First impressions of Butch Annie’s, 14/02/2015

Like many new discoveries, I came across this new burger place in the centre of Cambridge (Market St, where Carrington used to be) on twitter.

Entrance

The room has been updated a bit (the graffiti on the walls will probably divide opinion) but it should work well for a long and relatively narrow room.

Beers Booths One side of the bar

They offered a free burger to the first 250 people through the door who had retweeted their info so of course I couldn’t resist. I arrived at noon but had to wait about 10 minutes until they had sorted out some issues. The menu has five beef burgers and two with iberico pork (all the topping combinations are also available with a veggie patty); sides are skin-on chips with various seasonings, “onion popcorn” (onions cooked in a chickpea and beer batter) and coleslaw plus additional dips and sauces. The drinks menu has bottled craft lager and ales (Freedom, Chapel Down, Fourpure, Rosita, Harviestoun), two ciders, four wines and five bourbons. Soft drinks are Cokes and Sprite, juices, Fentiman’s drinks and mineral water. Prices for burgers range between 6.90 and 8.90, the average of a craft beer is around 4.60, soft drinks are more harshly priced at 2.50 for a tiny orange juice, and 3.30 for a Fentiman’s. Now for the burger. I’d had breakfast not long before so only ordered a burger without any sides. I chose one of the iberico pork ones, just to see how they would treat such a superb and delicate meat.

"Topsy Turvy" iberico pork burger Cooked medium, as it's supposed to be

The burger was a decent size, the toppings were well balanced so you could still taste the meat and the brioche bun was crispy and not really sweet as some brioche can be. As you can see in the second photo, the meat was cooked pink, as it should be with iberico pork. It was delicious and I will happily pay the £8.90 they are charging for it next time, although I want to try some of the beef options, too, maybe even investigate the “secret” vegetarian patty. It’s served simply wrapped in greaseproof paper on a metal tray.

There were a few kinks in the service but in the first hour of opening that’s to be expected and I’m sure they will be smoothed out soon.
I had a brief chat with Tim, one of the owners and they sound like they both know what they’re doing and have a good philosophy generally, and more importantly, in the sourcing of their ingredients. Their beef comes from a small, well-managed herd in Herefordshire, for example.

They’ll be open from 12pm (11am on weekends) to 11pm all day so should provide a good source for a quick meal in town later in the evening.

The website is still quite bare but will hopefully have more info 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.

[Dining] Dinner at The Olive Grove, Cambridge

The Olive Grove is a relatively new Greek restaurant at the far end of Regent St. I’d been once late last year for a quick meal and enjoyed it so wanted to go back for a full meal last Monday.

Marinaded octopus

I started with the pickled octopus tentacle which was served cold. The texture was quite firm but not chewy with excellent flavour. I nicked some of my companion’s tzatziki to go with it, which worked well.

As main we both had the moussaka. There is no photo because it would just have been a brown bake in an earthenware dish. The taste, however, was superb, very meaty, the aubergine was great as was the bechamel on top.

Baklava

We had heard good things about the baklava so ordered both a slice. Slightly different than usual, i.e. not a multitude of thin layers of filo pastry with nuts and honey in between, this was more like a pie, i.e. a filled pastry crust. Quite sticky but not horribly sweet. Lovely.

Yoghurt, walnuts, minted honey

The kitchen was kind enough to let us try a new variation of a classic Greek dessert, yoghurt, walnut and honey, the difference being that the honey was boiled with mint which balanced the sweetness of the honey. Much lighter than the baklava, this would easily fit in after a heavier meal.

On my first visit, I had the skewered lamb loin which was well cooked, tender and just pink.

Monday’s meal for two, three courses each without drinks (the bottle of red we had was kindly provided by the restaurant) came to just under 50 pounds which is perfectly acceptable for the location. You can easily have much worse dinners in Cambridge for that amount.

Greek restaurants are quite rare in the UK and definitely in Cambridge (unlike, say, in Germany) so The Olive Grove is a welcome addition to the Cambridge restaurant scene and I will definitely be back as there are many more interesting options on the menu I want to try.

Many thanks to George and his team for looking after us so well that night.

The first Franglais Kitchen supper club

If you’re in the Cambridge area and interested in food you might know Franglais Kitchen from their blog or twitter account or even one of their cooking classes. Last week they moved into the Cambridge supper club scene with their first offering of French-Indian fusion food. The event was held in their modern home in Cambridge and, with only 12 guests, worked perfectly.

We were greeted by a duo of nibbles, a home made Bombay mix which was so much better than any packed versions I have tried as there seems to be always something inedible in it.

Bhel Poori and Bombay Mix

The other bowl of the dish contained some bhel poori, also freshly made, with a fantastic tamarind sauce. Many thanks to Deepa for the permission to use her photo.

