Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Midsummer House Cambridge


Recommended Posts

By coincidence Matty Fort of the Guardian ate at Midsummer House in Cambridge in January, as did I. A greater coincidence is that Matthew ate the same savoury dishes as I did and only diverged when it came to the final course. You can read his review here. So here's my take on the food and service for you to compare and contrast.

I'd like to state upfront that I agree with Fort's assessment that the food is on it's way to 2 michelin stars. I think overall the service is very good and that anyone with a serious interest in dining that has the opportunity would do well to pay the place a visit. Chef Daniel Clifford, as Fort points out is currently producing a mix of dishes heavily influenced by his visits to The Fat Duck and some very fine classical French cuisine.

Without doubt, the restaurant is in a period of transistion and it will be interesting to see where Clifford has gone with his investigations and experiments in a years time (he is setting up a small "lab" type development kitchen in the restaurant grounds and is often found pouring over his science books I am told).

I arrived a little late for my table for one after negotiating my way across the poorly lit and slightly disconcerting Midsummer Common from my hotel on the other side of town (I will take a taxi next time). I went straight to my table, although later discovered a very pleasant looking bar on the first floor for aperitives and after dinner drinks.

The menu was presented, adorned with a picture of the chef, a mission statement and rather oddly, photos of some of the dishes which put me mind of a Harvester restaurant. The waiter gave his recommendations for the evening at some length, most of which coincided with the dishes that attracted a supplement. I find this practice off putting. It's obvious upselling, but more than that, the inference is that some items on the quite short menu aren't worth bothering with. I was informed that a starter of "Seared Hand Dived Sea Scallops, Celeriac Purée, Truffle Vinaigrette, Façon Jean Bardet" was not available due to their supplier letting them down. In addition, the "honey-glazed pork belly, shallot purée, roast scallops, black pudding and ginger and honey caramel" was being served but sans scallops.

As a result, I chose another dish (which I now cannot remember) and a main course of Anjou pigeon à la Villegeois, with braised lentils, pommes sautée, confit garlic, poîlane croustillant and jus de raisins sec. A shot glass of green tea and lime sour started the meal. This was similar to Heston Blumental's creation, but whereas the Fat Ducks version is a foam with a mild sour flavour, the Midsummer House version was returing to it's liquid state and had a slightly unpleasant aftertaste.

Whilst I was downing it, I was more than surprised to see several plates of delicious looking pork belly, with scallops. I attracted the attention of the young and friendly maitre'd and pointed out what I had seen and asked if I could change my order to the same. He was unable to explain where the scallops had suddenly appeared from, simply stating that he didn't know what had happened, but that he would check with chef to see what could be done. He swiftly returned to say that I could after all have the pork with scallops but that it might be a further 15 minutes. As I was in no rush I readily agreed.

Next up was another shot glass, this time an extra course as I had to wait for my starter proper. I was instructed to knock it back in one, and that I would be told what it contained afterwards. It was pleasent enough, caramel sweet, but with a savoury edge from some finely chopped chives. It turned out to be some maple syrup, a layer of raw egg yolk, finished with chive cream. A further similarly layered glass, but of a different shape contained "a contrast of cep and coffee". This I noticed was being left untouched by many of the other diners that night, as had the sour. I finished mine off and found it to be an interesting and workable combination, but the small serving was enough. So far so Fat Duck-ish.

The pork belly had been cooked for 60 hours in exactly the same manner as that served in the Riverside Brasserie in Bray and worked well with the now common paring of scallop. The black pudding added a welcome earthy note to an overall sweetness, which was heightened by the ginger and honey caramel. It was a large portion, and probably would have passed for a main course in the capital.

The pigeon was served rare, on a large bed of lentils and raisins, with a neat stack of braised grapes toast and saute potatos. This was pretty much an unqualified success, cooked to perfection but too much of it and with again an overall note of sweetness.

