Archive of ‘Cambridge’ category

Lunch at Poets House, Ely

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A few weeks ago we ate somewhere new, Poets House in Ely. A hotel with a restaurant and bar just steps away from the Cathedral in a beautiful old townhouse – named so because a local author used to live there.

I’ve been hearing lots about it from local bloggers – Sian and Heidi dined there and Miss Sue Flay recently sampled their afternoon tea. Needing somewhere to go with visiting relatives, I decided upon Poets House for a relaxed Saturday lunch.

The main dining room is elegant and beautifully decorated in black, white and grey – very swish indeed. It was reasonably quiet for a Saturday lunchtime, which did mean we had the full attention of the staff. The service was excellent, and our waitress explained the various menu options to us and was on hand for any questions we had.

I spotted an Indian wine on the menu, very intriguing, the sommelier didn’t know what it was like, as he hadn’t tried it, a little disappointing as far as I am aware from a sommelier – but we ordered it anyway! It was a white wine, Sula Vineyards Viognier from a winemaker based in the small town of Nashik, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. It was excellent, I’m not a much of a wine buff but it was a really nice wine, and great to see some interesting wines on the menus instead of the usual European options.

Wine ordered we proceeded to look through the menus – there are several choices. There is A la Carte, the Set ‘House’ menu and also the Garden Menu – a special menu based on local produce and all vegetarian. The set menu is really good value, with decent amount of vegetarian options, £22.50 for 2 courses or £25.50 for three courses.

I started with ‘Flamed Mackerel’ – which came with lime jelly, horseradish cream, little slivers of fennel and radish and a cucumber and lime sauce. The mackerel was so fresh and the skin crispy – the little condiments were great to break through the richness of the fish.  A nice refreshing start!

My main was a mushroom tagliatelle – expertly made fresh pasta with lots of different kinds of mushrooms and parmesan. It also came with a foam, which I hate, I find them totally unnecessary and showy – it didn’t add anything, and as it dried it left an odd ring around the dish. No foam please!

Next up was my dessert – simply titled white chocolate parfait with raspberry and caramel popcorn. It was gorgeous – the parfait was rolled in some kind of crispy coating and alongside it was sweet caramelised popcorn, little meringues, freeze dried raspberries and honeycomb. It was a beautiful looking dish and it tasted fantastic – my favourite one of the meal.

My dining companions were similarly happy with their choices – an excellent tomato soup, pan fried seabass, a vegetarian leek and pastry puff and the richest sticky toffee pudding.

Our lunch at Poets House was excellent and full of little surprises – a very well thought out menu. The surroundings are very plush and the staff very attentive. We took our coffee in the bar area which is an indoor/outdoor conservatory style area with one side being floor to ceiling glass. Afternoon teas and bar meals are served here – along with cocktails later on.

I’ve heard some excellent things about the afternoon tea, and the dinner, so I definitely think it is a place to return to for more treats.

Poets House
St Marys Street

My First Pop-Up Tea Party – Indian Afternoon Tea

On Sunday I hosted my very first food event! An Indian inspired afternoon tea featuring Gujarati snacks, sweets and Indian inspired bakes – and of course lots of tea. On the menu were two savouries, various sweets, two cakes and masala chai.

My venue was the fabulous Cambridge Cookery School – which was a dream to cook in – especially being as my kitchen is the size of a postage stamp. There were 5 ovens, or maybe 6! I lost count. I had a lot of fun prepping in there. I had the help of Miss Sue Flay, Cambridge’s afternoon tea expert extraordinaire – her experience was much appreciated!

My guests arrived and I greeted them with a refreshing glass of Mango Lassi. My lassi was spiced with cumin – based on the traditional Gujarati dessert of ‘Rus’ – which is mango puree sprinkled with cumin and salt, eaten like a cold soup. Mango Lassi often comes with just a little salt, or fennel, the cumin was a nice change – and very nostalgic for me! My mango lassi recipe is here.

My afternoon tea consisted of two savouries, three sweets and two cakes. As you would traditionally start with finger sandwiches my guests dove into the savouries first.

Dhokra – steamed chickpea & semolina sponge, with chilli & ginger

Pea Katchoris – crispy pastries filled with peas, potato, cumin and mustard seeds

Tea station

Whilst everyone worked their way through savouries I made two big pans of masala chai with Kandula English Breakfast Tea and a sprinkling of Jacob’s Jam’s Chai Masala. Masala chai is made by bringing water, sugar, masala and loose tea to the boil then adding milk and bringing to the boil once again. If my guests wondered why I was staring so intently at it, it is because it can boil over in seconds if you take your eye off it – a watched pot does boil, full recipe here.

Onto the sweets – again as is traditional for afternoon tea – they made up the majority of my offering for the day. I really wanted to include some mithai on my menu, as they are integral to sweets in Indian culture – served during all celebrations – weddings, births, Diwali and when welcoming important guests.

My personal favourite mithai is ladoo – made up of tiny deep fried sugar balls which are then formed into large rounds and spiced with cardamom and decorated with pistachio nuts. These are something of a challenge to make, so they didn’t make it on to my menu – but if you see them anywhere – buy them!

Kopra Pak – coconut and milk sweets with saffron and a sprinkling of chocolate
Ghor Papri – ghoor/jaggery and sesame seeds with pistachio for prettiness

Crumbly and lightly spiced Nankhatai biscuits are ideal with a cup of tea, and they were a hit with my guests. Thumbprint cookies remind me of Nankhatai – although the Indian biscuits are filled with nuts or sometimes spices. Mine had pistachio on top, and for a few brave types – cumin seeds.

What is afternoon tea without cake? First up was my Honey Sesame Dream Cake – not a based on a traditional Indian recipe but the flavours are quite Indian! I made a double batch for an extra tall cake.

My centrepiece was a Masala Chai Cake which had three components – a light sponge which was then soaked in spiced tea syrup before being sandwiched with cream cheese buttercream with a final flourish of syrup and some pistachios. My cake icing skills need a little work, I have to admit, but I was happy with the flavours. I’m planning on making that tea syrup again, but putting it into a cocktail instead!

Putting on a food event is such hard work, I’m used to organising conferences as part of my day job, but food is something else! I spent the whole weekend prepping plus all the planning before, list making, shopping, recipe collecting – but it was so FUN. I learnt lots, and some new techniques – a lot of the food I’d eaten before but never cooked before so it was a steep learning curve.

The majority of the pictures in this post were taken by Ozzy – thank you for capturing my event so perfectly. 🙂

Thanks so much to all who came to my tea – particular thanks to Tine at the Cookery School for the venue, Miss Sue Flay for being a fabulous assistant, Gemma at The Linton Kitchen for lending me her gorgeous china and my lovely husband for being my sous chef/assistant/calmer downer.

I’m doing this all again soon! Next is a supperclub which will be a 3 course Gujarati (vegetarian) feast. I’m still working out a date so stand by your inboxes (sign up to get emails here) or follow me on Twitter for tickets. Soon!

Hotel du Vin Cambridge, Afternoon Tea

A few months ago I tried the Hotel du Vin afternoon tea during Miss Sue Flay’s afternoon tea etiquette workshop, it was on the whole very good indeed with the exception of some very lurid pink cupcakes which were very strange, given the rest of the selection. They invited me back to try their tea, after making some improvements, I went along a couple of weeks ago with two friends and unfortunately things haven’t improved. (more…)

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