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Midsummer House**, Cambridge

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The PigPig made me do a three hour drive down to Cambridge to fetch her back to Manchester. To say the least, I wasn’t particularly keen and kinda felt she should’ve just taken the train so she tried to sweeten the deal by making a lunch appointment at Midsummer House for the two of us.

Located next to the river Cam, Midsummer House bore a lot of resemblance to my previous visit to Waterside Inn*** with its picturesque backdrop to the main restaurant house. It was hardly the most beautiful of days with all the clouds so it was a shame that the glass fronted dining room or the open air tables weren’t put in all their glory.

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Initially, we had planned to go for their set lunch menu which was £35 a head for three courses but then we got distracted by the delicious sounding tasting menu entitled “Taste of Midsummer”.

Cheese grugere. Expectations were already raised when we were presented with these lovely little cheese balls since we had a great experience before at ADAD and we were starving at this point. Truth be told though, they were completely different specimens as the grugeres here had a much denser cheesy filling so even though it was great to eat, we were a bit wary to consume too much in case it would be too filling.

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A selection of either white or brown bread was offered but neither was particularly amazing as it was a bit cold.

Pink grapefruit and champagne foam. With just the slightest hints of the bitter citrus grapefruit as well as the alcohol from champagne mixed into the lightest of light foams. A great palate cleanser before we started our degustation.

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Veloute of Haddock, poached Quail Egg”. Hmm, sounds like a weird combination? Yeah maybe, haddock didn’t sound like a particularly good choice of fish to create a veloute from but the creamy concoction with a slight fishy aroma was actually a good creation. In retrospect, this was one of the better starters I had in recent years.

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Celery, Goats Cheese and Horseradish”. Again, from the menu this sounded really dull and dreary. Again, we were to be pleasantly surprised. The main part of the dish was a watercress jelly sandwiching celery foam with celery leaves on top with a sweet beetroot wafer with goat’s cheese filling. Alone, those two would have been a pretty good and interesting combination already with the contrast in flavours and textures which actually merged and worked together very well. Even better was the horseradish ice cream on the side which added the slight zing of both the horseradish and the cold.

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Sauteed Scallop, Celeriac and Truffle”. A beautifully presented plate with the large scallop as a centrepiece cooked perfectly – slightly charred on the surface and just slightly undercooked in the middle. The fresh green apple matchsticks was a nice refreshing bit to the scallop and the truffled celeriac mash is tasty but a poor substitute for Robuchon’s truffled mash. We both felt the apple jelly a bit superfluous though.

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Sweetbreads, Pistachio, Maple Syrup and Mooli”. The caramelised glaze from the maple syrup was a great coating to the sweetbread but it did make for a very rich dish, especially after factoring in the pistachio. The ribbons of mooli were the necessary crunch here and it also absorbed a lot of juices and flavours.

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Sea Bass and Cuttlefish, Sauce Nero”. The fried sea bass was perhaps a little on the dry side but the accompanying bits were brilliant. On top of the fish was some calamari rings mixed in with some onion rings, both delightfully light and crispy. The onion mash was also a pretty good side although the black square underneath the fish was quite mysterious (maybe a seaweed jelly).

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Pousse Café”. Presented with layers of Jack Daniels, maple syrup, egg yolk, cream and chives in a shot glass and told to down it, I was honestly a bit scared, especially after I noticed a sprinkling of pepper on top as well. I didn’t really enjoy this shot that much but the PigPig absolutely loved it.

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Slow cooked Duck, Beetroot Puree, Lettuce and Orange”. The duck was beautifully cooked, perfectly tender but also greatly seasoned so basically it already tasted great on its own. The beetroot on the side with some orange peels went along well with the duck but I wasn’t a fan of the lettuce spring rolls.

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White Chocolate, Kalamansi Lime”. After all the previous inventive and atypical savouries, this was surprisingly simple but still good nonetheless. The very distinctive taste of the kalamansi lime foam was an interesting addition to the standard white chocolate ice cream while there were some crunchy biscuit underneath.

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Warm Kumquats, Lemon Thyme Ice Cream”. Despite the posh name, it was kinda like ice cream with orange marmalade around. Wasn’t impressed much.

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Chocolate Creameux, Amaretto Cream, Crispy Feuillet”. First impressions – chocolate on chocolate on chocolate – must be great! Turned out, I didn’t really like the chocolate cake as it was a bit too light, wasn’t a fan of the chocolate squares and I hate both amaretto and cream so we absolutely detested the amaretto cream.

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We were then invited to move to the bar for our coffee and petit fours (partly so they can clear up the main dining room as we were the last clients there I’m sure) which had a scenic view of the river Cam (we saw a punter capsize too). Along with our coffee was a wide selection of home made truffles – we tried the cognac, mint, passionfruit and poprocks, all amazing. We really wished we could have tried more but we were pretty full by this point.

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Also slightly distracting us from the truffles were the diamond shaped pastries, hollow on the inside they were slightly reminiscent of doughnuts but much finer in texture. We were supposed to dip them into the raspberry jam and yoghurt provided while sipping on our coffee.

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Altogether our bill came up to £225 for two for two tasting menus costing £90 each. Service throughout was fairly prompt and efficient.

Food – 9.0
Service – 6.0
Atmosphere – 7.0
Value – 5.0

*Guide to restaurant food ratings

I usually do my restaurant write-ups either the same night of the meal or the day after but in this case I waited a week before I even began. Partly this was simply because I was busy, but also to give me a week’s time to let the excitement die down a bit. In a week’s retrospect, it was still a great meal, easily one of the better ones even among the upper echelons of fine dining.

We both loved the not-so-standard cooking styles which still didn’t forget that the most important thing to a dish should be the flavour and taste. To our tastebuds, the various ingredients melded together well in perfect harmony and the cooking was technically well executed too. To be fair though, I wasn’t a huge fan of the desserts and while I liked the first of the three it was quite simple while the latter two were simply not to my tastes.

Best bit: the entire experience, really couldn’t pick a favourite course here.
Worst bit: the PigPig went to the washroom after another girl had used it only to find some stains of vomit on the toilet bowl and the lingering smell in the air. Considering how fine she looked before and after, she must’ve been bulimic. Waste of food.

Midsummer House
Midsummer Common
Tel: +44 (0) 01223 369299
Official website

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