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Midsummer House in Cambridge - 2 Michelin stars (2014 review)

Rating: 95.
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The 10.44 train from King's Cross station in London will take you to Cambridge in 46 minutes, and after a brisk walk to the Midsummer Common you are just in time for lunch at Midsummer House, the restaurant of chef/owner Daniel Clifford, located on the banks of the river Cam. I had had a fantastic meal at Midsummer House in July 2012 (see review), so I was very interested to see how things are evolving here. Midsummer House is the proud holder of two Michelin stars, 5 AA Rosettes and currently takes the number 12 spot in Restaurant Magazine's 2014 list of Best Restaurants in the UK.

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday till Saturday (no lunch on Tuesdays). You can choose between a 7-course tasting menu for £82.50 or a 10-course tasting menu for £105, and from Wednesday till Friday the restaurant also offers a 5-course tasting menu for £47.50 at lunch. All tasting menus also have vegetarian options. I had lunch with my husband and a friend at Midsummer House on 5 September 2014 and we all ordered the 10-course tasting menu. *I was recognised.

To start there was a Bloody Mary and celery espuma with some small pieces of celery and dried tomato hidden underneath. A lovely combination of fresh and balanced sweet flavours and some subtle heat in the finish.

This was followed by crispy cod skin topped with a fresh mackerel tartare and a few dots of creamy mackerel mousse and a crisp cylinder with a light and airy duck foie gras mousse and pineapple. Two terrific appetisers with precise flavours; both delivered a great textural contrast.

Next to arrive were two crisp potato soufflés, filled with delicious chive cream and topped with a small dot of lime gel. The final amuse bouche was a truffle eclair with a smooth Brillat-Savarin cheese filling and a coating of trompette de la mort puree. A clever and pleasing combination and I loved the intensity of the cheese filling.

The first course of the tasting menu was blow-torched salmon accompanied by an elegant, cold cucumber consommé dotted with caviar, two small florets of smoked cauliflower, a creamy and foamy cauliflower sauce, and a cucumber 'raviolo' with a salmon and cauliflower couscous filling. Wonderful, fresh and clean flavours, well-judged smokiness and the creamy cauliflower sauce added a nice touch of warmth.

Next was a dish of beetroot and goat's cheese, prepared tableside. The beetroot is baked on open coals and then presented in a baby Big Green Egg. At the table, the dark-red flesh is scooped from the blackened beetroot and then teamed with other beetroot varieties, such as sliced and pickled yellow beetroot, a beetroot sauce and some quinoa crisps. Right before the dish is served, some goat's cheese is flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen, and then spooned onto the plate. Brilliant temperature and textural contrast: the baked beetroot was warm, soft and earthy-sweet, and was complemented wonderfully by the goat's cheese, which in the beginning was on the chilly side, but later on transformed into a wonderful creaminess.

Third course was beautifully cooked confit of pork jowl, served with some crunchy sliced turnip, a buttermilk crème, a turnip raviolo filled with buttermilk cream and some salty Iberico ham crisps and a sublime caramelised turnip puree spiked with grapefruit vesicles. The pork jowl was absolutely divine, with soft meat, a lavish layer of fat and marvellously crisp skin; the bitters of the turnip and the mild acidity of the buttermilk helped cut through the richness of the jowl perfectly.

Fourth course was one of Midsummer House's signature dishes, a composition of scallop, truffled celeriac puree, cubes of apple jelly, freshly grated truffle, green apple julienne and some apple caramel. The stupendously large, hand-dived scallop was of extraordinary quality and was complemented by the elegantly balanced celeriac puree and the different textures and apple flavours. A terrific dish with delightful flavours all around.

Then there was tender roasted quail's breast covered with sliced grapes and celery, accompanied by a smooth shallot puree dotted with crisp croutons. Alongside came a slice of buttery toast topped with dots of chicken liver crème, sliced grapes and pickled shallots as well as a lightly smoked soft quail's egg wrapped in crisp potato string. An original take on the classic quail and grape combination, with a wonderful symphony of elegantly sweet flavours, with a special mention for the divine, bittersweet shallot puree.

On to the sixth course, a beautifully arranged circle of succulent lobster, charred orange and mango, nasturtium leaves, with a lobster Hollandaise sauce and finely chopped mango in the middle. The lobster married brilliantly with the orange and mango: first you get the intense sweetness of all three, but in the end, quite surprisingly, the natural salinity of the lobster comes through. Equally brilliant was the lobster Hollandaise, which had a perfect balance of buttery richness and distinct shellfish flavours, delivering great flavour impact.

Yorkshire grouse followed. Pink and tender fillet of grouse served with a piece of pan-seared foie gras, girolle mushrooms, elderberries and an intense grouse jus, which was spooned over the fillet tableside. The grouse's leg meat, mixed with apple, was served in a cabbage leaf. A wonderful but quite copious dish; great cooking on all levels however and the grouse had a superior taste.

Next up was Midsummer House's iconic Pousse Café and it was as lovely as ever. In the glass are three layers: maple syrup, egg yolk cream and a creamy Jack Daniels foam, sprinkled with finely chopped chives and ground black pepper. When we were commenting among ourselves (jokingly) that we wouldn't mind another shot, the desired second helping arrived almost instantaneously. We were told that similar requests are not uncommon and that the record presently stands at four...

The first of the two desserts was a wonderfully creamy and citrussy lemon posset, covered with a layer of blueberry ice cream, meringue and puree, and topped with a nice a sharp lemon espuma. A lovely dessert with nice, lingering lemon flavours.

This was followed by a very satisfying dessert of caramelised pear, poached pear, candy floss, caramelised puff pastry, frozen pear juice, pear ice cream, onto which some caramelised pear syrup was drizzled. A well-constructed dessert; the pear was equipped with just the right natural freshness to balance the sweetness.

Bottereaux (French beignets) with apple sauce and a Calvados crème Anglaise, to go with our coffees.

It had been two years since my previous visit to Midsummer House and I was impressed with the progress that Daniel Clifford and his team have made. The consistency throughout all ten courses of the menu was striking, with dishes which were complex and detailed but not overdone. Clifford convincingly demonstrates his mastery at taking classic flavour combinations and elevating them to creative, focused and harmonious dishes with considerable finesse. There are no faults to be found in either the execution or in the flavours, even if a certain emphasis on sweetness is characteristic for this chef's style of cooking. As such, he chooses a different direction from many other multiple-starred chefs, among whom there seems to be a certain trend in recent years to focusing on acidity and/or on bitters. Chez Clifford, British produce continues to inform dishes with big flavours and generous portions, but any wrinkles that may have remained, have been ironed out. The desserts have improved, the range of amuse bouches is broader than before and a not unpleasant touch of theatre has been added, both on the plate and in the dining room. Midsummer House is an outstanding restaurant, performing at the top of its game.

Posted 21-09-2014


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