This was cleared away and the cheese trolley wheeled up unbidden to my table. I was treated to a full explanation of all the available varieties and left with the menu to decide what dessert I wanted. I admit to feeling a little pressurised to partake of the cheese after all that effort, which I kind of think is the point, and switched from my initial choice of the pear assiette. But it was a magnificent plate, some of the best cheese I've had in this country.

The meal ended with four petit fours, including a lavender jelly that I couldn't quite stomach and an excellent miniature lemon tart, then a final choice of one chocolate from a very impressive display.

With a bottle of Alsace wine (no details available,sorry), coffee, tap water and service the bill came to around £76.00 for one person. An enjoyable evening, with lots to admire about the food and service. I got the feeling that the chef and front of house still need to settle in with their new style.

Too often the food was presented as a novelty or a challenge, almost with an apologetic tone. This may have invited the knock backs from the customers in term of those untouched shot glasses. I also didn't spot many plates of salmon with white chocolate and caviar sauce being dished up that night. The large portions may also be a sign of trying too hard to please.

Restaurant website.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was there with my wife a couple of nights ago. At the end of the evening they brought a visitors book to our table. It just happened to fall open on the page with an entry for one 'ANDY LYNES', resident of 'EGULLET.COM'. Which reminded me that I had not visited this site for some weeks...

Overall, I'd concur with your excellent review. There does seem to be an air of transition about this restaurant and if I should find myself in Cambridge in a year or so, I'll be sure to return there.

Foodwise, we took the pork belly, which was very pleasing, and an exemplary seared foie gras with sauce Perigueux. There was then just a slightly overlong wait for the next course, during which I visited the loo and was there entertained by a remarkable etching depicting an ithyphallic youth and his steatopygous mate somewhat in the manner of certain Attic pottery. Unfortunately I've forgotten the name of the artist.

Not fancying the pigeon, we both opted for fish for our main courses. My wife enjoyed sea bass with tapenade, roast tomatoes and pesto, while I took the salmon with caviar and white chocolate sauce. The sauce was pleasant enough, but did little to enhance the fish. I would probably have preferred a beurre blanc or something. The garnish of almond and cauliflower was overseasoned, and if I had one criticism of Mr Clifford's cooking, it would be that the food in general was either slightly too sweet or too salty.

The definite highlight of the evening was pudding: a magisterial tarte tatin (for 2), one of the best I've ever sampled. It came with good ice cream, and a tasty but superfluous garlic, cinnamon and bay leaf foam.

Another mild complaint? The markups on the wine. Some relatively junior Savennieres were priced at over £50, as was Pelorus, and a particular Alsatian Gewurztraminer I'd recently seen on a list in Bristol at £28 was about £70. For the first time in a long time we contemplated sticking to water.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was one of the founders of Midsummer House, and converted it from a private house, although I now have no connection, other than to eat there. The "M" logo was designed for us by David Kindersley. If you turn it upside down it's my initials (JAL)...

Nice to see the place improving so...may it continue to go from strength to strength.

Cambridge is a difficult place for restaurants. Despite being in a reasonably prosperous area, not many people dine out regularly (other then in College), and few of them have any sort of palate, so part of a restaurant's job is to educate as well as entertain..

Jack

P.S>The easist way to get to Midsummer House is over the footbridge from Pretoria Road..

Link to post
Share on other sites
Despite being in a reasonably prosperous area, not many people dine out regularly (other then in College), and few of them have any sort of palate, so part of a restaurant's job  is to educate as well as entertain..

I did get the feeling that the restaurant was playing to a conservative audience and that there was a need to lead the customers gently by the hand, which is fair enough. I think it's a brave move for a restaurant like the Midsummer House to be heading in the "molecular gastronomy" direction. I think they will need to be known as a destination restaurant in the way Fat Duck is in order to succeed in the longterm.

From looking at the visitors book (which is brought to every table with the bill, not sure about that practice really, it wouldn't work in London thats for sure) the main customer base is local, supplemented by a number of visiting Americans and a few Londoners. Maybe the net needs to be spread a bit wider, but that may depend on a few more restaurants emerging of a similar quality in order to gain the "Ludlow" effect.

