“Big, soft and bursting with blackcurrant flavours,” was the description of this wine on the menu. Frankly, I can’t disagree with them. My notes were: blackcurrant on the nose, the same but spicier on the body and a finish of pepper. What more can be said? Well, it was 14.5%, which is strong, and that strength often contributes to the flavour. Astonishingly, you’d expect it to be a Shiraz given those qualities, but it was a Merlot from Sicily called ‘Cusumano’ – kind-of appropriate for a Cambridge restaurant, given that ‘CUSU’ here stands for ‘Cambridge University Students’ Union’. Twas from 2008.
Archive for February, 2010
The new Jamie’s Italian in Cambridge has a “no bookings” policy, so you turn up and take your chances. I was out with a friend for dinner, and we looked there on the off-chance, hoping that on a rainy Saturday we might just be lucky enough to have only a 30 minute wait at the bar before being seated. Not likely. As we neared the place we saw that the bar was already full of would-be diners, and that several dozen people formed a long queue on the street outside. These were people waiting to get in the doorway, presumably to be then told of a 45 minute wait while they stood at the bar. Other people might wait that long for their meal, but I don’t, so I went back to look at Ask instead.
The specials-of-the-night board told of a seafoold linguine and a sea-bass, and there was one empty table, so we quickly decided to eat there. We drank some Peter Lehmann’s shiraz (14 percent) as we waited at the table, then I ordered the risotto pollo e funghi, which had chicken pieces and wild mushrooms in a cream sauce in rice, with oyster mushrooms and a sprig of thyme. My companion ordered the special seafood linguine, which seemed to have a lot of prawns in it, with only token amounts of other seafood. I tried some and found it very tasty, with the linguine done right and the sauce delicious. Both dishes were undoubtedly improved by the shaved parmesan and black pepper sprinkled on them by a helpful waitress. It was a satisfying meal, not as good as Jamie’s, but it wasn’t as expensive, either, and at least we got to eat.
When I went to that formal dinner at Christ’s, I took my own wine as a courtesy to my hosts. I did not know the menu in advance, but I chanced it by taking a 2008 Beyerskloof from South Africa. It’s a pinotage, which that country has made its own, and is medium to full bodied (at 14 percent), with tastes of blackberries, strawberries and tannins.
It went down very well (in more ways than one). It was a good match for the partridge in mushroom and red wine sauce, and went nicely with the biscuits and cheeses served at the end.
I felt very privileged when I was invited to formal hall in Christ’s College. Our little group had notes that read “High table menu” against them, so while everyone around us had the regular dinner, we had the same food as the top table. Apparently you pay a little extra for this, and my hosts thought it worth doing. We began with a completely delicious fish course, which alas came out blurred on my attempted photo. It was a plaice, salmon and spinach paupiette in a white wine and cream sauce, and was amazingly good.
The main course was partridge in red wine and mushroom sauce with vegetables and dauphinoise potatoes. The dons must eat very well if this is what they get. After it came a pineapple salad with raspberries and a raspberry ice-cream, and finally some cheese and biscuits. We left before the coffee to have some port in the college bar…
Wolf Blass is named after Wolfgang Blass who went to Australia from Germany in 1961. The wines are from South Australia’s Barossa Valley, and are now part of Foster’s Brewing. The wines come in for some stick because they are extensively advertised, and because they go for name recognition. I actually find them very reliable, even though it is often their consistency which attracts criticism. Their cabernet sauvignon 2007 is robust and plumy, and has nice soft spicy oak tones, all of which I like in a New World red. I bought it because it was on a special offer at just over £6 a bottle. “Enjoy it with roast lamb or casserole,” I was told, so I had it with both.
After a formal dinner in hall, it seemed perfect to finish with cocktails in the college bar. I decided to introduce a friend to the Lord Madsen, my cocktail made my mixing Grand Marnier and cognac, one for one, straight up in a balloon glass, with no ice. There were no balloon glasses in the college bar, but they provided a near equivalent. Mt friend was happily enjoying it when the waitress came up and apologized. She’s put Drambuie instead of cognac, and brought a correct version this time. My friend was quite happy with the incorrect version, so I drank the real one. No what can we call the new one with Drambuie and Grand Marnier? It ought not to work, mixing a grape and grain spirit. Maybe I’ll call the new cocktail an “unlikely.”
