Finally – a foodie oasis in Cambridge’s wasteland of chain pizza restaurants and noodle bars. Alimentum, which has just received three well-deserved AA rosettes, fills me with a sense that perhaps things in this town aren’t really so bad after all; here, at last, is a restaurant which pays the attention to detail you really want to see in a fine-dining joint.
A few factors make Cambridge a disaster for those looking for a good meal. Almost all the commercial property is owned by the colleges, who keep rents high – as a result, chain restaurants are the most likely to find pitches in the city viable. We’ve got a very fluid population, with students appearing and then disappearing for half the year, and tourists filling the town to bursting point in summer, then buggering off again. The size and employment clout of the university means that most of those applying for work in restaurant kitchens often come with experience of working in a college buttery and nothing else – worlds away from the magic going on in kitchens like that at Alimentum. I very seldom eat in the city – London is only 45 minutes away, and there I can find the sort of restaurants I like.
Alimentum has turned things on their head – Londoners are coming to Cambridge for supper, because Alimentum is only 45 minutes from King’s Cross.
The restaurant is run with a strict ethical ethos. This means local, ethically raised meats from farms which are visited by the restaurant owner. Used oil which is collected and turned into biodiesel; dishwasher water which is recycled and used for heating. There’s a Crustastun unit in the kitchen which is used to humanely kill crabs and lobsters, and even the furniture in the beautiful deco dining room is ethically sourced. All this and fantastic food – it’s glorious to be able to indulge yourself and save the world all at once, as you sip your cocktail through a biodegradable straw.
I started with some crisp-skinned, honeyed quail, served off the bone with a savoury little breaded croquette of risotto. Every preparation on the menu is intricate, but showcases each main ingredient – a main course of beef used the brisket, cooked until gelatinous then shredded, pressed, breaded and fried until golden. The fillet, cooked to a juicy medium-rare with a savoury crust, was cut into thick slices and perched on top, everything bathed in an unctuous demi-glace. This is good, good stuff, deeply beefy and gorgeous on the plate and on the tongue.
Dessert was a jelly made from local strawberries. Not too sweet, and intensely fragrant, it arrived in a pyramid, each side tiled with a sliver of Valrhona chocolate, drizzled with an intense 30-year-old balsmic vinegar. If pudding could sing, this would have been belting out Mozart operettas. There’s also a great (and wonderfully stinky) cheeseboard, which the charming waiting staff will talk you through.
This was a tough menu to choose from; everything sounded tempting, and every diner at my table had a plate I just had to pinch something from. The restaurant’s signature slow-cooked belly pork with pig parts was heartbreakingly, stickily, cracklingly good. The wine list (which, along with the frequently changing menu, is available on the restaurant’s website) is terrific, and the Malbec we selected was a fantastic pairing. Cocktails are also really good fun: my favourite was The Cucumber Number, with Hendrick’s gin, cucumber, raspberries and Framboise liqueur.
It’s worth checking the restaurant’s website for their various special deals – if you book for the Tuesday jazz night, you might see me there.