wavers, potato skins and Jersey Royals with bacon and avocado. All were excellent and a good indication of what was to come. I didn’t take photos as it turned out juggling a drink, a canape and a camera was beyond my hands’ capacity.
After the traditional introductions by Mark of Dingley Dell Farm and a butchery demonstration during which Thom took apart half a pig in about fifteen minutes, we made our way to the dining room upstairs. There two long communal tables had been set up. We picked our seats and didn’t have to wait long for the first course to arrive:

Mark Poynton: Pork liver parfait, trotter, hazelnuts

Mark Poynton‘s dish was a variation of the one he created for the last event at Corpus Christi College: pork liver parfait, slow cooked trotter meat, pickled mushrooms and chopped roasted hazelnuts. The parfait was soft and creamy, the meat well flavoured and the mushrooms brought everything together.

Eric Snaith: BBQ shoulder, head fritter

Next up was Eric Snaith of Titchwell Manor with BBQ shoulder, head fritter, in a spicy dashi broth. The smoky shoulder meat worked really well with the spicy broth.

Ben Spalding: Belly flavoured with spicy chocolate ketchup

Ben Spalding was next with a superb belly dish: flavoured with spicy chocolate ketchup and served with yogurt (), orzo grains and grapes. This was my favourite dish of the night, soft meat, nice crackling and great, harmonising flavours.

Paul Foster: Poached shoulder

Paul Foster‘s dish was a slab of poached shoulder with broccoli, crispy millet and “pig face hash”. While the shoulder was great, it was the hash that made the dish for me as I just adore slow cooked “cheap” cuts of meat.

Matt Gillan‘s dessert, “Pig in …”, put a smile on everybody’s faces:

Matt Gillan: Like a Pig in...

The pink chocolate pig’s head was filled with salted caramel and in the “tub” were pistachio sponge, apple mousse, apple jelly, hazelnuts, puff pastry, Guillermo, white chocolate and bacon. Not too sweet, soft, fruity and crunchy. A perfect, light dessert.

Piggy Fours

The “piggy fours” divided opinion a bit, especially the smoked bacon fudge which was certainly an acquired taste. The pine jelly was good but everybody’s favourite were the Alexander truffles.

This was the third of these Flying Visits I have attended and I think it was the best one yet. The next one is going to be in London on the 20th of May and it’s going to be another big one.

A few more photos below and still more on flickr.

Paul Foster on his kitchen balcony

Foraging with John Rose of Botanica

Thom and half a pig

Dingley Dell fact cards

Eric Snaith and Paul Foster

Many thanks to Jean-Luc Benazet (click the link for his official photos) for the lift and Ant for the company.

The last ever Pavitt’s Pies at 12a Club

If you’ve been following the food news in Cambridge, you probably know that Pavitt’s Pies has closed for business. For one last time Carri offered her pies to the public, this time at 12a Club on Market Square (upstairs of Don Pasquale). This evening had originally been scheduled during Eat Cambridge but had to be cancelled due to illness.

I shared a table with six others, including Deepa aka Lazy Giraffe and @IreenaRibena who after a long time chatting on twitter finally managed to meet in person.

12a
Aperitif

On arrival, there was a rather nice aperitif, a variation of a Negroni sbagliato but with apple to balance the bitterness a bit. Really refreshing and very quaffable.

My chicken and mushroom pie

The pies were served with mash, peas and some gravy. Just as the previous ones I had tried, the crust was crispy and the filling (mine was chicken and mushroom) perfectly cooked, moist but not too liquid so the pastry stayed crispy. If there had been a bit more gravy, I’d have finished all of the mash, too.

Profiteroles from Don Pasquale

Dessert was three giant, tennis ball sized Profiteroles from Don Pasquale. Profiteroles aren’t usually my thing but these were great, good choux pastry and the cream wasn’t too cloying. Even the chocolate sauce was alright, despite not being dark. A huge portion, though, but I persevered while others at our table had to give up.

A great night, with great food and lovely people.

#CamShopLocal challenge – My result

Yesterday was the last day of the #CamShopLocal challenge (going without shopping at supermarkets for a week) and it turned out it was a lot easier than I thought, even with the Easter holidays when most indies close.
Part of it it was that I ate out three times during this week, not to avoid having to find food at home but because I was at the cinema on Tuesday, the First Rule supper club on Friday and the Alimentum supper club on Sunday, all activities that had been planned/scheduled ahead of time.
On Wednesday I bought some veg at Al Noor for dinner and on Thursday my regular box from Riverford arrived which provided me with enough veg for the weekend and a good part of this week, too. I had enough store cupboard ingredients (pasta, couscous, rice, muesli), too.

