Posts Tagged Duck

Midranked…………MidSummer House** // Cambridge

If you have the opportunity to go to Cambridge for a weekend, or even for the day, you should maybe have a stop by the MidSummer driven by Daniel Clifford.

It seems that Midsummer is the only 2 Michelin starred restaurant in the East Anglia, hence by flying by Cambridge on the way to New Market, we had to stop try the lovely MidSummer House.

What to expect here? the level of a two stars? not really….I would be honest. I’ve been slightly disappointed. But I need to elaborate here to be frank with you. I’m maybe as usual very picky and demanding, but isn’t it the level of the two star we’re looking for here? let’s be taking the comparison with the Ledburry maybe in London, or le Gavroche, or maybe perhaps the Bristol or Senderens in Paris, I would say we’re not really on the same level.

Why, would you ask me?

Unfortunately I’ve to say, if the rating of service is for some people not contributing much for the whole appreciation, I’m putting the treatment on a higher level of importance. For a two stars michelin you have almost to expect perfection, and here I’ve to say, I’ve landed into the nice but unexpected succession of errors. From forgetting to move pull the chair for you on the table when you seat, to the usual “can we have some more bread” and not being ask if I need more?! how rude. This very small attentions may seem not worthless for some people, but it’s usually the reason why you have two or three stars. You would not imagine the level or precision that you have to reach for a three star michelin. No question, No noise, No default, everything is flowing and works like a “swiss watch”.

We decided to go for the Market Menu, a kind of lighter tasting menu composed of seven courses. I’ll take the chance to develop all the courses here, as I’ve to say I think it worth the explanation.

The menu started by a very clever and light “mise en bouche” made of a foam of Champagne and Grapefruit, serve in a superb bowl looking almost like a colorful bulb. This foam was a kind of interesting approach compare to the usual savoury little canapé or mini “verines” filled with cold soup which are so common. Here, the surprise comes from the dressing itself as the foam is poured directly in front of you in the bowl out of a syphon and dropped onto the table. Very simple, but chic. Maybe too simple!! …but it was light and sweet.. interesting start for a meal.

Light Colourful Bulb with Grapefruit and Champagne foam

And then the big things starts with a try on a classical, with a Pea velouté, with prawn and seaweed jelly. I’ve to say it has been the best pea velouté I had since I enjoy British food. I don’t know if the syphon as been abused again, but the velouté was light as a foam, full and intense of air. As you drop your spoon in it, it starts to fall like a soufflé. Wicked. The prawn was perfectly cooked i.e. almost raw, cracking and soft. Disappointing on the seaweed jelly, maybe not the most interesting thing. Tasteless and just funny to find those cubes hidden in the bottom of the beautiful cup. One remark here….I’m not a fan of dishes serves without dressing plates. The bowl dress up like this was too plain, too simple, not chic…almost a soup in a candle glass? very odd. Let’s be more creative at this stage.

Pea Velouté with Seaweed Jelly

The second one was the Salmon rillette as said on the menu, vegetable pickles and wasabi. Very interesting concept of rillettes should I say. I would have understood a carpaccio, but here, either I don’t know what are rillettes , or maybe I missed the point. I must admit I’ll pass on this one and consider a late change on the menu (not announced thought) from a Rillette to a carpaccio. As Rillette of salmon would have been more creamy and thick and spreadable on a nice toast.

The global balance of flavour didn’t work for me as well. Why adding vinegary pickles radish and courgette all very strong with the nuance of a very nice salmon? Hence, the fishy element disappear to leave the flavor fully exposed to the pickled veggies. Overall, refreshing, but I would admit is was a washout. Didn’t worked for me, not that it was not good, but just not balanced.

Salmon Rillette, Pickeled Vegetable, Lime and Wasabi

Two courses passed, interesting, full of ideas but not really worked for me.

But now here we are, reaching the level of the two stars. The following three courses were absolutely spot one, full of creativity and talent.

First the simple chicken wings, reblochon and endives. I’ve to say, from the title on the menu you can’t really guess what will land on your plate. Here it was spectacular, beautiful and tasteful. What a weird association. The chicken simply comfit style, falling off the bones (maybe too small). then the red endives, some round spot of endive purée with apple (i think). Then the jus reduction, nicely done (maybe too thick). And then the glassing on the cake was this decent size spot of purée based of reblochon in a sort of “aligot” style, covered of a simple slice of reblochon, soft and matching perfectly the “farmed” chicken. Wicked. And then the finale, an amazing chicken dry skin slice, all over simplicity but perfectly executed. I would love to have that again again…crispy and full of salty flavour.

Confit Chicken Wings, Endive, Reblochon

The following course was simply the winner of the day. The Mullet “en croute” of parmesan, artichokes slightly roasted on the side, almost caramelized, just superb. Then those slice of “poivrade” cut very thin, some other kind of jelly made of lemon and other slices of lemon pickled and some thin “julienne” of parma ham. On top of that, those superb spots of tiny olives purée. The combination was just spot on. The acidity of the olive and the lemon was amazingly matching the fishy flavor of the mullet, cooked to perfection. This has been the best piece of fish I had for a long time I would say.

