Restaurant 22, Cambridge, review: Converted Victorian townhouse that makes you feel at home
Excellent service that makes you feel right at home comes as standard at Restaurant 22. That and an exquisite menu make it worth the trip to Cambridge
There aren’t many restaurants that make you feel immediately at home, but it’s always a pleasure when you do. Most people think when you go to a restaurant you’re paying for the food and wine but you are, in fact, stumping up to spend some time in someone else’s property. After all, they are renting you out the space in their extended home for the duration of your meal.
That’s exactly the feeling you get at Restaurant 22 in Cambridge, so called because they’re at 22 Chesterton Road, though you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking it’s down to the number of covers. It’s a tiny restaurant, the sort of place an estate agent would describe as cosy, but make no mistake, it’s not a bad thing here. It makes for a room that is extremely intimate, yet at the same time airy and pleasant to spend a couple of hours of a summer weekend afternoon in.
Such intimacy also allows you to connect with the restaurateurs to a degree not afforded in most places at this level: Alex Olivier and Sam Carter, the husband and wife team that runs Restaurant 22, are on the floor and in the kitchen downstairs, respectively.
You can see firsthand how much they care about making a success of it, presenting the dishes and carefully explaining the provenance of the ingredients.
The care fully shines through to the regularly changing dishes, offered in the form of a five-course or seven-course tasting menu, or you can go a la carte. At £35 or £45, the tasting menus offer an outstanding bit of value and you’d be ill-advised to miss them.
It starts off with snacks, taking small plates to an altogether more tiny place, but perfectly sized to get your appetite in motion for the rest of the meal. Best among these is truffle macaroni cheese, a nugget of fried pasta incorporating gorgeously salty cheese and an outstanding truffle flavour. One bite, and it’s gone. The beauty is in the fact you want more but it sets you up for the next quick bite: plump nocellara olives followed by stilton gougeres.
As quickly as those have disappeared, bread appears on the table. There’s a choice of focaccia or Guinness bread, both more cake-like in appearance, with their own separate butters to complement. Both are exquisite, but it’s the Guinness bread with Guinness butter that stands out. Think a Soreen malt loaf, complete with the chewiness, yet warm and outstandingly umami-laced. The rest of the menu changes often but, if they have their wits about them, this bread will appear every day for the rest of 22’s existence.
At this stage, it feels like the meal may have already peaked and the only way is down, until the starter of locally grown asparagus is presented. It’s served topped with a smoked duck egg which has been grated, alongside toasted hay mayonnaise. With every bite I’m left scratching my head as to how so much meaty flavour has been imparted on this vegetarian dish. And the grated egg adds a wonderful texture which is somehow both alien and incredibly familiar.
The fish also reaches these highs: a confit fillet of sea trout with the texture somewhere between cooked and sashimi, topped with a beautifully fresh foam. The Jersey Royal potatoes and trout roe elevate an already superb dish into the realm of dream courses. It’s spring on a plate and quickly finds its way into the list of best fish dishes I can remember eating.
If it wasn’t clear at this stage, the main course really hammers home the point: the level of cooking here and the ingredients are both fantastic. The simple words on the menu don’t do it justice. Where you think you’re receiving lamb, a potato and mutton terrine, heritage carrots and samphire, you’re frankly undersold on what actually appears. It looks more like a Flegel painting than something on the table in front of you; an expression of colours that hint to deliciousness. How was it? I’m sure you realise at this stage it was excellent, particularly the carrots, cooked in carrot juice to maintain the flavour and ensure it hasn’t been watered down. Superb.
Dessert should also get a mention, even for those of you without a sweet tooth. A mint parfait and dark chocolate sorbet sit alongside each other and the taste is immediately reminiscent of – bear with me – mint Vienetta ice cream. In entirely the best way possible, of course. It’s a hugely nostalgic dish which, once again, shows off a high level in the kitchen.
The restaurant’s location means that it serves a purpose as a place Cambridge students can take their parents but the clientele was reasonably diverse on our visit. Locals have a gem on their hands, while out-of-towners would do worse than visiting Cambridge especially. It’s that good.