Sunday, 8 July 2012

Review: Cambridge Places: Dinner at d'Arry's Cookhouse & Wine Shop

I've just spent a delightful, yet very wet, weekend entertaining some lovely London friends and showing them the famous sights and foodie hotspots of Cambridge. Seeing my home city through the eyes of a tourist reminded me of many of my favourite places, old and new, and I loved sharing them with the gorgeous and fun Mr and Mrs C. Making time for a long, leisurely dinner at one of Cambridge's finest eateries was high on our to-do list so we ended a fun afternoon of Olympic Torch Relay celebrations with a visit to d'Arry's Cookhouse and Wine Shop on King Street...

Whetting the appetite with bread and olives

The wonderful city centre bar and restaurant d'Arry's has been a firm favourite of mine for a while now, perhaps stemming from my love of the building's previous incarnations as a popular, lively pub / late bar during the Rattle and Hum days and the jam-packed, security-controlled rock-indie pub The Cambridge Arms that I frequented in my teenage years. It's almost as if we (the pub and I) have changed with the times together: where we were once partial to a can of Red Stripe whilst dancing to Nirvana on packed, sticky dancefloors, we've evolved somewhat and now enjoy candlelit dinners, extensive wine lists and spending twenty quid on two courses rather than two crates (of beer). Ha. Though I could have spent all evening shocking Mr and Mrs C with nostalgic tales of queuing for broken toilets amidst clouds of smoke and rock anthems, we turned our attention to the d'Arry's of today and enjoyed the stripped wooden floors, scores of wine and Champagne bottles lined up against mirrors and menu boards, and quirky selection of old classroom furniture and wall hangings. Once we got down to the business of checking out the wine, food and daily specials menus, the fun really started. 

We decided to kick off proceedings with a board of bread and olives, balsamic vinegar and oils and crushed peanuts, which was lovingly presented and contained an interesting mix of olives, garlic and chilli. We spent some time looking over the wine list before we finalised our food choices; there is so much to choose from in both cases so we were grateful to the lovely, patient waitress we kept sending away and who also recommended a couple of red wines for us to taste. The restaurant has a relationship with the well-known McLaren Vale, South Australia, wine producer d'Arenberg and, as such, really does have an impressive selection of wines on offer. I try not to state too often, because I know it's impossible to generalise without trying many, many more examples of Australian wine than I have yet managed to, that I'm not a huge fan of Australian (or, in fact, many New World) wines. I'm always more than happy to trust an expert opinion and broaden my horizons so opted for a 2009 The Stump Jump Grenache Shiraz Mourvédre, which we enjoyed almost as much as the handy wine guide provided on each table, with quirky facts about the names and characteristics of the wines. Easy drinking (for a relatively full-bodied red), smooth and delicately spicy, the red was a winner with all four of us - alongside main courses ranging from tomato-based chicken dishes, to pork belly and lamb. 

Sampling the impressive wine list

The food menu on offer at d'Arry's changes regularly and always includes interesting, seasonal specials and hints and tips on wine matching. The cuisine is firmly wholesome British cooking with some contemporary twists and influences such as Asian flavours and European compositions. Well-priced, generous portions are balanced with excellent presentation and modern, tasty combinations of ingredients and flavours. I found the lamb dish from the specials menu to be a perfect example of d'Arry's food at its best. The main course of lamb cutlets, a piece of slow-cooked lamb shoulder, creamy mash and a broth of broad beans, peas and spring cabbage, topped off by a dollop of chive crème fraîche, was skillfully cooked and beautifully put together. The quality of the lamb shoulder was clear - falling apart, tender and juicy, with a subtle charring to the outside - and a great partner to the fresh, crisp vegetables and smooth mashed potato. The cutlets were slightly too fatty in my view but cooked pink, exactly as I like my lamb. Best of all, our chosen red wine complemented the well-seasoned broth and roasted meat very well.

From the specials: lamb cooked two ways

We somehow managed to find the room for a dessert before we headed out onto the rainy Cambridge streets. I shared the beautifully presented Chocolate Brownie with Ice Cream with Mrs C, which we quickly devoured, both of us loving the chewy, soft-centred brownie and black-speckled vanilla ice cream. I would usually choose a cheese board over chocolate with little hesitation but this dessert was a great choice: enough sugar to satisfy my craving for something sweet, without the chocolate being too rich or heavy. Always a sucker for a final flourish to add a little je ne sais quoi to a plate, the dusting of cocoa powder in the shape of a fork brought a smile to my face and had me instantly reaching for my camera. Fortunately my friends are used to me being somewhat preoccupied when plotting potential blog posts!

Beautiful desserts: chocolate brownie with ice cream

For a cosy, intimate dinner, good cooking, wine and the best ingredients, leave the city centre's chain restaurants behind and head to the corner of King Street to sample d'Arry's' delights. You won't be disappointed. 

Enjoy! :-)

4 King Street
01223 505015

P.s. If you fancy combining a dinner with some professional wine tasting advice, check out the Cambridgeshire Wine School's evening and weekend tastings and courses. Many of the wine tastings are held at d'Arry's Wine Shop, a private self-contained dining / tasting room next door to the main restaurant. You can read my review of the Wines of France tasting I attended here and you can also follow the school's founder Mark Anstead on Twitter here.