Pani puris

The other snack were pani puri, a crispy shell filled with a few bits of crunchy veg, into which a fresh sauce of coriander and mint was poured. Very refreshing with a little zing to awaken your tastebuds.

Spiced duck rilettes, mango and papaya chaat, crisp caraway seed flatbreads

The meat starter were spiced duck rillettes, mango and papaya chaat, crisp caraway seed flatbreads. The rillettes were very much like what you would get a French bistro in texture and base flavour but enhanced by Indian spices. The fresh chaat cut nicely through the rich meat and the flatbread worked well, too.

Roasted peppers with Rajasthani Paneer, coriander, mint

The vegetarian starter were roasted peppers with smoked rajasthani Paneer, coriander and mint. I only took the photo but I was assured by those who had it that this starter was equally excellent.

Haleem Stew

Then there was a Haleem Stew, with slow cooked lamb for the meat eaters and roasted butternut squash for the vegetarians. This rich and flavourful soup came with sourdough naan, which I sadly didn’t take a photo of.

BBQ Broccoli, Aubergine, Cauliflower, Achari couscous

The vegetarian main was BBQ broccoli, aubergine and cauliflower with Achari couscous.

Spiced Roasted Poussin, cinnamon/anis jus

The meat main was roasted poussin with a spiced crust, served with mushroom rice and okra. Extras for both mains were pickled lemons, cucumber raita and more pickles. The poussin was well cooked, the meat tender and moist, its flavour enhanced by cinnamon and star anise. All the sides matched perfectly, too.

Trio of desserts

The trio of desserts was just as delicious as the previous courses. There was a chilli chocolate macaron with just a hint of the spice, a coconut halva which reminded me of marzipan in texture and a very light chocolate mousse with chocolate “soil” and pistachio. I could easily have eaten another plate of those…

It was a splendid and entertaining evening with excellent food and equally excellent company. Highly recommended. Their next event will be in January. You can sign up for the announcement on their website.

There are a few more photos on flickr.

A feasting at Fitzbillies

As Fitzbillies opened for dinner again after a summer break, they introduced a “feasting” menu (see bottom of the dinner menu), available to groups of four and above and consisting of a starter (from the current menu, and the whole group has to agree on one), a main which is usually a whole cut of roasted meat to be carved at the table or a “dish of birds” and a dessert (selection as with starter). When I read this, I immediately knew this would be good fun so after a few weeks of herding catsfriends, we had decided on a date and a menu.

Cured rabbit loin, celeriac/hazelnut remoulade
We started with cured rabbit loin and celeriac/hazelnut remoulade. The meat was superb, tender and flavourful, another example of Fitzbillies’ excellent cured products. The crunchy remoulade went nicely with it.
Sweetcorn chowder, queenie scallop
A little extra course in the shape of an espresso cup of sweetcorn chowder with a roasted Queenie scallop was next. The chowder was fresh and subtle in sweetcorn flavour, the scallop cooked perfectly.
Dish of birds
The main event, Dish of Birds: A quail each and a half each of pheasant and poussin, all perfectly roasted with crisp skin and juicy flesh. Not in the photo are the sides: roast potatoes, dandelion leaves, carrots, bread sauce, cranberry sauce and an excellent gravy. This was as delicious as it looked and after we’d finished, everybody was groaning with full stomachs.
Pear and chocolate cake
The dessert, however, was still to come and it fit in, too, as the pear and chocolate cake was rather light.

All the courses were served on sharing platters.

It was a really fun evening and I highly recommend it for a family celebration or just a reason to bring friends together. With a few bottles of wine, coffee and service, this feasting came to 50 pounds a head.

A quick meal at Orchid, Newmarket Road

I had not been aware of Orchid in Newmarket Road until Nicholas of Vinopolis in Devonshire Road mentioned it to me last weekend. The menu promising “Asian fusion food” looked interesting so when I realised I had nothing in at home I decided to pay it a visit last night.
The main part of the restaurant is well lit by downlighters, square tables are set up in rows of five or so, bare polished wood with placemats. In the back there is booth style seating and the kitchen with a large window facing the main dining room and the pass facing the booths.
After a few meat-heavy days, I wanted something lighter so chose the softshell crab for starter and the sea bream for main, some plain rice and a pot of green tea from their “Premium” range.

First to arrive with my tea was a bowl of big prawn crackers and a bowl of shredded veg and beansprouts in a sweet chilli sauce which made them a little more interesting than your usual cardboard crackers.

The starter was plate piled with breaded and deep fried soft shell crab, nice and crunchy but still moist inside. There was quite a bit of chilli in the breading but not enough to kill the flavour of the crab. Delicious.

