One of my closest friends, Lucy, shares my passion for cooking and good food so when she recently visited Midsummer House in Cambridge, UK, she kindly offered to write a blog for me about her experience. She has awesome taste so I was interested to find out what she made of it….
Having been to Purnell’s – the one-starred Michelin restaurant belonging to Saturday Kitchen’s favourite brummie chef Glyn Purnell – in March of this year and really enjoying the experience there, we were very hopeful about Midsummer House. This is a two-starred Michelin restaurant and the only one in the East Anglia region. It belongs to Daniel Clifford, currently starring on this years Great British Menu and we have been very impressed with his cooking so far in this years competition, which is what spurred my boyfriend Joe to book us a table!
Our evening began with a few minutes walk across Midsummer Common in Cambridge to get to the restaurant. One of the really pleasing things about it is that you can’t drive up to it, it’s only pedestrian access, so you don’t have the constant sound of cars driving past. One of the other really nice things is that it doesn’t look like a really fashionable high-end restaurant; it looks like a house. Just a normal house. The name is engraved in the stone above the door, but you can only see it from about 10 metres away, by which time you’re already worried you’ve missed it!
Once inside, we were greeted by friendly, professional staff, who directed us upstairs for a drink on the balcony as we were a tiny bit early for our booking.Whilst enjoying our gin and tonics (which came in at a fairly reasonable £9 each), we were served a canapé of Bloody Mary and Celery sorbet, which was more foam than actual sorbet, but had a very sharp tangy taste, owing presumably to the high quantity tabasco in it. Not quite to my taste, but an interesting idea. This was accompanied by what can only be described as ‘cheese puffs’ and a dish of green olives.
We were given a chance to scan the wine list whilst here as well and picked out a bottle of New Zealand Riesling (£45 a bottle – we have since discovered this is approximately a £30 mark-up, which i’m trying not to think about!).
We were accompanied downstairs and given a corner table in the front part of the restaurant. The majority of the dining area is actually a conservatory, which has apparently been extended on the back of his success on Great British Menu (GBM) in the current and previous years.
We picked the ‘Market Menu’ which is a 6 course set menu, priced at £75. Had we been a little bit more flush and a little bit more hungry, we could have gone for the ‘Taste of Midsummer’ Menu, which is 9 course and priced at £95, including a trip into the kitchen to watch the chef prepare one of the courses, which included Roast Squab Pigeon, Roast Quail and an extra rhubarb based dessert.
Our first course was Smoked Haddock with a soft-boiled Quail’s egg – topped with an indistinguishable burnt onion powder, Vichyssoise and a leek and potato velouté. It was a lovely dish and just right as a starter. All the flavours were sharp and went well together and it was served in a smart earthenware bowl – something we noticed all the way through the meal, as each course was served on a different type of plate or bowl with equally interesting cutlery!
As I’m a vegetarian, my next course was changed from the one advertised on the menu (which the staff were very accommodating about). Joe ate Caramelised Veal Sweetbreads with a cinnamon and onion pureé, wood sorrel and asparagus topped with the rather surplus-to-requirement burnt onion powder. Joe loved the veal sweetbreads and thought they had a wonderful soft texture to them.
I had instead a dish that has featured on GBM – a celery and watercress parfait, with beetroot ‘cannelloni’ filled with goat’s cheese and horseradish ice cream. I’m not a fan of horseradish at all, so this wasn’t my favourite thing! The parfait was an odd flavour and texture- not something i’ve had before and wasn’t sure about – but the beetroot cannelloni with goat’s cheese was lovely and full of flavour.
Our fish course was Stuffed Red Mullet (although not for me), with confit lemon, on salad leaves, with mushroom crisps,green olives and roasted artichoke. Joe’s also had Iberico ham and was topped with air-bagged pork crackling, which is a cooking technique that involves deep-frying freeze-dried pork-crackling, as far as I can gather!
This dish was also packed full of vibrant flavours, especially the confit lemon and the roasted artichoke, which was also flavoured strongly with lemon. The mullet itself was not so flavoursome, but it was cooked perfectly.
On to the main event – our main courses were different again with Joe eating slow-poached chicken with a sweetcorn stuffing, buttered spinach, chicken juice and a chicken spray – reminiscent of something Heston Blumenthal would roll out! Joe found the texture of the chicken lovely and said it was really succulent, but the chicken spray seemed rather unnecessary! My main was Gilt-headed Seabream (or Dorade) stuffed with squid and served with wilted spinach, roasted fennel, squid ink pureé and small dots of very rich tomato pureé. It was delicious, the flavours worked well together and the fish was perfect – the squid not too overpowering in the middle.
By this point we were feeling incredibly full, but we persevered on to the desserts! The first of which was a small glass of fennel and lemon mousse or parfait, with a small amount of thin lemon coulis at the bottom, topped with black olives and lemon sorbet. It was delicious – really refreshing and a surprising combination of ingredients.
The second dessert was my favourite. A raspberry and tarragon roulade, with white chocolate cookie dough, salt and pepper powder and tarragon oil. We both really enjoyed it – again the intensity of the flavours came through- the raspberry tasted excellent alongside the tarragon and the white chocolate was a really pleasant surprise. The salt and pepper powder wasn’t noticeable but I don’t think it was lacking.
Thinking we’d finished all the food, we ordered coffee and mint tea, which then arrived with not only chocolates, but Bottereaux – small diamond shaped, doughnut-like pastries, as well as crème anglais and caramel sauce. We were a bit full to appreciate them properly, but they were very nice all the same. The chocolates were delicious and came on yet another interestingly shaped plate.
Overall, it was lovely, very well crafted food. The staff were efficient, professional and knowledgeable and the atmosphere and décor were very comfortable and warm. The only thing that let it down for me was the second dish that I ate, with the watercress and celery parfait and although personal taste goes a long way, I do feel like it wasn’t quite on a par with the other courses.
The bill was what we expected, but I have to say we probably wouldn’t go back. The food was excellent, but it didn’t quite have the spark that we expected of a two star michelin restaurant, but it was certainly an experience to be remembered.