Midsummer House – Cambridge, United Kingdom
After being prepared to admit, sadly, that there are no excellent restaurants in Cambridge, a week before my departure I had one of the outstanding meals of the year. Of course, the happy success was not a total surprise as the Midsummer House (set in a lovely garden near the banks of the River Cam) had received two Michelin stars. However, two Michelin stars have often been just enough to break one’s heart. But not this evening. Under chef Daniel Clifford the meal was nearly flawless, failing only a few minor tests.
The evening began with a tiny, but surprisingly robust gazpacho tasting, made memorable because of a wave of pureed celery that set off the acidity of the tomato base. It was delightful, and would have made a worthy bowl on a summer evening. This was followed with a simple and creative anchovy tempura – just enough fat and salt to make every health care vanish. It was unfortunate that these starters were pared with the only real failure of the evening: two cheese (brie?) gougeres that were overfilled and lacking interest.
Still working through the amuses, I was presented with a crystal ball filled with pink grapefruit cream and champagne foam. While foam is properly being edged off the gastronomic stage – having had its fifteen minutes of culinary fame – foamy champagne was a novel and witty retort. It was a memorable palate cleanser before my palete needed to be cleansed.
This was followed by still another amuse: a sweetpea veloute served with tiger shrimp. If not as creative as the remainder of the meal, it was silky smooth and the essence of an English spring.
Finally we reached the meal itself, which without being experimental, captured the best and brightest of modern European cuisine. The ingredients, of which there were many, blended in inspired and startling ways, and, in fact, I was profoundly grateful that I avoided the tasting menu so that I could enjoy these plates in full.
As my appetizer, I selected maple-caramelized sweetbreads with turnip, pistachio, ox tongue (!), and maple jelly. Although such as dish had danger of being an early, cloying dessert, the sweetness was mellow and added a complexity and richness to the subtlety of the rest of the ingredients, rather than overpowering them.
For a main course, I selected braised turbot with peanuts and pistachios (this turned out to be an all-pistachio dinner), sea scallops, cos lettuce, asparagus in a crackly pastry, and vanilla. While I would have preferred my fish to be more translucent, such is rarely how fish is served in the British Isles, and the fish was in no way overdone (even if such cooking involves dancing on a tightrope). The remainder of the plate was splendid, and complemented the mild white fish to excellent effect. Chef Clifford is particularly to be commended in his attention to texture.
I passed on an extra dessert – a tiramisu – too much caffeine: but it was a beautiful display.
Finally a triumphant close: warm braised cherries with pistachio (again!) ice cream with a cream filled pistachio “cannelloni” shell and underneath chartreuse tagliatelle. Perhaps the meal was dominated by nutty tastes, but they were remarkably sophisticated with the herbal echoes of chartreuse as a counterpoint.
The Midsummer House deserves attention and not only in the long evenings of June. The location and size of the restaurant militates against a third Michelin star (it is not really in position to be a “destination” restaurant), but I have no hesitation in preferring it over two London standards The Square or Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, and, if not as creative as Gordon Ramsay or The Fat Duck, capable of equaling them in pleasure and bettering them in cost.
The Midsummer House
Cambridge, United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 369299
review: heart of tartness… (willows inn)
5 weeks ago