Restaurant 22 Cambridge
The exterior of Restaurant 22 gives little away from across the road but get a little closer and the fact that it hides a restaurant becomes all the clearer. It’s a small victorian townhouse with a regal black door and ornate stained glass windows depicting various bottles of wine, fruit and chicken on a nondescript Cambridge street, busy with traffic. The lanterns either side of the door lend it a special kind of victorian-influenced ambience in the evening, and the interiors, classic in decor and muted in colour welcome you in with an odd mix of traditional restaurant and a touch of your favourite prim and proper, though slightly chic and modern Grandma’s home.
We were seated upstairs which includes a trek up a homely staircase and a closer look at more of the house, halls decorated with local art and photography, and a warm scent of food throughout. It quickly makes one feel as though we’ve been welcomed, courteously and happily into someone else’s — in this case Sam Carter’s and Alex Olivier’s — home for a quiet private dinner.
We ordered the 5 course menu and the welcome bites quickly followed. Fat Nocellara olives ready the pallet for what’s about to come and a pretty tart made from creamy English pecorino, delicately crowned with alliums and fresh flowers enlivens the taste buds. But then a beautiful Highland Venison tartare set between two crackers arrives and everything else is forgotten. The venison is a luscious ruby red in colour, melt in the mouth soft and expertly enhanced with a bouquet of bramble, sorrel and juniper for a perfectly balanced tartare that’s better than any in recent memory and one of my favourite dishes of the night.
Througout the evening, the presentation is thoughful, creative and elegant, ingredients are showcased in their primal forms next to delicately rendered sauces and quality meats and fish, and bright colours shine through like those of the tidiest of arists colour pallettes — everything is clean and structured, thoughtful and exceptionally pretty.
The bread arrives next and it’s striking. Both slices look soft and crumbly, not at all unlike little slices of cake at an afternoon tea and each with their own paired quenelle of butter perched on the side — one slightly darker than the other. The malty stout and treacle bread stands out and is divine with the accompanying yeast butter, while the rosemary focaccia is as soft as you’d expect with a hint of salt and olive oil, and so moreish with the slightly sharp, tangy finish from the cultured butter.
Next a beetroot tartare topped with apple, beetroot and powdered horseradish provides a melody of earthy and wild flavours that leads perfectly into the fish course. The fish tonight is a meaty Cornish Stonebass, which isn’t a great choice if you’re particularly mindful of sustainability but Chef Samuel Carter treats it magnificently. It’s perfectly prepared and cooked with delightfully crispy skin — served skin up with a thick, tender and fleshy wall of meat below. It’s served with fennel and courgette and a fabulous addition of crispy chicken skin piled up beside the fish that provides a wonderfully complex and salty contrast to the other ingredients on the plate.
The main is a simple looking but robust dish of Dingely Dell pork, turnip and apricot sat on a dark bed of what was quite possibly the best black pudding I’ve ever tasted — it was moist, delicately spiced and had just a touch of that sanguine, irony, typical black pudding flavour, while the pork was soft and rich in flavour, enhanced by the apricot sauce and a thin slice of crackly skin that added a welcome layer of texture to the dish.
The dessert arrived as a thick wedge of sticky dark chocolate, topped with a layer of raspberry and a quenelle of raspberry ice cream perched beside it, and was brought to life with subtle hints of tarragon. While a little safe, it was a tasty, decadent end to the dinner.
Throughout the evening, service is graceful and helpful, with good explanations as to the provenance of many of the ingredients. And things at Restaurant 22 just seem to run smoothly for the entire evening.
Easily one of the best in Cambridge and one to watch.
Restaurant Twenty Two | 22 Chesterton Rd, Cambridge CB4 3AX, UK