Monday, 18 July 2011

Review: Nanna Mexico

Of all the food cravings I have, the one for spicy, fill-your-mouth-full-of-flavour is the strongest. Sometimes only a steak will do, sometimes I just need the delicate, freshness of fish, but when I need some spice I just have to have a hearty, mouth-tingling Mexican.

Luckily for my cravings, Cambridge has its very own spicy gem. In my book Nanna Mexico on Regent Street is Mexican street food at its best. I love the way it has such an easy-going vibe - you could be en route to a big night out, popping in for a lunchtime bite or grabbing a burrito before going to the Arts Picturehouse. I have been on all these occasions and I have had a great experience everytime.

My most recent visit was the best so far. Unsurprisingly this is linked to the fact that I finally tried their frozen margarita. And it was a tangy, limey, tequilla-fueled treat which hit the stress spot within two sips. They had another new drink on the menu since I'd been last - an aqua de horchata, a cold rice milk with vanilla and cinnamon that is perfect for taking away the heat of their spicier options.

My tinga quesadilla
We tucked in to a tinga quesadilla and a cubana torta on this occasion, as recommended by the charming restaurant manager, Mane. I usually go for the chicken but I have now recognised the error of my ways and it's tinga for me from now on. The winning filling is a spicy mix of chicken and chorizo marinaded in a chilli chipotle - it packs a spice punch and along with the stringy cheese, a fresh guacamole and a smidge of sour cream it would quench my Mexican craving every time. My burger-loving other half went for a torta - a Mexican take on the meat in a bun, with ham, pork, chicken and pineapple. It was his kind of meaty feast. Unusually I was allowed to try some too and for me the pineapple was the clincher - just like the Hawaiian pizza it cut through the salt of the meat and made the Mexican burger a must-try.

Pete's cubana torta

Nanna Mexico is one of those Cambridge gems - we are lucky to have them. It's tasty food, it gets your juices going and it fills you up and leaves you satisfied. Plus if you're really lucky you might catch a glimpse of Mane's dancing! And unless it's lunchtime, or perhaps even because it's lunchtime, always have the frozen margarita.

The best bit: The fact that all of this came in at well under £20. And if that wasn't good enough they also do Twitter Tuesday offers (they are on Facebook too but the alliteration isn't quite there) - just follow @NannaMexico. Plus they offer a great BOGOF offer on their best seller, the Big Ass burrito - just join their mailing list for the offer.

Something to work on: I wasn't a huge fan of the stainless steel plates, something more rustic might be nice. 

Nanna Mexico, 33a Regent Street, Cambridge CB2 1AB. 01223 363439,

Monday, 11 July 2011

Stonkingly good

Walden Local Food market and some of my Stonking produce

As part of my new foodie working life I spend one day a week making up jams, preserves and chutneys for Walden Local Food. They are a weekly produce market based on Butcher Row in Saffron Walden and everything they stock is sourced within 40 miles of Saffron Walden. Every week the lovely market manager, Liz, drops off any produce that they haven't sold and I devise a recipe to use up the glut. It means that whatever I make also uses ingredients within 40 miles (even the jam sugar comes from the British Sugar factory in Bury St Edmunds) It's great fun not knowing what I am going to get and looking through recipes for inspiration. So far I have made jams and curds from rhubarbs, gooseberries and summer fruits, as well as elderflower cordial and some piccalli. There should be a tomato chutney on the way soon.

So far my jams seem to have been the bestsellers and so I thought I would share the recipe for the chunky strawberry jam that I made for the market this weekend.

Chunky Strawberry Jam 

2kg strawberries, hulled but left whole
600g jam sugar
Juice and zest of one organic lemon

Gentle heat 3 tablespoons of water with the sugar and lemon zest and juice until the sugar melts and then add the strawberries. Bring to the boil and leave at a rolling boil for 10 minutes. If you have a thermometer then get the temperature up to 105c. Bear in mind that this is a runny jam to allow the fruit to remain whole so don't worry too much about checking for setting, it won't fully set.

As you can see the final result is a beautiful scarlet see-through jam laden with whole strawberries. Perfect on toast, dolloped over ice cream, or my new personal favourite - served with some warm-from-the-oven shortbread. The most delicious afternoon treat. And if you have some creme fraiche handy then a double dip, creme fraiche followed by strawberry jam is messy but quite superb in my book.

You can buy my Stonking jams, preserves, cordials and more at Walden Local Food market, every Saturday 8.30am - 3.30pm on Butcher Row, Saffron Walden.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

A mid-week treat: 12a club and Bill's Cafe, Restaurant and Bar

Mid-week cocktails always taste better than weekend ones. There's something about drinking on a school night that goes to your head. It feels naughty and you know you'll regret it, but it still brings out the 'I know I shouldn't, but go on, just one more then' in all of us. 

