It's been a while since a restaurant review has made it on to the Blog. Although not an obvious choice with which to make my return to the world of food blogging, an invitation to the relatively new Marco Pierre White restaurant at Cambridge's Doubletree by Hilton hotel piqued my interest. I'd heard good things about the steak and was intrigued to see what the face of Knorr, also known as MPW, would do with a restaurant tucked away in one of the prime riverside spots in Cambridge city centre.
The restaurant was almost deserted on a Tuesday evening, so the best table in the house was ours. The restaurant is vast, and a little overcrowded, with many central tables seating two or four people and a few tables with velvet banquettes around the edge of the room. Crisp white cloths and candlelit lamps adorned every surface, and super comfortable velvet-covered armchairs welcomed us to our table. We were facing the huge wall of windows looking out to the hotel's back lawn, leading down to the River Cam, a stone's throw from the infamous Mill Pond. Considering the setting, this spot should be packed in the summer months - in daylight, even - but we appreciated the atmosphere, low lighting, and muted glamour of the restaurant against the dark and dreary October night.
Diving straight into the food menu, we found steaks at centre stage as expected. Finest quality, the menu boasted, 28-day dry aged and native breed. A standard, pleasing list of cuts followed: fillet, sirloin, rib-eye, plus a large T-bone and a Chateaubriand for two to share. Further reassurance was found in the classic, familiar accompaniments: grilled tomato, onion rings, and triple cooked chips, with Bordelaise butter, garlic butter, or Bearnaise sauce. The menu extended to a selection of six starters, almost all featuring fish and including one salad, and some side acts to the steaks; solid bistro classics such as an American-style burger, a 1970s chicken Kiev, and a vegetarian gnocchi.
To start we, rather greedily, tucked into a jar of plump Provencal olives followed by a whole baked Camembert (each) with thickly sliced toasted sourdough. It was great. Oozing, decadent, and the stuff of French holidays. It did dawn on me, however, as I spooned and mopped the last of the warm, garlicky cheese, that it was probably a mistake to scoff the whole lot when an equally large main course was imminent, but I couldn't resist. And then there it was: a superb charred rib-eye for one of us, and a great hulking chicken Kiev for the other. Both came with chips - the thick-cut triple cooked ones beating my skinny fries hands down - and we went big on side dishes and tried the seasonal special of cabbage and bacon (in a deliciously rich cream sauce) and buttered spinach. The steak was perfectly cooked and most definitely the highlight of both plates. The chicken Kiev was filling but a little disappointing overall. We wanted more than the dribble of garlic butter at its centre, and the coating was bordering overcooked. Somehow, as always, we found room for dessert and were glad we had. We shared a nice rendition of Cambridge Burnt Cream to round off the meal, not too sweet but incredibly moreish despite our full tummies.
Now the warm glow's subsided, I'm still not sure what to make of Marco Pierre White's Cambridge outpost. The positives definitely shouldn't be underestimated: it's a hotel restaurant very well done. Once past the lobby, the restaurant is very distinctly a restaurant, rather than feeling like an event room of a hotel masquerading as a dining space. The decor is hardly lavish, but it's fitting, very comfortable, and evokes just the right atmosphere of classic brasserie without over playing it. There's a beautiful view of the river - not as easy to find accompanying a good restaurant in Cambridge as you might think - and a relaxed air which is well balanced with good, attentive service. What's more, the menu works. It might need a bit more variety here and there, but it does what it promises. It's a steakhouse (without any gimmicks whatsoever - big thumbs up for that!), and it offers a succinct selection; not trying to please every punter or hotel guest who expects a four-sided menu of every possible world cuisine. Not too big, nor too small. Just right. And then there's the food. It's good. It's generously portioned, too large in places perhaps, and could be seen as exceptionally good value (although most of our fellow diners were, I expect, eating on expense accounts). It's all very nice. But just nice. And there's a massive overuse of vine roasted tomatoes, which I expect I can forgive when I'm craving a good steak and a superb view of the river.
Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar and Grill
We dined as guests of the restaurant, under no obligation to write a review, positive or otherwise.