I've had two elaborate restaurant meals in Cambridge this week, which is two more than I have most months.
The first was last Wednesday ghoti
's 29th birthday, for which she'd booked the downstairs room at 22 Chesterton Road
. They had excellent bread: a really malty, cinnamonny fruit loaf, a really nutty brown and a really rosemary-ridden white. I had a red wine risotto as starter, wonderfully fishy haddock served on some kind of seaweed base as main course, and a particularly unsubtle pudding composed of a lake of salt-caramel inside a square of chocolate hazelnut mousse, served with chocolate and milk sorbets and a wafer-thin hazelnut biscuit the shape of Wisconsin.
After one evening of gourmet delectation, proposals for a second evening of gourmet delectation go down more easily; I'd been looking forward to seeing nou
, who I'd met at Oxford and not seen for years, on Wednesday but she couldn't make it. So she organised another meal, at the newly-opened Alimentum
on Hills Road; me, nou
who I'd encountered on IRC but never in person.
Leather chairs, wall-covering seemingly made of satin pillows, a big glass window to encourage people-watching if only the Cambridge Leisure Centre was a haunt of people worth the watching at eight on a Tuesday evening, slightly intrusive background music, a general sense of slightly OTT deliberate poshness. Cocktails to start - gin and blackberry for me. As a starter, smoked eel, served with potatoes, microtomed artichoke and a couple of thin slices of truffle, little cubes of tasty jelly which on request turned out to be balsamic-vinegar flavour. Clearly excellent eel, though I'm not sure truffle in slices is a taste I'm so keen on. The others had a single chicken raviolo served with mushrooms and baked jamon iberico
The main meal for me was lamb done three ways; slices of neck cooked pink, a sweetbread (I had traded haddock for a bit of uisgebeatha
's sweetbread at the previous restaurant, and liked the dumpling texture and sheep-pate taste), and a little pot of a moussaka made with lamb braised to dissolution, and raisins. Others had bavette of beef - a very large slab of beautifully-cooked cow - and sea bass.
For dessert (nou
has pictures) I had a deconstructed apricot crumble; a clingfilm-thin piece of hard caramel, a swoosh of apricot jus, a blob of just-barely-mashed apricot, and an ice cream, topped with crumble topping, that itself tasted of crumble topping.
These are both fancy restaurants - 22 was £45 a head, Alimentum £55 a head, wine and service included - but both worth it when you've assembled a critical mass of friends to whom the prospect of really fantastic food is more appealing than money. I only have to forgo Monday pizza and Thursday liver-and-bacon at the pub for the month of August to break even, and it's probably well worth it.