A short review of The Great Northern

The Great Northern (the website does not really work, at least not in Chrome) is a bar/pub/bistro on Station Road in Cambridge and now under new management (previously Sauce and then The Great Northern but that did not do particularly well). A number of fellow foodies had already commented favourably on their food so I tried it when I had the chance.
The first time was a couple of weeks ago on my return from holiday. I was not very hungry then so only had a small dish of “tempura duck dumplings with Asian slaw”. This was very good indeed, with a crunchy coating and flavourful, tender and moist meat inside. The slaw worked well with it.

Having enjoyed my first visit, I came back yesterday for dinner. This time I had lemon sole, gently fried in butter with sauteed green and sea vegetables and new potatoes. In my opinion, the best way to test a kitchen is to see if they can cook a delicate fish well and this was certainly the case here. The flesh was moist and flaky with a fresh flavour. Overall, there was probably a bit too much butter for my taste but that was a minor quibble.
I might not go there deliberately but if I find myself hungry after a train journey and they are still open, it is certainly another opportunity, together with Marrakech around the corner.

Aspall's at The Great Northern

Lemon Sole at The Great Northern

Lunch at Minneci, Nuremberg

As I had a few hours to kill before my train I did some research into excellent restaurants. The only Michelin starred restaurant, Essigbrätlein, doesn’t have a website(!) and despite reading more favourable than negative reviews, I wasn’t going to chance a visit (and quite a lot of money) without getting an overview first. The other restaurant on my list was Aumers La Vie, which does have a website and their food sounded like my kind of thing but they don’t serve lunch on weekdays so the next one that caught my eye was Minneci, an Italian restaurant near Färbertor. Their menu not only looked excellent and they also offer a tasting menu which sounded perfect to spend a couple of hours on.

I guess their main business is dinner as when I arrived, I was the only guest and even later there were only a further three tables. Everything on the menu sounded very good indeed but I wanted to sample as much variety as possible so chose the tasting menu.

Vegetable soup
The amuse was a fresh and well-flavoured vegetable soup served in a large shotglass alongside a savoury pannacotta and a basket of fresh bread and butter whipped with garlic, herbs and tomato.A brilliant start and a good indication what was to come.
Salmon terrine
The starter was a salmon terrine. Perfectly cooked fish surrounded by a jelly in which a brunoise of vegetables was suspended, served on sliced and dressed cucumber, two tiny quenelles of a light horseradish cream as well as some basil oil and a really good balsamico, a perfect summer dish.
Wild mushroom soup
Followed by one of the best wild mushroom soups I’ve had anywhere, light, strong in flavour, with chunks of fresh ceps and girolles in the bottom. Brilliant. I don’t think I stopped smiling after that.
Pasta with summer truffles
The pasta dish was the flavour highlight of the menu for me. Very fine pasta parcels that melted on the tongue with a green vegetable puree, with shavings of fresh white truffle on top. Except for the foam which I found a bit pointless, this was a truly superb dish. By this time, despite arriving hungry I was almost full already due to the rather generous portion sizes. The main was yet to come:
Two perfectly cooked chunks of veal fillet (as you can see from the second photo) with mediterranean vegetables, a fine polenta cake and brought together by a well reduced sauce. Another great dish indeed
The dessert was an assortment of various things, a light pannacotta, almond ice cream, a nicely presented strawberry and a little salad of mango with a raspberry on top.

This was a fantastic meal and reasonably priced (compared to the UK, at least), too. The tasting menu is €59 and my bill with a glass of excellent Pinot Grigio, a mug of latte macchiato and a bottle of water came to €73. At 5.50, the .7l bottle was rather outrageously priced, however. Still, I really enjoyed the meal and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for some excellent Italian cooking.

Bistronomy supper club at The Vaults

As with many food events recently, I found out about this on twitter. I had missed the first one a couple of months ago and heard good things so I booked immediately when it was announced. The venue was The Vaults restaurant in Trinity Street.

Bistronomy: Bread, oil/balsamic, aoili
First there was some simple Italian style bread with olive oil/balsamic vinegar and a nicely punchy aioli. The amuse was a fresh and flavourful gazpacho, a nice idea to get the tastebuds going. As it was served simply in a coffee cup, I did not take a photo.

Bistronomy: Rabbit terrine
The starter was a rabbit terrine with pickled vegetables. This was well flavoured and the combination with the pickled, crunchy vegetables worked really well. The chunks of loin down the middle were still moist, too.

Bistronomy: Pork tenderloin, broad beans, goats cheese
The main was a nice piece of pork tenderloin, perfectly cooked (pink) and beautifully tender. This was served on broad beans with chunks of creamy goats cheese and bits of smoky bacon, an excellent combination. Definitely my favourite dish of the evening and easily one of the best pork tenderloin dishes I have had at a restaurant.

Bistronomy: Palate cleanser
The palate cleanser was a fresh combination of melon and cucumber and did the job perfectly.

Bistronomy: Lemon posset and strawberries
The finale was strawberries and lemon posset with good flavours and not too sweet. If I had to be super critical, I would have preferred a crunchy element as well, perhaps some crumble or crushed amaretti biscuits but that was a minor issue.

Overall, this was a wonderful meal with great flavours and good portion sizes that left you sated but not full. The best, however, was the price: All the above for £25, without service. On the other hand, the glass of Chablis I had was rather pricey at £8.50 but I guess that is The Vault’s pricing and not unusual along the main tourist stretch in Cambridge.

You can follow the chefs Ben Tebbit and Byron Franklin on twitter and facebook. Definitely a team to watch out for and yet another great addition to the culinary scene in Cambridge.

Another Dinner at The Hole in the Wall

I just realised I hadn’t written about my latest visit to The Hole in the Wall a couple of weeks ago. With two different friends this time, we arrived on a nice early summer evening and were seated right next to the bar which provided ample light. Again, the menu made our selection hard as everything on it sounded rather tempting indeed.

Crayfish skagen
As it was recommended to my by friends, I chose the “Crayfish Skagen” to start, a modern take on the classic prawn cocktail. Applied liberally to the wonderfully crusty sourdough bread, this was a pleasure to eat, perfectly seasoned without overwhelming the flavour of the crayfish.

Sole, sea vegetables
For main, I picked the steamed sole with sea vegetables and potatoes. The fish was well cooked and seasoned, and the rest of the plate worked perfectly with it. As always at the Hole, it was a very generous portion and very good value at £17

My friends were equally happy with their chicken on lime risotto:
Supreme of chicken, lemon risotto
and rump of lamb:
Rump of lamb

And then, the glorious finale (we all had the same):
Salted caramel choolate pot
Salted caramel chocolate pot, with chocolate sorbet and shortbread on the side. Rich chocolate, made even richer by the expertly judged salted caramel so the whole thing was not too sweet. Due to the rather warm room, the chocolate sorbet quickly melted but that was not much of an issue as we could dip the stars of the evening into it, the (in)famous doughnuts:
The famous doughnuts
I had heard many a friend praise their lightness and flavour and indeed they were outstanding. I described them as “deep-fried air” as there really was not much too chew inside the crispy shell, they just melted in your mouth. Apparently, our Uhh- and Aahhing was noticed and we were served a second helping, so in the end we had two each. The banana parfait in the small pan was nice as well but I preferred the chocolate.

It is a shame this fine restaurant/free house is a bit out of the way for those of us without a car or I would visit a lot more often. The tastefully renovated building with its low ceilings and even lower exposed beams (there are areas where even I at 1.70m height have to stoop) has a lot of character and provides a homely atmosphere, service is efficient and friendly amd food and drink are excellent.