You get to Midsummer House across a Common, walking past grazing cattle. The house itself is on the river bank, with a weeping willow nearby: a lovely setting yet only a few minutes’ walk from the historic part of Cambridge. Daniel Clifford’s cooking has a reputation for modernity, yet for the most parts the chemistry set cooking was kept firmly in check: just one test tube appeared in the meal.
The dining room at Midsummer House recently had a facelift, and the restaurant now seats 55 at full capacity; there is a private dining room and lounge area upstairs. We ate in the main conservatory, which has a view over the attractive garden. Gougeres made with Parmesan, gruyere and cheddar appeared, along with a Blood Mary sorbet, as we considered the menu choices: a tasting menu at £75, and a lengthier one at £95.
The wine list has almost 300 wines available, ranging from £28 to £8,000, and an unusually high average price of £274, reflecting an unusually wide range of fine wines, such as several vintages of Penfolds Grange Hermitage and Henschke Hill of Grace. Mark-ups average around 3.3 times retail price, but vary significantly throughout the list. For example Ant Moore Riesling was a chunky £49 for a wine you can find for under a tenner, Chateau Musar 2003 at £85 for a wine that retails at around £17, yet VDP de l’Herault, Domaine de la Grange des Peres at 2002 was at £120 for a wine that you can find for £57. The grander wines can also have quite high mark-ups e.g. Grange Hermitage 1985 at £900 for a wine that you can find for £204 in shop, yet Mouton Rothschild 1996 was listed at £900 yet costs £397 to buy. Bread is made from scratch and was of high quality, both brown and white bread having good texture (17/20). Mineral water was £4.75 a bottle.
Paris mushroom velouté with coffee jelly and shallots was an unusual idea, the flavours coming through strongly; coffee would not have been my personal choice with mushrooms, but it was interesting (15/20). I much preferred very carefully cooked fillet of salmon with a cauliflower and almond puree, white chocolate and caviar sauce, quetta (a grain), roasted chopped almonds and braised iceberg lettuce. Cooked lettuce is not really my thing, but the salmon was lovely (17/20). Also excellent was a single large scallop, timed to perfection and retaining its natural sweetness, served with celeriac puree, and a garnish of truffle and julienne of apple, with a blob of apple caramel. This was a simple dish yet superbly executed (18/20).
White Cornish crab meat was mixed with tomato and cucumber, shaped into a disc and topped with avocado and garnished with coriander and savoury tuiles: crab and avocado is a classic combination of flavours, and the elements were of high quality (17/20). Sea bass was pan-fried and tucked under a decorative disc of fried lettuce, the fish resting on a base of Jerusalem artichoke puree, pickled Jerusalem artichokes and chicken jus. The use of pickled artichokes was a clever idea, adding balance to the rich chicken jus (17/20). Venison was coated with cocoa nibs and roasted pine nuts, served with dried sweet corn, parnsips and cabbage braised in Douglas Fir butter with shallots cooked in raspberry vinegar, served with a pool of sauce thickened with chocolate. The venison was excellent, the sauce suitably rich, the cabbage a good foil for the venison (17/20).
A pre-dessert consisted of caramel on which was fennel, marinated black olive and lemon cream, with a black olive tuile as garnish. This just seemed odd to me: I don’t really know how to score it. The desserts we ordered were, by contrast, back in normal territory, with no shrubbery in sight. Poached figs and dates had excellent flavour, served with fig cannelloni, gingerbread ice cream and cinnamon (17/20). I really enjoyed a superbly made pistachio soufflé, the airy texture excellent, the mix inside cooked evenly and having lovely pistachio flavour throughout (18/20).
Coffee was unusually high quality, served with excellent puff pastry flavoured with kirsch and deep-fried, with a filling of apple compote, custard and calvados. The apples used actually come from the three apple trees in the garden of the restaurant (18/20). A range of chocolates was also offered of assorted flavours: tamarind, coconut, bay leaf, orange, mint, pistachio, and there was also a whisky sour jelly. Service was faultless, and the bill came to £134 a head. Classy cooking.
Further reviews: 01st May 2009