The only not local/indie source I used was milk and juice from Dairy Crest (my regular delivery) but at least I didn’t buy them at a supermarket and I’m not sure where I would be able to get fresh milk, anyway.

On Saturday I did a big shop at Daily Bread again: dry and tinned goods and, most importantly, loo roll and washing up liquid, the former being the most important domestic essential. Four rolls of “eco” toilet paper was 1.99 so around the same price for good paper at a supermarket.
Lunches during the week were either dinner leftovers from the previous evening, a baguette/ciabatta from the Norfolk Street Deli van which comes to the office every day and a pie from the food4food community café across the road.

It turned out that I did most of my shopping at indies already. The real challenge for me was not to pop into the tesco express behind the house for treats like biscuits, croissants or Nutella.
Basically, a week isn’t an issue, at least not where I live and when I have a well stocked cupboard. A month would prove more tricky to accomplish.

Chatting to the hosts of the Clandestine Gourmet supper club last night revealed that this was a lot more difficult in Trumpington which basically has no local shops at all. They all died when Waitrose opened. Considering Trumpington is the most affluent part of town and King’s Hedges allegedly the most deprived, I am quite happy to live in the cheap part of town.

The First Rule supper club

It was not long ago that Cambridge was a barren wasteland for foodies. Very few pubs and restaurants served decent food and there was hardly anything going on outside of commercial enterprises. Now there’s quite a good selection of pubs and small restaurants serving excellent food and the home based foodie scene is growing, too. The supper clubs Plate Lickers and The Clandestine Gourmet sell out within hours of being announced and now there’s a new one in town: The First Rule. I first heard about them when they started following me on twitter. I was intrigued and their offer of a menu including wines for £35 sounded very reasonable indeed so I signed up.

Yesterday evening, I made my way to the wilds of Trumpington again (they are if you rely on public transport, with the Citi 7 only going every half hour, even before 7 so it took me over an hour from Chesterton), found their house quickly and was greeted by the hosts Adam and Pascale as well as a few friends and familiar faces.

Table

Table

Our hosts
Our Hosts

Charles Hardcastle
Charles Hardcastle from Joseph Barnes Wines who had provided the matching wines for our meal. The first one you see in the photo above was Domaine Breton, Touraine Petillant Naturel Rosé ‘Ritournelle’ 2011 (Loire), a natural wine that was more like cider than wine but light and refreshing, working well as aperitif and with the hors d’oeuvres.

Table

Hors d'oeuvres
Hors d’oeuvres, lovely morsels of food, chicory, cheese, liver, fruit etc. nicely woke up my palate.

Velouté of parsnips with apple and horseradish Chantilly
The starter was a velouté of parsnips with apple and horseradish chantilly. The parsnip was well balanced with the sharp apple pieces and the horseradish. The Domaine Albert Mann, Riesling Tradition 2011 (Alsace) went well with it.

Wine

I had such a great time chatting to the other guests and eating that I actually forgot to take a photo of the main course of roast lamb with garlic flageolet beans and roasting juices. The lamb was a touch on the dry side but still tasty but it was the beans that made this dish for me. Cooked just right and very well flavoured. They didn’t even give me wind!

Wine
Another remarkable wine was the Clos Fantine, Faugeres Tradition 2010 (Languedoc) with the lamb, full bodied and right up my street. As I thought it would work well with a lot of my cooking, I had to order a few bottles.

Riz au lait with caramel and cinnamon apple
Riz au lait with caramel and cinnamon apple, a rather dense rice pudding but with great flavours and most importantly, not as sweet as it sounds.

Wine
The dessert wine was a Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure, Monbazillac ‘Jour de Fruit’ 2010 (Monbazillac), again a good match and great for drinking afterwards.

The evening finished with really good coffee I could actually drink without ill effects (I’ve been having stomach problems drinking non-espresso coffee for a number of years) and home made petit fours. Again, I missed a photo of the white chocolate bits but you can see half of a tuile on my saucer.

