I’ve blogged before about how you can find Michelin star restaurants in the unlikeliest, and sometimes most unglamorous, of locations (click here for my post on Sat Bains restaurant in Nottingham) and it would be fair to say that the Alimentum restaurant in Cambridge most definitely ticks the boxes on that front. A 15-minute walk from Cambridge city centre Alimentium restaurant is adjacent to a Travelodge and business park that is home to a Tesco Express, Cineworld and Frankie’s pizzeria. The area doesn’t exactly ooze charm or scream Michelin star. But don’t let that put you off as lurking in the midst of this concrete jungle is a culinary hidden gem foodies will love.
Having read mixed reviews about the food and service at Alimentum I was a little anxious about going for dinner there. I had nothing to worry about as both the food and service were exemplary. Our table was booked for 6pm (the early bird session) and although we were a little late (which wasn’t a problem) we were surprised to find that there weren’t dining alone. Inside the contemporary decor felt like that of a bar (there is a bar area too near the entrance which has live music later in the night) with dark mahogany tables and red glasses.
While we deliberated over the food we were presented with some green olive crackers, a bit like poppadoms in texture. Their saltiness was offset by an accompanying zesty orange mayonnaise. As soon as we had devoured them, as if by magic, warm sage and onion bread and milk loaf appeared, along with a complimentary amuse-bouche of parsnip voluté with a syrupy swirl of apple caramel served with caramelised popcorn. The sharp, sweet tang of the apple worked really well against the rich, velvety soup that disappeared in a couple of greedy slurps.
We were sitting next to a glass window where we could see sous chefs busy at work preparing the exquisite creations. Appetites whetted we were ready to order. Sharps decided on a meat feast. He plumped for a starter of quail which, he said, was the best quail he’d ever eaten – soft, juicy and pink in the middle – braised with meat stock and maple, giving it a sweet, sticky glaze. His main of beef with oxtail ragù, a mound of caramelised onion (onion ash) fortressing the main event of pulled meat was reminiscent of cottage pie.
My dinner was all about the fish. A starter of mackerel pâté, which could easily have been too sickly were it not for the crispy rice and apple pieces, was followed by a meaty chunk of firm halibut. A nutty topping added a layer of texture to the fish which was served with pumpkin in various forms, purée, cubes and curls, giving extra splashes of colour to an already vibrant plate of food – cooked, al dente, shredded cabbage moulded with mayo.
The star dish for me was dessert, and sadly it wasn’t mine (although my hazelnut cake with coffee ice cream and chocolate wasn’t too shabby either). But as usual food envy got the better of me when I saw Sharps’ pudding, a kind of deconstructed rhubarb crumble. Pieces of stewed rhubarb and crumble were topped with a rhubarb sorbet, white chocolate powder and the addition of Coulommier goat’s cheese coated in rhubarb jelly, that looked a bit like kids’ sweets.
What makes Alimentum a hidden gem for me is just how good value for money it is. Incredibly, the fixed price menu is just £24.50 for three courses (lunchtimes and before 7pm as well as all night on Mondays) plus an amuse-bouche and a pre dessert. The à la carte menu coming in at £49 for three courses. Opt for the former and you won’t be short-changed, I mixed and matched and two of my three courses were from the cheaper menu. The reason they are able to keep the prices down, the maître d’ explained, is by using cheaper cuts of meat, such as pork belly, and buying seasonal produce. Plus, the fact that Alimentum isn’t in the heart of Cambridge probably helps to keep rent costs down too. Alimentum, means food in Latin, and this Cambridge restaurant is one hidden gem where you won’t be going home hungry.