Cambridge's Finest Isn't Just a University
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because everyone deserves a two-star Michelin experience.
By Tracy Moran
A lot of hype surrounds Midsummer House, the only two-star Michelin restaurant in Cambridge, England. Locals aspire to eat here, and it ranks highly on several international listings. So we were a bit surprised to arrive at what looked like a riverside cottage with bikes chained to its fence. The Victorian front door was open, so we cautiously peeked in as though calling on friends. And that’s where the informality came to an abrupt end.
Looking in at the dining room from the garden with its fairy lights and wooden furniture, the restaurant feels like a large but intimate dinner party. Round tables, enough to seat approximately 64, are arranged with full linens and comfy cushions under eclectic art and lighting. French-accented wait staff shuffle back and forth bearing a seemingly endless parade of silver trays filled with chef-patron Daniel Clifford’s famed concoctions. The British- and French-trained chef, a Canterbury native, is known for flawless, modern dishes that play with sensations throughout — a feast first for the eyes, and then for the tongue. But there’s not really much choice: Diners pick seven or 10 courses, and my menu left the impression that prices were a well-guarded secret. During our visit, the Monacan maître d’, with French-style, tongue-in-cheek snobbery, ran interference for the hefty tariffs — $130 and $160, respectively — revealing them only to my husband. As for the wine, some are affordable, others cost well into the thousands.
Flavor combinations excite without being wacky, and there’s a real lightness of touch when using bold ingredients.
Roger Hart, food blogger
Diners can expect stunning dishes like Cornish crab, fresh pea and lemon, served in a coffee cup, with the pea strewn across the top, a puree hinting of wasabi underneath. Another notable is burned beetroot, cooked on a barbecue, then cored to give up its sweet innards and served with quinoa, mizuna and goat’s cheese — the cheese is frozen with nitrogen to give it added crunch. These tasters aren’t mere light bites, either; by the time the pousse-café, cheeses and desserts roll out, diners are stretching to find room. Local food blogger Roger Hart enjoys Midsummer House, saying the “flavor combinations excite without being wacky, and there’s a real lightness of touch when using bold ingredients.” But he does take issue with the wine list, saying it “feels actively hostile to anyone who doesn’t own a yacht.”
Clifford’s love for his riverside restaurant — which he took over in 1998 with the goal of making it Cambridge’s best — has seen him overcome two floods on his way to netting those two Michelin stars and a legion of fans. Louise Hendon, a former Cambridge University student who now works in New York City as an entrepreneur, fondly remembers devouring grapefruit foam at Clifford’s establishment, yet another example of the cook’s experimental prowess.
The bill can be eye-popping — it’s far more reasonable if you drink water — and some are put off by the price. “The drinks pricing is such a pity,” says Hart, because the food prices are “about right for the quality, and the private dining menus are pretty good value.” But diners clearly don’t mind saving up. Hendon, for one, felt it was well worth the money, noting that “I went several times, even though I was a student.”
So if you’re planning a Cambridge getaway, book early — it can take months to get a reservation — and save those pennies. But don’t worry too much about the cost. After all, like me, you may be delivered a menu sans prix.