Coffee

A nice touch was that our hosts not only joined us at the table during dinner but they also had invited two friends and their guitars for some musical accompaniment (and helping during service). After dinner, Adam joined them and a great time was had by all.

Entertainment

Entertainment

Entertainment

Again, I had a great time meeting and eating with lovely people I hadn’t met before which was a great way of spending a Friday evening after a tedious week at work.

Their next supper club is on the 17th of May and you can sign up on their website.

A brief visit to the British Museum

On Friday I had some time to kill in the afternoon and as it was rather chilly I decided to have a look at the British Museum (where I hadn’t been for years), forgetting it was Good Friday and therefore heaving. I did find a few quieter sections, though and was able to take a few photos. No chance getting into the temp exhibtions that required booking, though. A few photographic impressions below:

At the British Museum

Sowei Mask
Sowei mask, a free temp exhibit.

At the British Museum

At the British Museum
Clockwork horses in Mesopotamia? Surely not.

At the British Museum
Reminded me of The Exorcist, for some reason

At the British Museum

At the British Museum
How many faces do you see?

At the British Museum

At the British Museum

At the British Museum

A few more on flickr.

Dinner at Trishna

Saturday morning, I had breakfast again at The Hampshire Hog as I was staying a few minutes down the road at a budget hotel. As I had no proper lunch planned (or even a time when I would eat), I opted for something a little more substantial, Eggs Benedict:
Eggs Benedict at The Hampshire Hog
They were fine indeed, the eggs poached on the spot, good ham on nicely toasted muffins with a smooth hollandaise. Freshly squeezed orange juice on the side. The few undressed rocket leaves didn’t really add anything. I also managed to catch up with Ed before he leaves the running of the Hog to others and leaves for India to run a big business venture.

I had orginally planned to spend daytime wandering around various markets and the food festival on the South Bank but I really didn’t fancy it in the cold wind (and later sleet) so I spent the day at Leisure Games in Finchley instead playing board games as it was International Tabletop Day. That was good fun but I did need some food so I went to a Persian restaurant a few doors down. The food was pleasant enough but there was just too much of it (and I ate too much) which in hindsight was a bad idea.

I had booked dinner at Trishna early in the evening as it was a bank holiday weekend which tends to be notorious for train travel and I really didn’t want to spend a long time on cold replacement busses. Considering my late bulk lunch I sadly wasn’t feeling hungry enough to splurge on the big tasting menu so I chose the five course one with a matching flight of wines. I had only heard good reviews from both critics and friends so I was really looking forward to it and I was not disappointed.

Bread
Bread with two interesting chutneys, a milder one with mango and a rather hot one.

Koliwada lobster and shrimp
The first course was Koliwada lobster and shrimp which was quite spicy but the spicing so well judged that the flavour of the crustaceans still came through. Needless to say, they were very nicely cooked.

Hariyali Bream
Hariyali Bream with green chilli, coriander and tomato kachumber. Less hot than the previous course despite the green chilli and wrapped in coriander, the fish was wonderfully moist and almost flaked before my knife touched it. Easily one of my favourite dishes.

Duck Seekh Kebab
Duck Seekh Kebab was probably the odd one out. While the duck flavour was excellent, the kebab was rather dense and a bit dry, at least to my taste. The spiced pineapple chutney worked brilliantly with it, however and added some moisture.

Malwani Jhinga CurryThe main was a whole spread of dishes: prawns in a rich, fragrant and somewhat spicy curry sauce, spicy yellow dal, spinach with garlic, basmati rice and two kinds of naan. Brilliant in every way, my only regret was really not being hungry anymore otherwise I would have finished the rice with the sauce and dal. As it was, quite a bit of those elements went back into the kitchen.

However, there’s always room for dessert and truly magnificent that was:
Cardamom Kheer
Cardamom Kheer: The queen of rice puddings, if I ever had one. I could hardly chew and swallow because of the smile it put on my face, a smile that would not fade for quite a few minutes after it was all gone. Indian sweets and desserts can be very sweet and cloying but this was just right with just the right amount of spicing.

Like my friends, I can only recommend Trishna, not just because of the quality of the food and well matched wines but also because it presents excellent value. My menu was towards the upper end and came to 80 pounds including wine and service. For a one star restaurant in a posh part of London, this is very good indeed. Even better value are their smaller and early evening menus.