Link to post
Share on other sites
At the end of the evening they brought a visitors book to our table. It just happened to fall open on the page with an entry for one 'ANDY LYNES', resident of 'EGULLET.COM'. Which reminded me that I had not visited this site for some weeks...

Mission accomplished!

I did feel a bit naughty putting that in. I realise the purpose of the book is not to advertise one's website, (it's a bit like another chef writing his restaurants contact details down I suppose), but they did stick the book under my nose and the temptation was too great.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not sure what thread this should go in, but to show the competition in Cambridge, I post the menu from last nights's feast at my College (Emmanuel).

The feast was in honour of the Revd Professor Peter Gomes. DD, a much loved figure in both Cambridges, here and Harvard.

Layered Terrine of quail, pheasant and rabbit, with a quince jelly

Grilled green lipped mussels witha herb crust

Fillet of beef stuffed with a chicken and watercress mousse, served with a ravioli of shin of beef, seasonal vegetables, parisienne potatoes, beef jus

Warm fig Lanzertorte

with wild honey ice cream and armagnac syrup

Desert (served in the Long Gallery)

Wines:

Champagne (Perrier Joutet)

Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses

Beaune Marconnets 1993

Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 1988

Quinta de Noval 1978

Chateau Langoa Barton 1992

Coteaux du Layon Varennes 1997

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 months later...

I ate at Midsummer House on Friday night. Given I was doing a parachute jump on Saturday I wanted my (potentially) last meal to be memorable (not something that Cambridge food is especially famous for)

I think the positive reviews on here are spot on; this is a restaurant cooking some seriously good food that would be packed to the rafters were it in London. I think they've made a few changes since the last review, so I'll concentrate on those first....

Upstairs bar has been turned into a second dining room. Looks like bookings are on the up, but we were still able to get a table at 7:30 on that Friday (our original emailed request had gone missing... we were planning to eat at the newly opened Graffiti but I thought I'd try for a cancellation) The drawback of the upstairs room is that it's small, with four tables so you do end up feeling like your sharing the meal with the people next to you. This was nice though as the table next to us had never eaten in such a resturant before so it was good to remember how thrilled I was by my first "posh" experiences ;-) Sadly they can't get the cheeseboard upstairs but this didn't stop us tramping down to choose before having desert as well.

They've just changed the menu to a more minimalist style. Having eaten in Jaan earlier this week there were obvious parallels between the semantics of the menu (but luckily not the food) The photos of the food have gone and eat choice is now "suggested" by a couple of words (my starter was Quail, Roasted Grapes, Savoy Cabbage) I think this might be happening on menus across the land... I'm not sure I think it's such a great idea, although at least it means we may see less "pan-fried" descriptions appearing on menus.

And onto the food...(forgive me, but I didn't get a menu so this is slightly vague)

There was the (it would seem) ubiquitous green tea and lime sour. I haven't eaten at the Fat Duck, but I was reminded of a foam that I had at El Bulli. Maybe I just don't like green tea or foams, but I thought this was disgusting. More successful was a second amuse of a "contraste" of ceps and coffee. This was fab with a really earthy warm cep veloute (natch) with a coffee jelly at the bottom. I think I realised at this point that this was going to be a serious meal.

My starter above was very accomplished with the savoy cabbage served as a puree flavoured with truffle. Jack's scallops with truffles was a great example of very simple ingredients perfectly cooked.

Mains were even better. I went for Pigeon which I usually avoid having been dive bombed once too many times at Farringdon station. The legs had been been roasted to sticky deliciousness and I was annoyed when Jack stole my second one. Reparations were made by a large mouthful of filet with a cep ragout.

Then followed one of the best cheese courses I've had in a long time. There was possibly the most delicious ever Brillat-Savarin, a not-quite-as-good-as-the-one-i-had-at-christmas Flower Marie and a lovely ripe Banon.