The main was two decently sized fillets of sea bream with crispy skin and moist flesh, with an excellent, almost meaty, soy based sauce and a small pile of tenderstem broccoli. I really enjoyed that as well.

I had a quick look at the dessert menu but unlike the other courses, it wasn’t really inspiring (cheesecake, treacle pudding and other British/Western style desserts, with only banana fritters being vaguely Asian but at 6.50, I passed).
Another oddness on the menu, at least for an Asian restaurant, was a surprisingly low number of vegetarian options.

In conclusion, the food was well cooked with excellent flavours but at £31 for two courses, tea and a bowl of rice a touch pricey for what it was. I think I will go back with a few friends and try their Hotpot as that looks like far better value.

A quick comment on clientele: I was first in at 6:30 and still the only diner when I left an hour later. Their food is good so I guess it’s the prices that are putting people off. While its location would be great for a quick meal before or after the cinema, I’m not sure I will be back regularly.
They also have a karaoke room upstairs so the place might get busier towards the weekend.

I apologise for the lack of photos. For once, there would have been plenty of light and I didn’t have my camera because it was a spontaneous decision. I had even left my phone at home by accident.

Tanner dinner at Alimentum

Last Thursday was a special evening at Alimentum, another guest night (the first was with Cyrus Todiwala in May). This time brothers Chris and James Tanner of Tanners in Plymouth and Barbican Kitchen in London were the guests and created a number of dishes with Team Alimentum providing the rest.

Proceedings started with an “orange and ginger cobbler” created by Alimentum cocktail guru Joe. This was just right for the weather and almost christmassy, it reminded me of the punch my gran used to make, in a good way. There were also nibbles provided by the Alimentum chefs.

Orange and Ginger Cobbler (Joe Tivey, Alimentum)

Alimentum canapes

The setup was the same as last time or the supper clubs, several large communal tables rather than individual ones with everyone being served at the same time. As each course was served, the chefs came to the tables and explained them which was a nice touch.

Alimentum - Amuse Bouche

This beautiful amuse was prepared by Team Alimentum, a brilliant mix of tomato and herb flavours that did exactly what they were supposed to do, excite the palate for what was to come.

Chris and James Tanner
Chris and James Tanner talking about the starter.

with added brioche

The starter came from the Tanners: Creedy carver duck liver parfait, plum, granola with toasted brioche. A very smooth, soft and sweetish parfait which was balanced nicely by the plum chutney and granola. The brioche was nice but Alimentum’s sage and onion bread worked even better with it.

Alimentum: Plaice, langoustines, fennel, cucumber, seaweed sauce

The fish dish was from Alimentum: Plaice, langoustines, fennel, cucumber, seaweed sauce. I first had this at the August supperclub and it did not disappoint, light and very nicely balanced.

Tanners: Loin of Bodmin Moor venison 2

The main was provided by the Tanners: Loin of Bodmin Moor venison, tarka dal and salt baked turnip. Easily one of the best pieces of venison I’ve had, deeply flavoured, perfectly and evenly cooked, really tender. The sauce was immense, the tarka dal provided some spice and the turnip some crunch (although there could have been a few more slices, I thought) and some token greens.

Alimentum: Confit egg yolk, Mont d'Or sauce, truffle and onion

Then Alimentum provided another flavour bomb: Confit egg yolk, Mont d’Or sauce, truffle and onion. Really strong individual flavours that worked together perfectly.

Alimentum: BBQ orange, mojito, ginger beer

The first dessert came from Alimentum: BBQ orange, liquorice, mojito, ginger beer. This was nice and light, the orange parfait not overly sweet and what sweetness there was was balanced by the sharp mojito and ginger beer gels.

Tanners: Yoghurt pannacotta, caramel pineapple, chocolate soil

The last dessert was provided by the Tanners: Yoghurt pannacotta, caramel pineapple, chocolate soil. Soft, crunchy, tangy, sweet, chocolatey, great fun.

And finally, a portrait of the chefs, from left to right: James Tanner, Mark Poynton and Chris Tanner:

James Tanner, Mark Poynton, Chris Tanner

A few more photos on flickr

This was a wonderful evening, not just gorgeous food but also fine company. I was on my own but the communal table meant there was no shortage in conversation and the food was an excellent starting point. There were tales of interesting and bizarre dishes eaten across the world, travel (there was even a couple who had been to my home town for the china!) and so on.

The next guest chef is going to be the mighty Alyn Williams, on the 12th of October. Mark your calendars, this is one not to be missed. I had a fantastic meal during my birthday binge last year at his restaurant, well before it received its well deserved first Michelin star. I am sure his food will have progressed even further since then.