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Restaurant Alimentum, Cambridge


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As has been previously discussed in this forum, Cambridge is rather short on great places to eat. Midsummer House is fine for a splurge but is a little much for weekly visits. Cotto is delightful, though perhaps lacking a little in the wine department and has no bar. Thus I was delighted to hear about Restaurant Alimentum, which has recently opened on Hills Road.

Restaurant Alimentum has a mission statement, which is well intentioned if a little corny: "Underpinned by strong ethical values, Alimentum will serve locally sourced produce, prepared simply, with passion and integrity." So that's a good start. The "ethical values" include "ethical Foie Gras", presumably from geese who voluntarily gorge themselves before being humanely slaughtered. The head chef is Anton Escalera (formerly at Midsummer House). Digging a bit deeper it seems that the owners have been actively (and successfully) trying to hire staff with experience in Michelin starred restaurants. The restaurant manager and the reservationist are both ex-Simpson’s in Birmingham. Clearly they are aiming for a Star themselves.

I had hoped to go to Alimentum right when it first opened, but they had some delays with the fit-out of their space and so it didn't open until the a couple of weeks ago, by which time I was away. I finally got to go there for the first time last night. I was impressed.

The decor is subtle and modern. No table cloths, just well-designed furniture. Lots of black. The bar area feels a little stark at the moment but it's quite possible that it's not finished. The bar staff were extremely helpful and knowledgeable and made me an excellent martini. The front-of-house guy seemed a little aloof, but it might just have been because I was wearing shorts! All the waitstaff were friendly and attentive without being overbearing, although a couple were clearly very new.

With only two of us eating (one a vegetarian) we didn't carry out an extensive sampling of the menu but what we had was really first rate:

I started with a gazpacho with poached lobster. Served up as a bowl with a few slices of lobster tail and some perfectly ripe diced tomato, with a blended-smooth soup poured over, it had a sprig of the tastiest baby basil leaves I've had in ages. Quite delicious.

I followed this with the crisp pressed suckling pig, braised chicory and apple purée. This included the pork cooked two ways; a square slice of belly, pressed flat, with a crispy skin, and also a pressed cylinder of pork "confit" which was equally delightful. I'm not a big fan of braised chicory but this was very pleasant and the apple purée was a subtle, sweet complement to the salty flavours of the meat. This was accompanied by quite the best potato purée that I've had in years. If I had to guess I'd say it was Russet potato, baked and then mashed, but I've not seen Russets for sale in the UK so perhaps it was something else.

My guest had a pea and mint risotto, with a strong but very creamy goat's cheese. The fresh peas popped with flavour, the rice was perfectly cooked and the cheese melted away into the risotto as she eat it. Again, great.

The deserts we tried were also great. I had a chilled strawberry soup with a fromage blanc sorbet and my guest had the warm Valrhona chocolate fondant. Both were excellent, though by that time we had perhaps had a little too much to drink to be thoroughly discriminating.

The wine list is small but well choses. I'd bet a bottle of the excellent Meursault we drank that they get their wines from Noel Young in Trumpington, since I'd seen a number of the wines there before (and they carried several wines from Magpie Estates). Prices are sensible, mostly £25 to £45 a bottle, and essentially all the still wines are available as 250ml carafes, which is great.

After the great food and the great service we were also pretty happy with the price. The bill was not small, £150 including service (12.5% added for you) but of the £130 or so base price more than half was drinks (one of their most expensive whites at £45, four cocktails at £7 each and camomile tea). The food itself was just under £55, for five dishes between the two of us. Not bad at all!

The only thing about Alimentum which is not, in my opinion, excellent, is its location. The building is fine enough, in one of the two new apartment buildings at the south end of Hills Road railway bridge, but I fear they might not get the level of trade that they need. While they are on the more affluent side of town, and in a building full of very expensive apartments, the passing trade there is mostly visitors to the ten-pin bowling, Cineworld and the Travelogde across the street.

I do hope that Alimentum does well. Cambridge really needs another good restaurant and this could be just the thing.

Edited by Nicko (log)
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Thanks Nicko, must try it. Is this another Crown Catering operation, or do you know who is financing it?

I was not that impressed with Anton's cooking at Midsummer House, but the menu http://blog.restaurantalimentum.co.uk/?page_id=147 looks good.

I'm also wary of Noel Young's wines based on an unfortunate past experience, but we shall see

I wish them the best of luck

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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I'm not sure who the backers are. The web site lists John Hudgell as the "restauranteur" and the implication on his "biography" page is that he's put he own money into the venture (brave man!)

