This week I visit Cambridge

Saturday, May 23rd , 2009

 midsummer-house 1024 garden-crop-v3.JPG I
made a rare trek outside the tube network to try Midsummer House in Cambridge, which has a pretty riverside setting (pictured). Ingredients are of good quality and the technical skill on display is considerable. Dishes are well conceived, showing good balance of flavours, for example a scallops starter with apple to provide acidity to balance the inherent sweetness of the scallops, and a pork main course with cabbage having as texture contrast a stick of crunchy crackling. There was some minor variation in standard between the various dishes sampled, but no real errors crept in, and certainly this felt like a solid Michelin-starred meal, though it did not always live up to the second star it actually has.  Still, the food was most enjoyable, and the excellent service and lovely setting helped the appreciation of the cooking.  
The cooking at Tangawizi impressed me again this week. Dishes that stood out were a succulent chicken tikka and a superb aloo gobi that managed to retain the texture of the potato and cauliflower while still delivering a spicy kick. The makhani dal here is superb, and I think the naan bread here is the best in London: soft and buttery when so many are rigid and dry. Not everything is quite to the same level, but the use of spices is consistently good and ingredients are treated with care. Despite its humble setting, this kitchen seems to be me to deliver the best Indian food in London at the moment.
Zafferano seems reasonably immune to the recession judging by my visit this week: the place was packed out on a Monday night. I enjoyed a simple crab and asparagus salad with well-dressed frisee lettuce (though this dish came with a price “supplement” despite its modest proportions) while papardelle with broad beans and rocket showed the strengths of this place: very good ingredients and well-made pasta. A dessert of mango with good passion fruit sorbet was refreshing. However it is also clear that the newish owners are getting ever more grasping, with the service charge sneaking up to 13.5% (I try always to leave cash, as that way at least I know the waiters will actually see the money in full) and the wine list mark-ups showing no signs of moderation despite the economy.
I continue to enjoy the Princess Victoria, a gastropub reasonably local to me with a wine list that puts many top restaurants in the shade.   Owner Matt Wilkins can be trusted to guide you to the more obscure reaches of the lengthy wine list; in this case a fine Grüner Veltliner from Austria, which was a world away from the insipid wines made from that grape that I have often encountered previously. This week the kitchen produced a dish above its always competent  usual level:  ceviche of salmon with chilli, ginger, soya beans, coriander cress and lotus root crisps. This was very light and refreshing, the crisps adding a pleasant texture contrast, the chill giving just enough bite to lift the salmon – very impressive. 
It was good to see a quite busy lunch service at Ambassade de l’Ile on Thursday. Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of the cooking here since it opened last summer, but whose business suffered at the beginning from some xenophobic reviews from London’s less than glorious food press. Highlight dishes were a superb lobster carbonara, with flesh that was very carefully cooked, and an intense lobster sauce in which it rested, the pasta with it superb. A sweetbread main course was also impressive, the sweetbreads braised rather than pan-fried, giving an interesting texture, served on a bed of pea puree with just a little grapefruit to add welcome balancing acidity. Desserts were a step up from recent experiences, with a particularly well-made white peach soufflé with perfect airy texture, and terrific mini lemon tarts. As often here, there was unevenness in that some other dishes were merely good, but I love that the highs of a meal here are really high, which is rare enough in London. For just £25 you can have a 3 course lunch, which is excellent value.
The Great British Menu TV series this week saw the London heat, with Tristan Welch of Launceston Place against Mark Sargeant of Claridges, who I have to say came over as a mite competitive, and who appeared to have had self-doubt surgically removed at birth. I therefore found it rather satisfying to see him knocked out, with his starter dish (involving broccoli puree and Marmite, that sure-fired winning combination) described by judge Oliver Peyton as follows: “If there was a Food Crimes Tribunal then this is the first dish I would want to put in front of it”.