Every now and then I get to venture out of London to eat. My latest day trip required me to go behind enemy lines and infiltrate the cobbled streets of Cambridge to reach Midsummer House, Daniel Clifford’s two Michelin starred restaurant on the banks of the Cam.
This place is hard to find – there are no big signs outside and it is literally just a small house with one little menu board on the garden wall and Midsummer House is oh-so-subtly carved into the stone above the door. You walk in to what is essentially a lovely little house with the downstairs converted into a small dining room with views into both the compact kitchen and garden. Every now and then you see chefs nipping into the garden to check on pineapples roasting in Big Green Eggs and pop into sheds with smoke billowing out of their doors, which is very intriguing.
The room itself isn’t that exciting but the food certainly is. We popped in for a light five-course lunch on a particularly drizzly day a few weeks ago but nothing revives like a nice G&T and something to amuse the bouche, in this case some puffed potato slices filled with a delicate cream and topped with chives and a small bacon brioche (pictured below). That and some excellent sourdough.
The menu was just right for a gloomy autumnal day, starting with a beautifully silky pumpkin velouté with à la grecque mushrooms and delicate parmesan gnocchi. I’m rather partial to pumpkin at this time of year, perhaps as a result of spending a year in Austria when Kurbis-Saison (pumpkin season) is a big thing. Everything is pumpkin, literally everything – the oil, the seeds, the soups. Anyway, this was delicious but not quite as good as the ravioli of pork belly that followed. Perfect pasta (pictured below) bursting full of soft, rich pork belly with a smooth white onion purée and small cubes of apple jelly and the odd thyme leaf – this was my favourite course of the entire meal. Everything combined seamlessly, no conflicting flavours here rather a very well rounded dish.
The next course was roasted Cornish cod with cauliflower, pink grapefruit and mussels. Translucent cod, sweet muscles and a lovely variety of textures from the cauliflower made a lovely fish course. I personally wasn’t that excited by the addition of the grapefruit but can appreciate how the tart citrus flavour cut through the richness of the sauce.
Luckily, the courses are very well paced here so you have a little time to ruminate on the previous few dishes before plunging into the next. So, after a nice pause and the chance to have a good look at the other diners in the room our pot-roasted pheasant with confit leg, pumpkin, hazelnut and Madeira arrived. The pheasant was beautifully tender and juicy, the jus rich and the pumpkin and hazelnut welcome contrasts to firstly the colour and then the texture of the dish. It was also a sensible portion – there is nothing worse when tasting a menu than being presented with an overly large meat course after the myriad smaller ones that have come before.
I’m not a pudding girl but the mango and passion fruit delice with freshly zested lime (this is done at the table) was very enjoyable (pictured above). Personally, I preferred the incredible tea and coffee accompaniments. These were little diamonds of something that tasted very similar to doughnut, dusted in sugar and cinnamon and served with two little dipping sauces of the apple and custard variety. Scrumptious.
Yes, when you turn up outside it does feel like you are just popping over to your Nan’s house on Midsummer Common for tea but you are in fact stepping into a very professional restaurant as soon as you reach the quaint porch. The staff are well informed and friendly and the food is wonderful. I didn’t encounter a silly amount of foams, dusts or things that have been dehydrated as you often do in Michelin starred places, just cleverly composed dishes cooked with great care. It is very much worth visiting if you are in the area and, to be honest, very much worth making the one hour journey from King’s Cross for.
For more information, go to www.midsummerhouse.co.uk