Dessert was my low point. My Valrona chocolate cake seemed to exude an odd clear fat when i broke into it and there was just a bit too much chocolate going on on the plate for its own good. Very little flavour differentiation between the ice cream and the cake, but maybe I'm just nitpicking. Jack's mille feuille of apricot with verbena panna cotta was much better (and a lighter end the meal)

Coffee followed (none of the petit fours I'd spied coming in) but there was a sweet plate of individual cakes as a pre-dessert (the lemon tart being the best)

All in all...fantastic. I'm going to steal Simon's marking format and give them 8/10 (it would have been 9 but they didn't actually describe the cep thing as a veloute)

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

Link to post
Share on other sites
The photos of the food have gone

Nothing to do with my "Harvester" crack surely? No, couldn't have been.

Slightly surprised at the conversion of the bar to another dining area, but maybe they have been turning custom away as I don't think they turn tables.

How were portions compared to London? Are they still on the large size?

Link to post
Share on other sites

i was wondering about that too. i thought i'd read that you could only get a star if you had a separate bar? correct me if i am wrong...

portions were not huge, i'd say on the generous side on london dining....

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

Link to post
Share on other sites

Andy, has this changed recently? In your review of Petrus from September last year you said:

"It now actually feels like a bar rather than a collection of furniture in an entrance way in order to appease the expectations of Michelin. "

(sorry, don't know how to use the quote thingy)

Not being cheeky, I just happened to come across it in another thread just now ;-)

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thats sheer presumption on my behalf, but in order to protect my reputation as a food and drink know-it-all I could argue that Petrus had one star and wanted 2 (which they didn't get this time around) and were therefore tarting up the place in order to impress the Michelin men.

Chez Bruce and Merchant House have had stars for sometime now so lack of a bar is obviously no barrier to one star. And now I've lost the thread of whatever the arguement was in the first place. Next question.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Having converted the damn place from a small private house, I can speak.

The house was originally a two-up, two down room house, built in Victorian times as a speculative development on common land, with the intent of the developer squatting on the land and eventually building terraces of houses, as on the other side of the river. The street names on the other side (Pretoria Road, Kimberly Ave etc) speak of the Boer war. The developer was stopped by the local council, and the house confiscated. For many years it was a council house, and eventually occupied and purchased by the landlord of the neighboring pub (the Fort St George). I bought it from him.

Originally it had two smallish rooms on each of three floors, with a kitchen/scullery out the back.

The two downstairs rooms we knocked together, and with a new double conservatory became the main dining room. The two rooms on the middle floor were also knocked into one (with a folding divider) for more dining or private dining. The lean-to kitchen was demolished and replaced with a full kitchen and walk-in cold room, cheese room/cellar, staff toilets etc. Above this is a rather nice river room, with a balcony and views of the river and common that we used as a bar, but could also be used for dining. Its disadvantage is that it is up stairs, so not suitable for differently abled folk.

The top floor is a staff flat.

This was over 15 years and two owners ago, so things may have changed. We also had to underpin the property, and don't ask about the drains...but that is already more than you wanted to know.

Two stars would be richly deserved

Edited by jackal10 (log)
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 weeks later...

Midsummer House tomight for a dinner hosted by Library House and Apax Venture Partners.

Lime Sour

Green tea and lime foam. They should serve this with a toothbrush, not a teaspoon. Derivative maybe?

Cucumber jelly, smoked salmon, cauliflower foam

Foam could have been anything, a bit wasted and repetitious after the lime. How to make a little smoked salmon go a long way...Dill would have been nice.

Moasaic of Provencal Vegetables and Poached Fennel,

Home made Sun dried Tomatos

Goats Cheese Mousseline

Fresh Tapenade

(and deep fried basil leaves)

Greatly enjoyed, and very pretty, although I thought that vegetable terrines with two colour sauces were rather old fashioned. More gelatine, and the mousseline was nearly another foam...