Red Mullet, Parmesan, Green Olives and Lemon

The last savoury dish was finally a superb “deconstructed” Canard a L’orange (Duck a L’orange) if I may say. Indeed, let’s take the basis of the canard a l’orange and diverge from it a little bit. The creativity here was just superb, those nice light orange scoop of sweet potatoes and orange purée, cooked to perfection duck “magret” and then this very surprising iceberg salad, quickly cooked. I’ve to say i’ve not been a fan of the cherry, but it’s ok, it’s not like if you can’t put it on the side.

Duck, Sweet Potato, Orange Purée, Cherry and Iceberg

So far I’ve been fully pleased by the last three courses. And I was expecting the same level for the desserts. Unexpectedly I’ve to say, the desserts were not been at same level. I would say it was nice, but compare to other two stars, I’m sorry to say that the level was not there.

Landed on the table in front of me another verine (no plate) of a Lemon posset, raspberry jelly and lime. What to say, first of all the emulsion or foam on top was really inconsistent, we had to literally ask what it was. I thought it was a foam of wheat or hop, but the waiter confirmed is was Lime?? at which extend I thought it was maybe lemongrass. However, it didn’t work for everyone apparently, and we had to send it back to make a new one without the foam (bad). The posset itself was nice and rich looking more like a fully rich custard full of vanilla seeds. Very good idea of the crushed frozen raspberry. Somehow, nice….but very risky in a way.

Lemon Posset, Raspberry Jelly, Lime

And the final dessert, I was seriously not expecting that. Seriously too simple for a two stars michelin. Strawberry, Elderflower and Lemon Sorbet?? Even if it’s nicely rendered, I don’t understand the strawberries with an elderflower syrup and some meringue fragments and some kind of sponge cake cubes?? very disappointing on this one. Not the level of two stars. Sorry

Strawberry, Elderflower and Lemon Sorbet

We finished our journey at MidSummer House by having the coffee on the terrace outside. Lovely attention from the waiter. The service at this stage was perfect. Mignardises and coffee, and delicate attention from the chef to prepare some “bugne from Lyon”. Nice

One last remarks, I know sometime starred restaurant are “showing off” but some little details can make a huge difference. Hence this maybe sound silly, but can we have a better selection of bread?! Only two choice of bread? very surprising, even a Business Class on US Airways will do better.

So overall MidSummer was a nice experience, but I’ve to say an up and down flight. Some real “smashes” and some real downfall. I’m becoming more and more picky with the age, and the service seems to be more and more critical and important for me. On the food side, I can’t say I was fully transported as well. Some dishes were really creative, but I will remember the bad ones. I think I’ve not felt the “sparkle” of the unknown product like at GreenHouse recently, or the service quality of a Gavroche.

I’ve to say, compare to other two stars I’ve done, you can’t put the MidSummer at the level of Gavroche, neither Taillevent for instance.

Maybe was it a bad day! I’m doubtful….I just think that the midsummer house had a great potential, but need a push on the management side.

I would recommend the Mid Summer house, but for the same price (forgot to tell my Negroni was cheaper at Alain Ducasse @ Dorchester***) ….the competition is wide open…

By the way, one good tip…if you’re coming by car, even is usually two stars restaurant got a valet, here you gonna have to park your car.

FOOD = 7/10
SERVICE = 6/10
NOISE = 6/10

Midsummer House
Midsummer Common
Cambridge CB4 1HA

Tel: +44 (0) 01223 369299
Fax: +44 (0) 01223 302672

Midsummer House on Urbanspoon


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On the English Riviera…… I can see an Elephant* / Torquay / Devon

I had the chance to go recently for a nice week end for a bday with a big group in Torquay (Devon). What a nice opportunity, alongside wandering on the “marina” and catching the sun, to go and try the “Elephant” of Chef Simon Hulstone, no-one could have resisted.

Chef Simon Hulstone

The room on the 1st floor (akak THE ROOM) is really welcoming and large. Maybe the high ceiling would have deserved some noise reverb material (curtains, carpet) as to contain the echoes in the room. I would say that I’m glad we were on the big table as I can’t imagine the nightmare suffered by the couple on the alongside table. Somewhat it can be very embarrassing if you would enjoy a really romantic diner for two. But it was fortunaly not the case for us….we were the “stars”.
When we arrived on our big table I’ve to say, the view was really stunning, high ceiling windows with the view on the harbour. Superb, and especially as the sunset was slowly transforming the cute port of Torqay into almost a nice Turner painting frame. Sitting down in front of such a wonderful stage was a real treat I have to confess.
After taking seats around the huge table for 18 people, I started to feel the Michelin starred appeal. Nice table dressed up in a perfect style with nice candles. The series of glasses, the cutlery…all was nicely dressed up and I would say normal for this kind of level.

