Dinner at Cotto, East Road

Cotto has been in Cambridge for a long time and for some reason or other I never made it until last week.
The rather unglamorous location of East Road (on the corner of the little alley leading to the Tram Depot) is quickly forgotten in the cosy atmosphere of the upstairs dining room which is long and narrow and has space for, at a guess, about 30 covers. The polished wooden tables are set without tablecloths and the lighting is quite low.
The only dining option is the á la carte menu with six options each for starter and main, one of which a vegetarian option. Everything sounded very good indeed, from glazed belly pork via beef and venison to fish and seafood and the decision was quite hard.

Amuse bouche
The amuse were little pastry shells filled with a spiced hummus and chicken liver parfait, nice little packets of flavour.

Crab, crayfish
I wanted something light to start so went with the crab and crayfish dish. Very fresh and lightly dressed crab, well cooked crayfish tails, some veg and salad and dots of nicely sharp aioli and beetroot puree. A good start indeed. My companion was also very happy with her glazed pork belly with “exotic slaw”.

Venison Wellington
The season for venison is almost at an end so I chose the “Wellington” and was very happy to have done so. The meat was cooked on the spot and had excellent flavour, the pastry was crisp and stayed so for quite a while and the well reduced sauce with wild mushrooms brought everything together and sent me straight to the forest. There was also a token parcel of vegetables on the side. This was easily one of the best venision dishes I’ve had anywhere.

Chocolate piano
With head chef Hans Schweitzer’s history and reputation as a master chocolatier, we had to have the piano for dessert. The body of the piano is made from two types of ganache, then covered in dark chocolate, with a white chocolate keyboard and dark chocolate lid. On the side was a chocolate fondant and chocolate ice cream/parfaits. This was not only art on the plate but also delicious and left a huge smile on my face.

We finished our meal with hot chocolate and mint tea. The petit fours served with those were Vanillekipferl, minty truffles and chocolate shavings.

The three-course menu is priced at £50 (55 on Saturdays) and with a glass of wine with the main, a small glass of dessert wine each and the tea/chocolate the bill came to £163 for two before service, so definitely on the higher end of the scale in Cambridge. Refreshingly, there is no automatic service charge so you can decide for yourself. Service was efficient and friendly.
The food is of excellent quality with strong flavours, the style is more classic rustic than modern refined.

The restaurant is closing for an extended Easter break in April and will reopen in May. Flavour 105 reported on their last programme that the restaurant is for sale as the owner/head chef is planning to retire but no details have been released yet. I will still be planning a return visit reasonably soon.

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A Dinner by Chef Damian Wawrzyniak

I found out about this dinner (as so many others recently) via twitter and in the weeks before started following the chef, Damian Wawrzyniak. The photos and descriptions of dishes from other dinners looked right up my street and I decided to take the plunge and ordered a ticket, not least because it included a free lift from Cambridge and back.
The Cook’s Barn in Bottisham is part kitchen showroom and working kitchen with a dining space. On this occasion there was one long table, supper club style. Weather and traffic were horrible so we arrived a little later than planned but weren’t the last by far and dinner only started when everyone had arrived, almost an hour later. There was, however, opportunity to chat with the chef as he prepared ingredients and getting to know the other diners.
Each course was cooked fresh with Chef Damian explaining the ideas behind each dish. He clearly had done this before as the pace of the evening was perfect between watching the cookery, eating and chatting.
The food was excellent, diverse and rather different and adventurous in places. Even odd sounding ideas, like chocolate covered pig skin turned out to be marvellous indeed. Even simple ingredients like kale and cauliflower were transformed into delicious dishes.
The following photos should give you a rough idea of the experience. There are more on flickr.

Chef Damian in action

Pig skin, chocolate, spices
Pig skin, chocolate, spices

Quail's egg, aubergine mousse, wasabi, sweet potato
Quail’s egg, aubergine mousse, wasabi, sweet potato

Kale, egg, chicken skin
Kale, egg, chicken skin

Wagyu beef cooked on hot marble slabs

Wagyu beef cooked on hot marble slabs
Wagyu beef cooked on hot marble slabs

Langoustine, spinach, chicken mousse

Langoustine, spinach, chicken mousse
Langoustine, spinach, chicken mousse

Cauliflower, burnt onion cream, salmon caviar

Cauliflower, burnt onion cream, salmon caviar

Cauliflower, burnt onion cream, salmon caviar

Cauliflower, burnt onion cream, salmon caviar
Cauliflower, burnt onion cream, salmon caviar