The cooking is a lot more straightforward than MH has been of late. I didn't see a single "foam" the whole time we were there :smile: There was plenty of attention to detail but a lot less fuss.

I've not had many problems with Noel Young's wines. The fact that they will pour you 1/3 of a bottle as a carafe (for about 40% of the bottle price) means that you can at least try things out.

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"Underpinned by strong ethical values, Alimentum will serve locally sourced produce, prepared simply, with passion and integrity." 

braised chicory and apple purée. 

Apples are not in season until later this month and chicory in Cambridge......I'd love to know who grows it at this time of year. Suckling pig.............

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I ate here last week and was also pleasantly surprised by the standard achieved (had to pinch myself whenever I remembered I was in Cambridge). I'll do a proper write-up after another visit, but my first impression from an improptu tasting menu of three of the starters (gazpacho, foie, eel) was that the cooking was restrained and disciplined, with no particularly major fireworks but a good overall standard, and smart but equally restrained presentation. The gazpacho, as reported above, was excellent, very fresh and subtly flavoured so as not to overpower the lobster. The much-advertised ethical foie wasn't particularly remarkable (at least, not with the divine foie-citrus preparation at The Greenhouse fresh in the memory...), the eel was good but the smoke flavour was pretty strong and combined with truffle oil (if I recall correctly?) left the fresh summer truffle rather overshadowed, also the potato variety used was also insufficiently waxy, but the dish was well presented and very enjoyable for all that. My dining partner was also impressed, the only slight issue being that the seabass skin was not as crisp as it could have been (though no worse than at plenty of other places).

Were I not worried about what they might put in my veloute next time I visit, I would venture that the decor risks verging into brothel-boudoir territory (black lightshades, quasi-booth recesses lined in red, lots of black and red in general), but I'm pleased it isn't bland and is aiming in an urban/cosmopolitan direction, a welcome contrast to the middle-aged scheme at MH. Service was excellent, with just the right level of formality, and at least some of their wines do indeed come from Noel Young, as I asked. Bit of a short wine list but the bottle we had was good and not too outlandishly priced. All in all a very, very welcome addition to the Cambridge scene; indeed without it the nearest thing to a scene would be a small house by a river with a conservatory...

Edited by adt (log)

Ian

I go to bakeries, all day long.

There's a lack of sweetness in my life...

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Is that the worst name for a restaurant ever? I hope the food is fabulous enough to counteract the absurd pompousness of having a 'mission statement'.

To be fair, they don't use the term "mission statement" on their website. I think what they are doing is excellent; I wish more top-end restaurants gave similar assurances:

"The choice I have is to purchase the cheapest meat I can from intensively farmed systems to increase my profit, or to stick to my principles and source it from animals that have enjoyed good standards of welfare, even if this means I have to pay more for the produce and ultimately charge my customers more. I’m going to stick with my principles and hope you agree this is the right thing to do.

It should be a given that the menu is seasonal, sustainable and sourced locally where possible. [...] I think it’s imperative we be given information about the food we eat in order to make an informed decision as to whether or not it is something we would like."

http://blog.restaurantalimentum.co.uk/?page_id=53

Ian

I go to bakeries, all day long.

There's a lack of sweetness in my life...

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Hi all, apologies for the previous two posts but hey, I’m new to this game.

It’s been really great to receive two impartial reviews (double whammy they’ve been good) as the local publications won’t do anything unbiased for fear of upsetting their advertisers, which makes it more difficult when you have a quality offering to stand apart from the rest.

We’re two and half weeks in and constantly tweeking, not to mention 4 short in the brigade, so I’m hoping things will continue to improve. That said, I’m generally very happy with the standard of food and service and customer feedback has been extremely positive.

What I’ve set my stall out to do with Alimentum is to bring a new kind of dining experience to Cambridge. By this I mean quality that is accessible. Midsummer is without question a quality restaurant, but because of the pricing and more formal style of dining it’s very much viewed as a special occasion restaurant, or for those fortunate enough to have long pockets.

What we’re doing at Alimentum is keeping it simple. There’s no foams, no gels (although the food is technically prepared but presented simply on the plate) and service is friendly and efficient without being overly formal. The pricing is such that it’s not going to cost an arm and a leg, more your upper wrist, as I’m trying to fill the huge void in Cambridge of affordable quality restaurants beneath the MH level.

Without wishing to write a huge advert for Alimentum (although it’s tempting), I want to deliver quality, consistency and value, and be viewed as somewhere you can go for great food and service without having to dig too deep.

Thanks for the reviews, I’ll continue reading with interest!!