Beets and Curds Candy, golden and Cheltenham beets, elderflower, Vulscombe goats cheese, tansy

But let’s concentrate on the dishes and the overall quality of this restaurant. Among the long tasting menu consisting in five courses I would only develop seriously three of them, and mention briefly the two other ones for I think legitimate reason clarified below.
Let’s start by the first starter (or more to consider as a “mise en bouche”) which was impressive by the design and the colours. Mainly composed of beetroots cylinders dropped randomly on the plate, aside two mini square ravioli (or samosa) filled with nice goat foam. One of the ravioli was light and had the really strong flavour of goat cheese, certainly strong but not strong enough to get a real “wake up” call. On the other side, the yellow ravioli was unexpected and simply gorgeous. What a nice balance of softness from the goat cheese and the really strong flavour of truffle. On top of that, the curd was lightly perfume with elderflower adding some sweetness to balance the truffle. I have to say this dishes was somewhat perfectly balanced, however I would have expected more from the first samosa. But overall a nice success.


The second starter was the one I was waiting the most. Indeed I’ve to say Ham Hock is one of my “besting sin”, so I was already imagining something really ”high class” for this one. From the description as well, I would have imagine a nice ravioli “almost soft as a “dumpling” maybe and so soft at the same time that it would have melted in the mouth.

Ham Hock Tortellini, toffee pea, salted pecans, shoots

I’m afraid to say that, beside the fact that the flavour were quite enjoyable, I didn’t had any chance to found real “artistic” elegance in this dish. I would have imagined a kind of dumpling ravioli, stuffed with a “deconstructed” ham hock. Maybe some cream as well inside, or maybe pushing further by using some bone marrow. I would have enjoyed seeing the green cream from the pea velouté flooding into the ravioli forming a kind of painting in front of your eyes, the green and the white and the pink all mixed together in a kind of Opera. Maybe I was expecting too much. Reality is that the ham hock was dry when I’ve cut the ravioli (use your knife), hence the feeling on the palate, gravelly and dry. I think Simon would have more space to polish this dish in the future.


Halibut Parsnip, lardo, verjus, spring onions, golden sultanas, flowers

The two following dishes were overall well executed and I’ve to say, bizarrely, were for me part of the same kind of flavour group. This was mainly due to the fact that both purées were executed with parsnip and celeriac. Part of same family, with very subtle flavour,  it can be easily be confusing, and even more when the purée is very rich in cream and butter. But the fish (halibut) and the duck were very well executed.

Duck Roasted breast, celeriac puree, pak choi, spiced honey, pain d'epices

The Fish maybe was bit dry, but the verjuice (very young grape white vine vinegar) was helping in this particular case to moist the whole dish. I loved the lardo idea to balance the fishy taste. Great idea.

On the meat dish, the duck was perfectly cooked “rosé” and the sweet and sour combination worked perfectly with the “pain d’epice” (ginger bread). This was complex and subtle and really leveraged by the “duck reduction” (i.e. gravy) perfectly seasoned and rich. Garlic on the background and strong duck caramelised fat. Really nice.


To end up these food carnival, our host decided to swap (in advance) the regular tasting menu dessert (i.e. Passion fruit Cheesecake, vanilla, honeycomb, citrus) for a Chocolate experience, should I call that a kind of diversion on the theme of the “banana and chocolate” tart. Very risky temptation I would say here as if almost every one is usually a chocolate lover (except maybe me!!), not everyone like banana (it’s a fact). On the top of that, the dish was served with a nice scoop of Salted Butter ice cream, this is even more risky.

Chocolate, Chilled fondant, feuilletine, salted caramel, banana

For me, not being even a cocoa lover, the chocolate was mounted literally as ganache (soft and solid at the same time, sitting on a layer of nice biscuit). The banana was double represented here, once with a very clever “lace” of banana, and at same time a banana purée (not really thin and beautiful I have to say) amazingly flavoury (almost like a dark rotten banana – but very tasty), and on top of that the “pacojet” ice cream, salty and creamy. Stunning mix, but some people where really “torn” by this sweet and sour union.
After a long and nice diner at the Elephant I would say that if I’m impressed by some really good idea, I’m somehow struggling to confirm if “yes or no” this place falls into the very special and private list of Michelin starred restaurant. Shall I compare the service, which we didn’t talked as yet? Here I would say is the downfall. The staff was young and inattentive. Some simple request took really long time (ask for butter!!??). and if I compare to numerous other restaurant of this level, this is just unacceptable.

From the pure appreciation from a foodie lover, I can’t say that it was a bad experience at all, just sometime the impression of having an “unachieved” powerful creator in the kitchen but somewhat not going to the maximum of his creativity.

I would recommend the Elephant overall as despite the negative point, I would say that it may remain the only good address within the “English Riviera”. So if you want to enjoy good food for reasonable price, I would recommend it.

But don’t go there with the expectation of reaching the level of one star of our big cities, this will not be the same.

The Room in the Elephant

3-4 Beacon Terrace
Torbay TQ1 2BH
01803 200 044

FOOD = 7/10
SERVICE = 6/10
NOISE = 6/10


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