Sunday, 31 January 2010

A Taste of Midsummer

This unprepossessing building on the banks of the Cam is home to some of the finest cooking in Cambridge - if not the whole of East Anglia. Midsummer House, run by chef/patron Daniel Clifford, sits on the edge of Midsummer Common right in the heart of Cambridge. The restaurant was awarded its first Michelin Star in 2001, and has held two stars since 2005.

It would be a crime to have such a fine restaurant on ones doorstep and not give it a try. Still, it took me 6 months to get around to it. A visit from my friend Aaron, who travelled from Reading for the day, was the perfect excuse.

I met Aaron at the railway station and we had a brief wander around the centre of Cambridge before making our way to the restaurant. Here we were greeted by a friendly member of staff who took our coats before the maître d’ showed us to our table in the conservatory.  We were brought menus and ordered aperetifs (I had a gin and tonic).

Three different menus were on offer: a lunch menu (excellent value at £35 for 3 courses), and a choice of two tasting menus, the 6 course Taste of  the Market or the 12 course Taste of Midsummer. The lunch menu was tempting, but would have involved two decisions: which starter, and which main course? Much simpler to go for the tasting menu...

This started with a refreshing pink grapefruit and champagne foam, clearing the palate for what was to come. The first course was a white onion velouté with apple and scallions. Then a celery bavarois, a crisp beetroot tube filled with diced beetroot and an intense goat's cheese, horesradish ice cream on the side. Two courses in, and I was already thinking about coming back. But it kept getting better: sautéed scallop with truffled celeriac purée; sweetbreads with pistachio, maple syrup and mooli - contrasting flavours and textures, perfectly balanced; salt cod with pork belly and langoustine - by now I wanted to become a regular; pousse café (another palate cleanser, clearing the way for the main course); pigeon breast, sweet potato purée, cocoa nibs.

Next, a selection of artisanal cheeses from the trolley (an optional course, but how can you resist?); a light pre-dessert (lemon grass and Lady Grey); then warm kumquats with lemon thyme ice cream; finally, a tiramisu like you've never seen, with candyfloss and mascarpone ice cream.

I say finally, but we stayed on for coffee which was served with home-made chocolates and - quite unexpectedly - freshly cooked bottereaux (delicious fritters made from leavened dough - think doughnuts, only lighter) with little pots of crème Anglaise and apple compote for dipping.

Aaron wasn't drinking, but I ordered a flight of wines to accompany the tasting menu. I know next to nothing about wine, so I'm always happy to leave this to the experts. They did not disappoint: crisp, fresh whites to accompany the early courses, an earthy red with the pigeon, a citrusy dessert wine with the kumquats, and a sweet, almost treacly one to finish.

This was a very well-orchestrated meal, playful and well-balanced, with each course leading smoothly into the next. I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon...time to start saving for my next visit.

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