Midsummer House in Cambridge has been on my list of must visit places for ages and because D and MC are wonderful they took me there for my birthday. It was supposed to be a complete surprise but MC dropped a huge hint so I rather sussed it out beforehand but it was still a fabulous treat and an extremely fine meal. However because my life got somewhat complicated around then I seem to have lost my way in blogging, which I keep promising that one day I will address. Inspired by watching Daniel Clifford not completely excel in the latest Great British Menu I thought I should really start trying to fill some of the gaps in my life from the last few months and a bit of smoke and mirrors from the Cambridge magician seemed the perfect place to start.
After all this time some of the details may be hazy but luckily I have a stack of photos, some fortuitously scribbled notes in my little black book and D’s remarkable memory to fall back on.
So here we are in our finery strolling over the little bridge making our way to the smart little conservatory that adjoins the Midsummer House villa. As we walk over we can see a group on the roof terrace all decked out in their tuxes and we do wonder for a moment if we checked the dress code, but we needn’t have worried on two counts – they’ve got a private room for their little shindig so it’s not mandatory and frankly we don’t look too shabby ourselves anyway!
After perusing the choices on offer we immediately opt for the tasting menu as we’re keen to see Daniel showcase his inimitable talents.
Our first table adornment is a little copper pan of warm cheese scones and some curvaceous bowls of balsamic crisps. Hmmm just-from-the-oven cheese scones, like the warm cheese rolls at Gaucho’s but with two Michelin stars!
Next we have a palate cleanser of Champagne and grapefruit foam in a fancy pink Murano glass dish. This isn’t what I expected with all the swathes of crisp white linen and single black lilies but a lovely surprise!
But clearly I was to be surprised more as the first course of our tasting menu was delivered – on the menu as Cep, Pumpkin and Parmesan this was a delicious Pumpkin velouté with submerged mushrooms and gnocchi. I do so love this tendency for velvety soup tasters, I do adore soup but it is rare that I want to devour an entire bowl. Well certainly as an individual course in a meal anyway, I reserve my soup consuming to a winter warming lunch where I am not saving myself for the delights ahead.
After the Venetian glassware is scraped clean the square plates come out topped with the very elegant Langoustine and King Crab. This is crowned with a little tangle of taste of the sea angel hair pasta; it is a stylish and scrummy seafood starter and is really demonstrating Daniel’s skill.
Next we enjoy the sculptural Duck, Jerusalem Artichoke and Salsify. Ever since I was introduced to salsify by Jeremy Lee I am always pleased to see it on a menu. Our duck is impaled by a wooden skewer so after a little disinterring we get to sample our nugget of duck and smoked duck sliced. Rather duck-tastic I may add!
The glass is back, this time in the form of an etched plate and adorned by an immaculate Sautéed Scallop, Celeriac and Truffle. This plump and beautifully caramelised scallop is topped with matchsticks of apple and has the obligatory and oh so lovely smear of the smoothest of celeriac purées, delicate cubes of fragrant apple jelly and a drizzle of toffee.
To mix things up a bit we have another soup, but in total contrast it is Chicken Consommé, Sweet Corn Snow, Won Ton. I’m not normally a huge fan of Asian broths but this was a subtle little Eastern twist to our feast.
For the fish course we tuck into a meaty tranche of Roast Zander, Red Wine and Nettles. The moist chunks of the whitest flakes of this tasty fish has little sautéed cubes of potato and artful drizzles of a tasty wine sauce to be mopped up with the thankfully non-stinging nettles.
Next our gastronomic tour of Daniel’s mind produces a shot or as the menu explains a Pousse Café. A Pousse Café is a colourfully striped drink normally consumed post coffee as a digestif. This unusual offering has layers of Jack Daniels, maple syrup and egg yolk and chive cream. It is intriguing, thought provoking and rather wonderful.
We are still discussing our first taste of a Pousse Café when a eye catching gold plate is placed before us with a sunshine splash of orange and deep burgundy hues of the Bourbon smoked Pigeon, Iceberg Lettuce, Sweet Potato. The sauce is so rich an unctuous and despite feeling a tad full it is soon polished off.
Our dread that we may exceed our capacity has not dampened our enthusiasm for a couple of shared ceramic dishes of the Artisanal Cheese though we do struggle to finish all the morsels and the sliver of quince jelly we selected.
We are fearing some sort of inability to proceed further but fortunately reading our minds the next course of Vanilla Rhubarb and Apple is the perfect anecdote as it is the lightest snowball sprinkled with a scatter of biscuity crumbs.
We think there is nothing more to astound us but we have underestimated Daniel’s culinary theatre and with no fanfare a trio of perforated dishes are bought to the table entirely shrouded in tendrils of smoke.
As the smoke subsides we can examine our Mango, Passion Fruit and Peppermint Tea Jelly we is refreshing and just the most perfect finale to an extremely special menu.
We linger longer and enjoy our selection from the tea menu accompanied by the flakiest and crunchy sugar dusted Bottereaux which are like the lightest of doughnuts but so much nicer. And of course there are home made chocolates as well, as well as a delicious glass of some honeyed dessert wine.
We leave this delightful cosy little conservatory on the banks of the Cam having enjoyed one of the finest of tasting menus. All the many plaudits gained by Daniel Clifford are definitely deserved; this is a gem of a restaurant, elegantly appointed serving the most fabulous food with fascinating table ware, witty touches and, as we now know, Daniel’s signature smoke! And all in all a truly a magnificent end to my birthday celebrations this week, thank you D and MC and may I add to all the accolades my three very much merited forks.