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Is that the worst name for a restaurant ever? I hope the food is fabulous enough to counteract the absurd pompousness of having a 'mission statement'.

To be fair, they don't use the term "mission statement" on their website. I think what they are doing is excellent; I wish more top-end restaurants gave similar assurances:

"The choice I have is to purchase the cheapest meat I can from intensively farmed systems to increase my profit, or to stick to my principles and source it from animals that have enjoyed good standards of welfare, even if this means I have to pay more for the produce and ultimately charge my customers more. I’m going to stick with my principles and hope you agree this is the right thing to do.

It should be a given that the menu is seasonal, sustainable and sourced locally where possible. [...] I think it’s imperative we be given information about the food we eat in order to make an informed decision as to whether or not it is something we would like."

http://blog.restaurantalimentum.co.uk/?page_id=53

In that case I apologise, but do feel that the food should speak for itself. And please think about changing the name-it's like calling a restaurant 'Intestine' or 'Diarrhoea'.

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Just out of curiosity, what is your issue with the name? Alimentum is simply Latin for "food"..

Anyway, I'm planning to visit next time I return to Cambridge - however, some of my friends have checked it out and gave a very positive account of it. The lunchtime menu was described as excellent value, especially seeing as you could easily spend the same amount on three vastly inferior courses at the bunch of chain restaurants at the Cambridge Leisure Centre (Nandos, Bella Italia and the other two). I'm glad to hear that Cambridge finally has somewhere decent to eat

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Many thanks for this recommendation! I was going to be in Cambridge this week anyway, and when I saw this thread I knew where I was going for dinner. I met up with a few friends and we had a very good evening at Alimentum. I put some photos on Flickr here and a small writeup on the Open Guide to Cambridge here. Basically, I felt that it was at least comparable to similar places in London, and somewhere I'd certainly go back to (and, for me, that does involve a journey from London).

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for me the name recalls fond memories of Latin class, I like it, .......... a far worse name is p ong, but I have a very childish sense of humour (or so my kids tell me :smile: )

ps. is pong a slang term in the States?

Edited by insomniac (log)
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I understand that, but it refers me immediately to the alimentary canal. I am not alone.

My first thoughts were "ailment", then "lament". But then, I don't know Latin, which I guess would put me in the minority in Cambridge.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Good food. Bad decor.

I think you mean that the decor wasn't to your taste — unless the ceiling fell down since I was there, or something.

And I also meant the food was to my taste, but as you had the intelligence to work that one out without me presenting a neon sign differentiating opinion from fact, I wonder why you felt the need to make that post? That said, I think the interior of the restaurant would be greatly improved by the ceiling falling down.

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  • 2 weeks later...

First visit (a la carte):

Bad service (shortly after opening though). Food was ok, nothing spectacular, dessert was disappointing and too small.

Second visit (fixed dinner):

Much better service, food was also more exciting. Still not enough of it, but I caught up on the bread (baked on the premises) and the dessert ("mocha" panna cotta) was very good, if again somewhat small.

I'll definitely come back. They change the fixed menu every week...

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  • 3 months later...

]"Underpinned by strong ethical values, Alimentum will serve locally sourced produce, prepared simply, with passion and integrity." 

you must have one hell of a network of local suppliers with a whole army of heated greenhouses, maybe they source things from the botanical gardens, can't think how else they would be "local and ethical"

a few things i picked of a recent menu:

watermelon, iberico ham, truffles, lychee, avocado,foie gras, figs, roquefort, foriegn cheese and spanish pork and as for green beans and courgette flowers in november...

apart from sounding like too many other mediocre restaurant menus it does not look too ethical or celabratory of british produce!!

i know that everything can't be local but you could try.

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 years later...

AA Gill has a very entertaining review in the Times http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/eating_out/a_a_gill/article7063758.ece

I don't really agree with his findings as we had a lovely meal there and the service was friendly and enthusiastic.

I do agree with his thoughts on Cambridge though and the situation of the restaurant which is in a terrible bit of town.

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WOW! i love the way AA gill can pretty much go an entire review without mentioning the food, service or restaurant. one paragraph on the food and one on the restaurant. man is genius. see i never really wanna know about the food OR the restaurant when reading a article on a restaurant.

i do wish some writers would stop dribbling, surely the sole purpose of a restaurant review is to talk about the restaurant. apparently now all you need to do is mention some random dish, probably the only dish u can remember and then leave the office after filling in the page with utter crap that no one cares about, sentences with a trillion commas in and talk about ya mate who everyone wants to know about.

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