Dinner at John Salt

My dinner on Friday at John Salt had been planned last year already. At the time Ben Spalding was in the kitchen and the waiting list had been long so I decided to go as part of my birthday binge. He has since left but as it was Neil Rankin (formerly of Pitt Cue Co.) who replaced him as head chef I upheld the booking. I met up with yet another twitter friend (@CityJohn) and it turned out to be a treat for both of us.
The restaurant itself is upstairs on a mezzanine level, away from the busy bar and music downstairs so it was actually possible to talk without shouting.
The menu consists of “plates”, starter sized portions ideal for sharing and mains with optional sides. We chose to share cod cheeks with tomato, scallops and sardines. There was a mixup as the octopus we ordered ended up being tempura oysters but we didn’t mind as they were really good. We even received a freebie in the shape of a plate of razor clams cooked with wild garlic. Everything was excellent but our favourites were the scallops, roe intact and served in their shells in a fragrant sauce (we were so excited by them that I forgot to take a photo, oops).

Razor clams

Oysters and scallops

Sardines

Cod cheeks

For mains we chose the onglet with kimchi hollandaise (John) and the whole megrim sole with bone sauce (me). Both were cooked on the spot with nice sauces, the kimchi hollandaise being especially interesting which would have matched the fish as well. On the side we had a bowl of grilled salad and excellent frites.

Onglet

Megrim sole

Water was served in fun china jugs:
Water jug

For dessert, we had the bacon panacotta (something my companion had not had before) and the rhubarb trifle. The trifle was really good, not too sweet and not too much cream so rather light. I didn’t take photos as they were served in tumblers which wouldn’t have worked well in the available light.

For all this great food and a bottle of wine the bill came to just over 50 pounds a head, including service which I call excellent value indeed.

Lunch at Koffmann’s

The next day after a breakfast of pancakes at The Hampshire Hog, I made my way to Hyde Park to meet up with the male half of The Critical Couple for lunch at Koffmann’s which is located within The Berkeley Hotel but has its own restaurant from the main road. The main part of the restaurant is downstairs, away from natural light which is always a bit tricky for photography but as it was rather quiet we managed to get moved to a table by the window upstairs which was much better.
Pierre Koffmann has been a household name in the UK for a long time and quite a number of well-known chefs with their own established restaurants learned the ropes his kitchen like Tom Kitchin, Tom Aikens, Bruno Loubet, Eric Chavot and many others. With a reputation and pedigree like this you might think the food would be over elaborate and potentially pretentious but it actually is brasserie food, just refined and done very well.

Amuse
The amuse already showed us the quality of the dishes we were to expect. This onion tart was light and perfectly crispy. Just two bites for each of us but full of flavour.

Bread
The breads were equally well made and freshly baked, too.

This being my first time, I had to go for the signature dishes:

Squid Bolognaise
Squid Bolognaise: I had first seen this dish on Saturday Kitchen a while ago and it intrigued me. The pasta is replaced by shaved, perfectly cooked squid, served with a bolognaise style sauce that had clearly been slowly cooked for a long time, imparting lots of deep flavour while still not overpowering the squid.

Pig's trotter
The next obvious choice was the pig’s trotter stuffed with morels and sweetbreads. The skin of the trotter turns rather gelatinous but is very tender indeed so it almost melts in your mouth. The stuffing is well judged and adds some crispy bits. This was served with a smooth pomme puree (easily the same amount of butter to potato) and a shiny, well reduced sauce. Not exactly a dish for the faint-hearted as it is quite substantial but it is actually less rich than it sounds and its reputation is more than deserved.

Pistachio souffle
For dessert we both chose the pistachio souffle to which our waiter added a quenelle of pistachio ice cream at the table. This slowly sunk into the souffle without collapsing it and instead almost completely melting on the way. Light and fluffy after the rich main, this was the perfect way to end. It has been a few years since I had Tom Kitchin’s version (who serves the ice cream on the side) but I daresay they were both equally accomplished.

Petit fours
A few petit fours to finish.

You can find photos of my companion’s dishes on flickr but you will have to wait for his blog post to see what they were like. They both looked fantastic, too, so I might well have to come back at some point soon. Considering the location, the quality of the food and the restaurant’s reputation, our meal was reasonable value: 70 pounds including efficient and friendly service and a generous glass of wine. Their set lunch menu is a true bargain which I will have to try soon.