A New Zealand Marlborough sauvignon blanc at less than five pounds is worth noticing. This one was on sale in Sainsbury’s at £4.99, which is half the usual price. Wow! That’s almost too good to be true. I bought a bottle to try with some fish. Alas, it was too good to be true. I was waiting for the familiar gooseberry or citrus zing you get with the first mouthful, but this one disappointed. It was rather thin and almost watery. I don’t mean thin as in strength, but thin as in taste. I see that some critics liked it, but on this occasion I won’t join them. It was simply not to my taste and I won’t be having it again.
Paul went there for dinner on its first day, whereas I had lunch there on its second. It is enormous, and will make a huge difference to the restaurant scene in Cambridge. Prices are reasonable, and it reflects very good value. I began with the rose veal Parmigiana, “a pan fried tender veal chop stuffed with delicious salumi, parmesan and breadcrumbs served with a flash cooked tomato, basil and garlic sauce,” and the menu had it right. It was huge and terrifically tasty. It had quite a peppery punch, too. I like rose veal because it tastes a lot better, as well as giving the calves a decent life.
My lunch companion went for the spaghetti Bolognese, described as “the old school classic ragu of beef, pork, herbs, chianti and parmesan with crunchy herby breadcrumbs.” It had home-made pasta, of course, and was given high marks by my friend. Two out of two so far, then. I drank a glass of Ramato pinot grigio delle Venezie, a delicate rose fragrant with summer fruits. My companion had the shiraz di Sicilia Villa Francesca, a robust and enjoyable red, with lots of peppery spice. Jamie’s Italian is a good local addition, but there’s a big downer. They will not accept bookings, and people do not like to turn up at 7-7.30 pm to be told there is a 45 minute wait, even though they can see many empty tables. I assume they don’t have enough staff to service them. It will make people think twice about planning to go there, good though the food is.
The Old Parr’s Head serves Thai cuisine 7 days a week. This traditionally styled corner pub, however, is in fact TWO businesses. The bar will serve you drinks and a Thai lady will take your food order. You must pay independently for the two, which causes a bit of a problem for a lone diner with no cash as payments under £10 incur a 50p surcharge. Fortunately I had change for the pint and the food came to £9.70 - initially the lady wanted to apply a 50p surcharge and charge me £10.20… I paid £10.
I ate vegetable spring rolls followed by Thai red curry. It was very nice. However, not nearly spicy enough, very mild. Barely a tingle on the tongue mild.
Now – this culinary lunch break treat got me puzzling. What is an Old Parr’s Head. Who is an Old Parr? Parson maybe? Some Kinda Religious chappie? I don’t know. Dictionary says it’s either a Salmon under the age of 2 years or the surname of Henry the VIII 6th Wife – Catherine Parr. Now, unusually for a wife of Henry, she die of natural causes (probably because he predeceased her). However, she was still only 36 and unless they kept the head in a box for a coupla years I don’t think that counts as “Old”.
So – What’s an Old Parr?
It is too cold to eat outside in winter, but in the summer the Galleria at the foot of Magdalene Bridge can be a perfect location. We dined inside, and I began with Thai-spiced crab and prawn fritters with a sweet chili and lime dipping sauce and a sesame and soy dressed salad. It was good, but not as spectacular as the main course I chose, which was grilled lemon sole fillet with chive puree potatoes and roasted fennel with a herb butter sauce.
This was a first class piece of fish, beautifully done, soft and succulent. The mash and fennel were good, too, as was the sauce. After it there was no room for dessert, but when one of my companions ordered a Highland coffee, I gave into temptation and did the same. It was lovely, with thick cream on top and a few coffee beans thrown in for flavour and contrast.
For wine we drank a South African Broken Rock chenin blanc (12 percent). It had a distinctive golden yellow colour, and had a crisp fresh green fruit tang. Afterwards we decided it was just warm enough to sit at one of the street tables, where two of us enjoyed H Upmann cigars while we finished off with cognac.