Editor's note: In June 2018 it was announced that chef Mark Poynon was moving on and would be replaced by Samira Eff, his former head chef there. The restauant closed in October 2018.
The recently refurbished Alimentum (Latin for food - well, this is Cambridge) has a large bar as you enter, and a dining room with well-spaced tables and a wooden floor. On the far wall as we entered were squares of red padding (silk moire), and there was a smart yet informal feel to the room: there were no tablecloths, but linen napkins, for example. At one end of the dining room was a window with a view through to the kitchen, so you can catch a glimpse of the chefs at work. The dining room can seat 62 people at full capacity, and on the night we visited there was live music.
Chef/owner Mark Poynton was head chef of Cambridge’s Midsummer House before striking out on his own at Alimentum, and his dishes here reflect his background in classical cooking developed over seven years at Midsummer House. The à la carte menu was priced at £40 for three courses, with a tasting menu at £60. There was an even cheaper menu at £20 available for lunch and early dinner, and when we arrived at 7:30 p.m. the place was packed with diners taking advantage of this.
As we looked at the menu some unusual nibbles arrived: popcorn and cheese and onion macaroons. There is only so much that you can do with popcorn, nice as it was, but the cheese and onion macaroons were an interesting idea that was well executed. The wine list had 160 or so bottles ranging in price from £18.50 to £295, with an average price of £47. The mark-up level averages 2.9 times retail price, a nice change for those of us used to central London pricing. Examples were Mount Horrocks Riesling 2005 at £39 for a wine with a shop price of £13, Les Tourelles de Longueville, Pauillac 2000 at £68 for a wine that retails at £28, up to grander choices like Côte Rôtie Château D’Ampuis from Etienne Guigal 2000, priced at £140 for a wine that will set you back £85 in the shops. We drank the lovely Etienne Guigal Hermitage 2002 at £90, which compared to a retail price of around £46. Mineral water was £3.75 a bottle.
Cauliflower veloute with pickled cauliflower and local cress was a nice idea, but although its flavor was good it was barely warm when it arrived (14/20). Fortunately there were no such problems with other dishes that we tried. It was nice to see bread made from scratch, little mini-loaves of both white and brown bread (easily 16/20). Mackerel chargrilled and prettily presented with slivers of radish, avocado, spring onions, micro leaves, sesame seeds and cucumber spaghetti (16/20). I tried ballotine of quail with sweet corn and truffle popcorn. The quail had excellent flavour and texture, the sweet corn was an unusual but effective foil for the rich ballotine, and the truffle popcorn added an extra textural contrast (16/20).
Halibut was superbly cooked, served with crisp pumpkin seeds which worked well as a garnish, with butternut squash puree, green cabbage and wild mushrooms, with just a little pool of sauce (17/20). I enjoyed loin of venison, with good flavour and served with potato terrine with sprout leaves and juniper; again this was a well-balanced and attractively presented dish, though the sauce would have been better with more concentration of flavour (16/20).
Some desserts were interesting takes on the 1970s. Battenburg cake was lovely, with a light sponge, apricot meringue and good apricot ice cream; perhaps a little more fruit flavour would have been even better, but this was a clever dish (16/20). Black Forest Gateau was a modern version of the dish that used to be an English dinner party staple in the 1970s. The cake was dark, rich and moist, served with vanilla meringue, cherry sorbet and a chocolate tuile (easily 16/20).
Service was very good throughout the evening. Our bill came to £116 a head, but this was with one of the better wines. The only slight niggle was that additional top-ups of double espresso were charged at a full £3.95, which seems rather mean (how much does a cup of coffee cost a restaurant?). However in general prices here are low, and with a modest wine it would be easily possible to eat for around £65 a head all-in, which seems to me a bargain for food at this quality.