Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Midsummer House, Cambridge restaurant review

Midsummer House in Cambridge is a restaurant which needs no introduction.

Located in a picturesque villa on the banks of the River Cam, Chef Patron Daniel Clifford has held two Michelin stars for ten years and become a household name thanks to his banquet winning dishes on The Great British Menu.

We visited Midsummer House for dinner when there is choice between a seven course (£82.50) and ten course (£105) tasting menu. You guessed it, we ordered the ten courser.

We kicked off with a light yet potent Bloody Mary foam paired with a quenelle of cleansing celery ice cream. A finely diced salsa of pepper, red onion and cucumber added some bite. 

A cute strawberry patch arrived next. Perched on the end of a stick, a crisp red pepper shell contained rich foie gras mousse sprinkled with crumbs of dehydrated strawberry. 

Crunchy cod skin was topped with stunningly fresh mackerel tartare.

A brilliant warm éclair filled with cream cheese was slathered with aromatic truffle spread. Another snack balanced cream cheese, zesty lime and chive. 

Bread was as good as it gets – wholemeal and plain sourdough were crisp of crust and complex in flavour with just the right amount of chew. 

Finally, the first of the night’s 10 courses arrived. Creamy smoked haddock brandade with tender flakes of fish was joined by warm smoked haddock foam, golden nuggets of grilled cheese and acerbic slices of baby pickled onion. Stunning. 

A trolley was wheeled in containing a miniature green egg cocooning charred beetroot. The sweet and smokey interior of the beet was scooped out and served at the table. 

Paired with beetroot puree, candied beetroot, pickled beetroot, quinoa crisps and goats cheese (which had been flash frozen in liquid nitrogen), it elevated the root vegetable to the highest level.

Next, a whopper of a sweetbread was topped with pistachio crumbs and joined by a punchy turnip and pistachio puree and a fragrant and sharp pink grapefruit puree.

Another of the evening’s highlights followed. Vibrant asparagus was joined by asparagus puree, burnt onion powder, a cleverly set hollandaise and pickled onions. What looked like a filo pasty wrapped asparagus spear nestled a fine dice of wild mushroom and asparagus.

The following dish brought together a trio of elements.

A killer piece of fried sourdough was topped with duck liver pate and grape and pickled onion slices.

A runny quail egg was wrapped in potato strings, deep-fried and then smoked. Oofh.

Pink quail breast was topped with an armour of grape slices and joined by smooth shallot puree studded with sourdough croutons.

The following three courses were very good but didn’t hit the standard of those which had come before.

A meaty mullet fillet, panfried with a slice of bread on top, was served with sweet grelot onions, oyster leaves and a blob of duck liver puree. However, the bread only served to make the dish a bit dry.

A perfectly pink pigeon breast, a slightly anaemic breadcrumbed leg and a brown meat lollipop were accompanied by sweet apple puree, a charred roast apple slice, wilted greens, chickpeas and a fragrant chamomile sauce. 

The highlight of the dish was a pot of offal rich pigeon puree topped with mashed potato and an uber-thin pastry dome – I’d have been happy with just a huge pot of this comfort food.

Segueing between sweet and savoury was a sort of delicious, sort of weird pousse café. Warm sweet maple syrup was topped with pasteurised egg yolk, a boozy bourbon foam and a scattering of chive.

A mix-up with the serving team meant that our two desserts were brought out of order. However, a pair of complimentary glasses of champagne more than made up for it.

First up was a chocolate dome nestling all kinds of goodies – chewy caramel, crisp chocolate crumble, jelly and mascarpone. A hot coffee sauce melted the dome in order to reveal its contents whilst a scoop of silky smooth almond ice cream balanced the richness of the dish.

Finally, fragrantly citric kumquat slices were joined by tamarind sorbet, carrot cubes and cardamom jus. A pretty piece of sugar work perched atop the dish. 

Peppermint tea was summoned to settle the stomach and a swan song arrived in the form of warm beignets served with a pair of dips – stonking salted caramel and crème anglais with a whack of calvados.

Our meal at Midsummer House was superb - a clutch of show stopping dishes were accompanied by perfectly paced and friendly service.

The Details:

Address - Midsummer House, Midsummer Common, Cambridge CB4 1HA
Telephone - 01223 369299

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Bar 44 Cardiff, Spanish bar & restaurant review

I doubt there’ll be a better restaurant to open in Cardiff City Centre in 2015 than Bar 44 Cardiff.

In fact, I doubt there’s a better restaurant in Cardiff City Centre full stop.

Whilst eating out in the the suburbs of Pontcanna, Canton, Cathays and Roath has improved immeasurably in the last couple of years, the number of decent independent restaurants in the middle of the city can still be counted on one hand.

The arrival of Bar 44 Cardiff, a sibling to the award-winning Spanish restaurants in Cowbridge and Penarth, means I now have a go to restaurant in the city for all occasions:

Times when I’m in the mood for a table-top’s worth of impeccably cooked tapas washed down with a glass or two of sherry poured from the barrel.

And nights when I’m hankering after a lighter snack of jamón washed down with a pint of lager.

Bar 44’s two kitchens mean their menu is divided into two sections. Firstly, La Despensa - charcuterie, jamón, bread, olives and snacks served from a small pantry kitchen. Secondly, De La Cocina, more involved tapas dishes which weigh in around the £5 to £7 mark. 

Whilst making the impossible choice of which tapas to order, we picked at brilliant Alex Gooch sourdough (£3.60) served with grassy olive oil and whopping, juicy Gordal olives (£3.50).

A board of the daddy of all hams, the acorn-fed Jamón ibérico de Bellota (£11.50) was as good as it gets - mouth-meltingly rich fat and blushing pink flesh.

A Bikini (£4.50), named after the concert hall in Barcelona, was as sexy as its name suggests - a dainty toasted sandwich of jamón and salty manchego topped with a quail’s egg and a drizzle of cep oil. 

Slow cooked octopus (£7.25) was as tender as can be. It was served with smooth potato puree and a sweet sauce tempered with smoked paprika and garlic. 

A quartet of gigantic prawns (£6.50) were coated in a light tempura batter and served with airy, lightly-spiced Moorish mayonnaise.

Al dente broccoli (£4.50) was flecked with the delightfully savoury combination of anchovy and capers. A pepper puree and crushed nuts provided extra dimension.

Golden chicken thighs (£5.70) were joined by charred padron peppers and sweet Romesco sauce. 

A kaleidoscope of beets (£4.75), served with crunchy hazelnuts, deftly balanced sweet and sour.

Croquetas (£4.50), filled with the silkiest of ham-studded béchamels, were every bit as incredible as I’ve come to expect from Bar 44. They’re definitely a buy

Flavour-packed lamb rump slices (£7.50) were matched with chorizo-like pieces of chistorra, griddled fennel and salsa verde. 

And lastly, rare slices of uber-tender iberico pork fillet (£7.25) sat atop Pembrokeshire Earlies and a vibrant watercress puree. 

We finished off the meal with a pair of killer desserts.

A Spanglish trifle (£4.50) was familiar yet different - fresh raspberries, sherry, chocolate sponge, fruit jelly and chewy meringue were all in the mix. 

Santiago tart (£4.95) with crisp pastry, a sweet almond filling and fragrant quince jam was paired with the freshest of orange sorbets. 

Bar 44 Cardiff is brilliant. I want to go back now.

Disclosure - I visited Bar 44 during the soft launch period - a donation to charity was made in lieu of payment for food.

The Details:

Address - Bar 44 Cardiff, 15-23 Westgate Street, Cardiff CF10 1DD
Web -
Email for reservations -