There’s a lot to love about Cambridge – pristine college buildings, picture perfect streets to wander aimlessly around, great shopping. But it has to be said that eating out there has never really been the main event.
Having lived there for 22 years and had many a birthday dinner out my experience was mainly of chain restaurants with okay cocktails and big salads/pizzas/burgers. The only proper restaurant was Midsummer House – where every student went with their parents on graduation day by virtue of its two Michelin stars and fancy conservatory. For the most part if you wanted to have a great meal you just popped on the train and went to London.
Alimentum has changed all that. I have to admit my expectations were not high, but only because of its bizarre location. Housed on the corner of an tiresome, trafficky road that runs into the city centre with fine views of a new multiplex/mall opposite – this is the last place you’d expect to have a fabulous lunch – never-mind a good night out. It’s a ridiculous bias, especially when I know very well that Cambridge has many terrible restaurants in beautiful locations.
I decided to take my mum and dad for Sunday lunch – a time when lots of expensive-ish restaurants out of London might well be pretty dead. Not so with Alimentum. Within twenty minutes the glossy red and black interior is buzzing with cool 30 something couples, and gaggles of casual looking families with granny, grandpa and a couple of teenage kids in tow. The waiters are warm and attentive, but not annoyingly so, and the three of us quickly agree that it’s very much like those lovely restaurants you go to for lunch when you’re on holiday in rural France.
There getting an amuse-bouche is not uncommon – even if the surrounds aren’t super-plush and on the ground floor of a five star hotel. Here it was just the same. With our gin and tonics we were proffered highly unusual cheese and onion macaroons that were pastel pink and as pretty as any from Laduree.
The menu was interesting but not scary. The chargrilled mackerel with cucumber, sesame seeds and avocado was uber fresh and zesty and the sesame crust gave it a delicious crunch. The ballotine quail with sweetcorn and truffle popcorn was another fun highlight. Chef Mark Poyton joined Alimentum from Midsummer House in 2008 and has used his culinary skills to created a menu with a sparky, fresh approach.
We also loved the sea bream with chick peas, red pepper and black olive and inevitably bickered over the last spoon of the apricot, amaretto and almond Battenberg desert. Although this is probably more than you’d spend on your average Sunday lunch with such an imaginative but equally delicious menu, guess where we’ve booked for our next family birthday?
Alimentum 152 Hills Road
Cambridge CP2 2PE
Tel. 01223 4133000
£22.50 for 3 courses, £16.50 for two