I couldn't have picked a better drinking partner for cocktails last Wednesday night. I headed out to meet Briony Whitehouse, a Cambridge-based fashion blogger who is a bit of a big deal, not that she'd ever say it. Earlier this year she was one of Red magazine's top 20 under 30s and she gets over 50,000 hits to her blog, every month. But aside from all that she had a lovely twinkle in her eye, the most beautiful shoes on and was game for a drink or two.

We met at 12a club, the new-ish (it opened last November) member's only bar in Cambridge. Managed by the charming Mark Pope, the bar oozes sophistication. You can imagine a secret daliance or two playing out here. The decor reminds me of what I imagine an old don's office might look like - plush with lots of leather and a wealth of antiques and collected treasures. 

Butterfly Boston absinthe

A Cambridge Butterfly
They have a range of obscure and exciting spirits behind the bar. Each one has a story and Mark knows them all. Pick a bottle, any bottle and he will regale you with its history and flavour profile. I was attracted to the Butterfly Boston, a vintage looking little bottle containing an absinthe that Mark informed me started life in Boston in 1902, hence the name, slipped away after prohibition and was revived just last year. As you can imagine, it's not your bog standard absinthe, this one is smoother and the aniseed punch is really quite subtle. Mixed with grapefruit and a splatter of violet syrup, it tasted superb in my Cambridge Butterfly. 

Our second cocktail came with nibbles

Briony was rather flattered that Mark had read all about her penchant for pears and had some of the conference variety in specially for her. She had two pear concoctions and enthusiastically sipped each one, letting us know just how good they were. Most cocktails cost around £8 and when you consider that they are made to your specific tastes by a mixologist who really knows his stuff, that is a great price. You would need to factor in the membership fee though.  

Cocktails make you hungry and we heard that Bill's Cafe, Restaurant and Store had opened that night and was just round the corner. For Cambridge dwellers, it's where the Slug and Lettuce used to be. It's the fourth restaurant in Bill's small chain, they started off in Lewes and have now popped up in Covent Garden and Reading too. It prides itself on a great breakfast menu - and they'd be right too, bubble and squeak with mustard mash and fried eggs will definitely draw me back again. 

Bill's Cafe, Restaurant and Store, Green Street
Now I'm not a standard burger kind of girl, I hate them at a barbeque and rarely order one in a pub. It's not that I don't like burgers as a whole, it's just that they can so often be the hardest thing to get right. But for some reason, when it comes to a lamb burger I have to order it. I think it has something to do with a particular lamb burger with goat's cheese and the most perfect crispy chips that I enjoyed on an almost weekly basis throughout university.

The lamb burger at Bill's was a good one as they go. The meat was juicy and surrounded by a nice thick layer of white cabbage and red onion. The bun had a shiny top that hinted at a brushing of syrup or such like and insinuated it must have been made on the premise. One or two chips were a bit soggy and the wooden board was a little on the small side for a knife and fork burger-eater like me, but it was really very good overall.

Briony went for a lighter goat's cheese tart that was laden with pesto and rocket and she declared it a great option. We indulged in a last drink of the evening in the form of a hedgerow fizz; a small glass of Asti or similar with blackberries in the bottom. At just £3.75 it was a nice refresher.

Lamb burger with yogurt and mint
The walls were stocked from skirting to ceiling with Bill's produce - preserves, dressings, oils, chocolates and more. I bought some of Bill's apple juice (£3.45), which came wrapped up like a present and has since brightened my breakfast with its sweetness.

The walls stocked high with produce
Bill's is a welcome addition to the Cambridge restaurant scene, I will be going back for a brunch soon, most probably after a night of cocktails the evening before.

The best bit: 
12a Club What else, the cocktails of course. Everyone in Cambridge should sample one. Get in touch with Mark through Twitter (@12aClub) to pop along for a drink and a show round.

Bill's The restaurant is open fronted to allow you to sit and people-watch along the lovely Green Street. Plus a bursting brunch menu and some nice soft drinks options - a pink lemonade float would have be a definite had we not just guzzled cocktails.

Something to work on: 
12a Club With nibbles, events and daytime opening on the way, there's truly not any obvious flaws. Membership deals might lead to a buzzier feel but then I am told weekends are busy and of course a deal would not really be in the spirit of things.

Bill's So far so good. As long as opening standards are maintained, i.e. sticky tables and tatty menu syndrome doesn't set in, then I will certainly be back.

12a Club, Market Square, Cambridge 01223 350106;

Bill's Cafe, Restaurant and Store, 34-35 Green Street, Cambridge CB2 3JX. 01223 329638;