Steamed Sea Bass with Crab Mousse,

Creamed Haricot Blanc with Chilli

Chilli Syrup, Vanilla Froth

Nice fish. Good presentation. Big square plate, outline of chilli syrup, then innner piping of what looked and tasted like red coloured mashed potato, but I guess was chilli mousse acting as a dam holding back the vanilla froth (more foam!). In the centre a heap of the haricot topped with the sea bass, and waht seemed to be two rounds of thinly sliced caramelised scallop.

Great vanilla aroma as the plates presented.

Haricot oversalted to my taste.

Rhubarb and custard

Tall shot glass with rhubarb cream at the bottom and a vanilla froth on top thicker than the vanilla foam in the last course. sprinkled with crumble topping. We were instructed to drink, but I'd have liked a spoon. More foam...

For some reason the petit four (madeline, miniature merangue, jelly (Agar?) square, raspberry tartlet)were served at this point.

Fondant of Valrhona Chocolate and Freeze dried Raspberries,

Tarragon and Yoghurt Sorbet, Raspberry syrup (chocolate and caramel (isomalt?) thin)

The raspberries were almost undetectable in the chocolate fondant Could have been any raspberry flavouring. - Good liquid centre, but I think you get a more intense chocolate taste if you leave out the egg yolks. Also the centre seperated out some butter on the plate.

Tattinger reserve (they were city financial folk)

Poully Fume CH. Favray Quentin David 2002

CH Laroque St Emilion Grand Cru 1993 - excellent

Interesting and competant rather than exceptional. Profi whippers are wonderful, but it really isn't required to have foam and/or gelatine in every course.

I guess it illustrates the point that one of the functions of a restaurant meal is to impress with stuff it is hard to do at home - hence foams etc.

A heavy hand on the salt. I wonder if the fact that the chef smokes has anything to do with it. I notice when I smoke I salt more heavily.

Edited by jackal10 (log)
Link to post
Share on other sites

i wish they'd had the rhubard and custard thing when i was there. you don't see enough rhubarb in resturants.

it strikes me that the tasting menu is slightly more adventourous than the carte. more foams, deep freezing raspberries etc. sounds like you had a good meal though.

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 year later...
Jay Rayner reviewed the restaurant yesterday and it appears that the restaurant has still not 100% committed to being either "moleculary gastronomy" or classical French cuisine. I was interested to note that Jay asserts that the restaurant has been referred to as "The Fat Duckling" in print, but I can nothing of the sort in any of the reviews online, apart from the subtitle of this thread of course!
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 months later...

Midsummer House was completely refurbished during the August break. The decor is now much simpler and dominants of beige, grey and white. Beautiful stone floor. Very comfortable cream leather seats. New tableware: Bernardaud, Ercuis, Riedel.

See pictures at:

http://www.localsecrets.com/currentoffers.cfm?id=30

The makes the overall experience even more enjoyable.

I personally really like the food there as it has the robust foundation of mastered classic French food with touches of the molecular gastronomy trends. There’s nothing more irritating than a full MG dinner where one has the impression to be a guinea pig. Daniel Clifford balances the best of both worlds very well indeed.

Fabien

Link to post
Share on other sites

well we've finally got round to booking ourselves in for lunch next week - so will try and report back.

In the meantime - I have a week to ponder the menus ... the Christmas one looks particularly good. Hmmm, decisions, decisions, decisions ....

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...
  • 1 month later...

Hi everyone - new member.

I've just booked my 20th wedding anniversary dinner at Midsummer House and was wondering what fellow eGulletarians views were. David Clifford has a great CV on the surface and I am keen and willing to support fine restaurant soutside London.

The restaurnt called me back today to confirm my booking and was exceptionally warm and friendly. A great start.

I've worked my way through most of London's one, two and only three star restaurant(s), but am finding London restaurants becoming too predictable.

Thoughts welcome.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Welcome to eG

Since I started and built the place (although sold it some years ago) I'm biased. I think you will have a great time!

Take a taxi. Its on Midsummer Common, so parking is difficult, and the closest you can get a car is to the footbridge on the other side of the river.

My main comment is that the wine is overpriced, but the food and service is excellent, and to some extent original.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...