Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Review: The Tickell Arms, Whittlesford

The new and improved Tickell Arms
And so, finally, The Tickell Arms in Whittlesford is back in business. The last time I went along (just a few weeks before it shut for over two years) it was in a very sorry state. It was charming, quaint and very lovely, but in a dilapidated sort of way. The trees were growing through the conservatory roof and the bar area looked very old and tired. But we still loved it, the food was pretty good and without sounding too much like a Disney fairytale, we had an enchanting evening.

The reclaimed furniture
After various rumours of takeovers and re-openings it was finally announced earlier this year that the Cambscuisine group had taken over and that the new and improved Tickell Arms would open at the end of May. The group already run four successful pubs including the two Chophouses,The Cock at Hemingford Grey and The Boathouse in Ely.

As it turns out it opened on Friday 1 June(a day over schedule isn’t bad going if you saw just how much needed doing). Assoon as I spied Mr Oliver Thain’s (from Cambscuisine and well worth a follow) pictures on Twitter on Sunday evening I convinced our band of Jubilee visitors to head there for lunch on Monday. So here's my verdict…

The décor is tastefully done, with almost all the original features restored in a sympathetic style. Some of the charm of the old place has been lost, but I think that’s inevitable when bringing something up to date. Plus, realistically the only other alternative was that it was left to fall down. The new owners have kept lots of touches that harken back to the days when the legendary Squire Kim Tickell was at the helm. For example they attempted to restore the old beer pump handles to working order but when that didn’t work, rather than get rid of them, they installed them as a centre piece in thebar area. In the snug room off the bar they have hung a copy of Tickell’s rules(no long-haired lefties and no men with earrings being some of the favourites) and his original crests. On our visit some locals who remembered the Squire well told us that the original rules had a rude word printed in large print at the top to make sure visitors’ attention was well and truly grabbed on the way in. (There are so many stories about Squire Tickell that I won't try and recount them here, plus they are not mine to tell. If you want to know more just pull up a pew in the bar and talk to a Whittlesford resident.)

Squire Tickell's infamous rules

The bar area

The old beer pumps installed on bar table
The food we sampled was top-class gastro pub style. It’s seasonal, hearty and very nicely presented. I would say it's just what you fancy nine times out of 10 when you go out to eat. Good, down-to-earth stuff, served in a decent portion and with fancy twists here and there. And with a set menu at £12 for two courses and £17 for three from Monday to Friday it’s very well priced for a mid-week supper out. My beetroot and goats cheese tian was a stand out dish for me, as was the duck parcel (both starters) and the men in our party thoroughly enjoyed their bangers and mash. We enjoyed a few bottles of the Malbec round the table and it was highly quaffable. We couldn’t find room for dessert this time around but we will do on our next visit.

Coarse chicken liver paté       

Beetroot and goats cheese tian

Posh bangers and mash

Chicken breast with tarragon risotto

I am chuffed to have such a great pub and restaurant within cycling distance of our house and I am quite sure we will become regulars. In fact I am planning our next visit very soon – mainly because I want to try someof the snacks they offer in the bar area. Pork scratchings are enough to get meon my bike any day of the week!

TheTickell, 1 North Road, Whittlesford CB22 4NZ. 01223 833025, cambscuisine.com/the-tickell-whittlesford

Monday, 23 January 2012

Review: Balzano's delicatessen and café

One of the best things about being pregnant in January is that you can completely and utterly ignore all detox and diet resolutions. I'm already not drinking - except for the odd half pint of Guinness and black, purely for the iron content of course. And the idea of giving up cake or chocolate is simply laughable; they make up about 60 per cent of my diet at the moment. So for me and baby A, January is all about the cake. I've been trying out quite a few local spots and will blog about them all, but for now, the all-new Balzano's.

Tea and cake visit one: Balzano's

I met a lovely foodie friend (@VanessaFarrow) recently for tea and cake at Balzano's on Cherry Hinton Road. I have to admit that before our visit all I knew about the delicatessen was that their bread was unbeatable. Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop (@gogmagogshop) sell their granary cob and I can't get enough of it. With cheese, with a slab of butter, or best of all, with a bowl of hot chilli.

I'd heard all about the new cafe and the refurb late last year and been told it was lovely. And the rumours were right; Balzano's new look reminded me of the trendy Notting Hill delis that I frequented in a past London life. All the fixtures and fittings are a nice mix of modern and quirky, with wallpaper that you'd never be brave enough to go for yourself, but that completes the look perfectly. There's a big communial table to perch at while you have a coffee and lights that could have come out of a space ship. As for the deli itself, there's gleaming white shelves stretching the length of the shop, laden with lovely products and a cold cabinet full of various cheeses and charcuterie.

The lunch options were rather limited - from what we could work out it was a sandwich of your choice, filled with anything from the cold cabinet. Toasted or un-toasted. I had a simple Montgomery's cheddar and English roasted ham sandwich and my friend had aubergine and cheese toasty.

Cake options were numerous though. In my current baby-oven state all I want day and night is chocolate cake. And Balzano's devil's chocolate cake didn't disappoint my cocoa craving tastebuds. The cake was dense and soft, the icing chocolatey without being sickly. I could have had another slice.

The best bit: The overall look and feel of the place, it's fresh and modern and just what that end of Cambridge needs.

To work on: The lunch options - there's not a lot of choice yet and more hot options would be nice.

Balzano's 204 Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge CB1 7AW. 01223 246168, facebook.com/balzanos