For my birthday last week, my rather lovely husband booked us a meal at Midsummer House in Cambridge, with a mutual friend of ours who was visiting from the States. Despite a 3 year stint in the town on the banks of the Cam, I had never been there, but I had heard good things, so I was excited to see what it was like. It should also be noted that there is a considerable dearth of restaurants above the cheap student level in Cambridge.
We arrived a touch late for our table, but the staff displayed not a hint of irritation. The dining space is a small conservatory area and one room in the house, but the tables are well spaced out, the restaurant focusing on quality in small quantities.
There was a tasting menu, but we ordered from the a la carte menu, which was equally interesting. I ordered a fennel gazpacho, on the recommendation of the waiter, followed by turbot. Before our starters, we were treated to 2 amuses bouche (or amuses bouches??). The first was a pink grapefruit and champagne foam, presented from a siphon – like a soda siphon, but round – at the table. It was sharp, dry, and very refreshing.
The second amuse reminded me a lot of a dish that we had at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas last year (oh, the jet set lifestyle!). It was a little glass jar, with a green pea foam, in which were lurking little tiger prawns, cubes of seaweed jelly, and peas. The foam was good and savoury, and really brought out the sweetness of the prawns.
The fennel gazpacho was poured into an elabourate plate of bits and pieces, including some sort of caramel used to make a little tube, which was filled with a yoghurt mousse and topped with little chips of freeze dried yoghurt. There was also delicate pieces of fennel and cucumber in there, and a quennelle of yoghurt sorbet. The flavours went beautifully together – all cool and delicate. And a chilled soup was the perfect thing for a hot, sticky evening.
The mains then came. My turbot came with a peanut and pistachio crust, a smear of squash puree, crisply wrapped asparagus, little broad beans, and a squirt of essence of vanilla added at the table. At first I thought the peanut and pistachio overpowered the fish, but taken with the sweet puree and vanilla essence, it helped to balance out the sweetness with the salty peanuts, and the fish was strong enough to stand up to it.
Although we were pretty well filled at this point, we weren’t strong enough to resist the dessert menu – especially when the chocolate fondant came with a particular recommendation. I ordered this, but before it came, we had another amuse. This was a strawberry with a little diced strawberry and cubes of strawberry jelly (they were very keen on little cubes of jelly). It looked like a standard cheesecake in a little mould, but at the table the moulds were removed to reveal a barely-held together cheesecake foam, on top of biscuit crumbs. It was like a cross between a cheesecake and a cloud – one of the better uses of a foam I have come across.
After a suitable pause to digest (which I was very grateful for) the chocolate plate arrived. As well as a really good, properly liquid-centred chocolate fondant, there was also a scoop of walnut ice-cream, a dark chocolate sauce with cubes of amaretto jelly and a long chocolate wafer with cacao nibs in it. It was a stunning plate of food, but the fondant was so rich that I barely tackled half of it. A smaller fondant would have allowed a better balance, but then it would probably be too difficult to get the baked outside with the liquid centre.
All in all, it was an excellent meal, only enhanced by the opportunity to catch up with a friend.
And as a postscript, I would like to wish Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini a Joyeux Anniversaire! as it’s her birthday today.