Mint on marble

Lamb fillet, beetroot, mint

Lamb fillet, beetroot, mint

Lamb fillet, beetroot, mint

Lamb fillet, beetroot, mint
Lamb fillet, beetroot, mint

Scallops in hay
Scallops in hay

Black cod, squid ink, bonito flakes

Black cod, squid ink, bonito flakes
Black cod, squid ink, bonito flakes

Almonds, chocolate, honey, poppy seeds

Bergamot ice cream, marmalade

Bergamot ice cream, marmalade
Bergamot ice cream, marmalade

Chocolate, beetroot
Chocolate, beetroot

Chocolate mousse, dehydrated fruit
Chocolate mousse, dehydrated fruit

Keep an eye on Chef Damian’s website for news on similar future events (two running during Eat Cambridge in May) and his restaurant in London opening later this year.

Dinner at the Box Tree, Ilkley

I’ve been wanting to visit the Box Tree in Ilkley ever since Lawrence Yates, who used to be sous chef at Alimentum, took over as head chef there last year, especially as he managed to pick up a Michelin star within the first half year. I finally took the opportunity a few weeks ago when I visited my friend Jennie in Brighouse which isn’t too far away.
The restaurant is set in a cosy, lovingly restored old building with exposed beams and open fireplaces and quite subdued lighting. It felt quite formal with the well spaced tables and starched tablecloths but atmosphere and service were relaxed and we felt very welcome and comfortable.
After a drink in the bar we were shown to our table and shortly after the bread arrived with butter in the shape of a rose. I’ve read the restaurant manager himself makes dozens of these each day!
We had opted for the tasting menu and the dishes arrived in a well paced order, the flavours building up nicely through each course. Everything was very well cooked indeed, with perfect seasoning and excellent balance of flavours and textures as well as being beautifully presented, perfectly justifying the Michelin star. Service was also top notch, efficient while being inobtrusive, with the French sommelier providing excellent wine matches to supplement the menu.
The following photos should give you a rough idea of the food. The colours are somewhat off as the light sources were mixed.

Butter rose

Quai's egg, mushroom
Quail’s eggs, mushroom, onion

Chicken, foie gras
Chicken and foie gras ballotine

Sea Bass, Jerusalem Artichoke, Leek
Sea Bass, jerusalem artichoke, leek

Fillet of Beef
Fillet of beef, mushroom, buttery mash

Champagne and Blood Orange
Palate cleanser: champagne and blood orange

Cherry Souffle
Cherry Soufflé

Rhubarb Millefeuille
Rhubarb millefeuille with basil jelly

There were some lovely chocolate petit fours as well but by that time I think I’ve had a little too much wine and the photo was out of focus…

Kyung’s Korean American Supper Club

I finally have the time to update this blog so bear with me as I’ve been rather busy.
First up is Kyung‘s Korean American supper club at the end of January. As much as I dislike the term, Kyung’s food, served in the front/dining room of her house in Cambridge, were indeed classics with a twist.

Kimchi Mac&Cheese

Kimchi Mac&Cheese

Take what was simply called “Kimchi Mac & Cheese” on the menu. This turned out to be deep-fried balls of mac and cheese, rather like arancini. The richness of the cheese was balanced by the tangy kimchi (which Kyung makes herself), creating perfect little morsels. I had to try hard not to overindulge as I knew there was plenty more food to come.

KFC (Korean Fried Chicken)

Next up was KFC (Korean Fried Chicken), crispy, well-cooked chicken with a spicy and sticky glaze and topped with crushed peanuts. Again, it was hard to stop eating. I would have been happy with just that chicken but a lot more was to come.

Beansprout soup

A simple beansprout soup was next, which worked as a palate cleanser and washed away the sticky chicken glaze.

Bibimbap

Bibimbap

Ribs

The main course was of course Bibimbap, a collection of various vegetables on black rice, served in a big bowl and then thorughly mixed up with a generous helping of Kochujang, the Korean hot sauce, also homemade by Kyung. BBQ spare ribs were served as a little extra protein. Fantastic flavours and textures.

Entremet

Entremet

The dessert was equally stunning, an entremet made with a slightly spicy chocolate ganache and excellent dark chocolate. Having been already full, I doubted I would be able to fit in as much as half a slice but it was very light indeed so I believe everyone had seconds.

There are more photos on flickr.

In conclusion, the food was superb, the atmosphere relaxed and all the guests had a good time, making new friends along the way.

Considering this was Kyung’s first attempt at a supper club, she already but herself firmly on the map and I highly recommend signing up for her next one which is going to be on the 15th of March. There should be a few places left.