Reviews

Alimentum Cambridge

Alimentum Cambridge review

High street dining is straightforward, you want pizza you go to the Italian restaurant, Pizza Express if you will. It is simple, it does what it says on the tin. You don’t expect Petit fours, or to know which butcher the beef comes from. High end dining on the other hand, you expect a bit more. The service should be spot on, the atmosphere matters. However, you also expect there to be there to be something a bit more. You want to feel the chef has a raison d’etre, and in a great restaurant this exudes into everything. Do I really care if the chef has a passion for organically raised chickens that are massaged daily? No, not really, but I do care if the chef has that passion.

Alimentum, Cambridge, is not what you expect when you first see it. For starters, despite being in one of the fastest growing and upscale cities in the UK, it is located well out of the city centre. It seems to be a location chosen for its rent price, rather than for access to a particular market, given the bus stop filled with students across the road and the massive construction site behind them. It is neighbours with a kebab shop. As we enter I am hoping that the interesting aroma emanating from this street are not being brought in.

When you walk in, however, you are  pleasantly surprised by the stark difference in décor. It is a land of shiny black and dark bold colours. Its clean, its modern, it is largely minimalistic. There isn’t anything dramatic to the place, but that isn’t necessarily a great thing either.

Food, well it is the stand out of the evening. Good food, no, very good food. Chef Mark Poynton seems to be a big fan of veloutes, but he does these well. Mine was poured over a lovely parcel that I think was a mousse with cream and nuts, which beautifully melted together and filled your mouth masterclass in balancing flavours. The mains were enjoyed by all. My fish was cooked perfectly, the skin was crisp while the flesh was perfectly moist. The mix of textures plays well off your tongue, it is a very well thought-out and executed dish. Our desserts, enjoyable, but after a delicious soup and main they really were more of an afterthought to us.

Alimentum has realised two key aspects of successful fine dining restaurants, good staff and good wine. The staff were clearly well trained, and found that balance of waiting on you without bugging the crap out of you. It easily passed the empty water glass test. Its wine list has been thought out, with most bottles being from smaller vineyards and were well paired with the menu.

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(note, I didn’t take the photos above. As I was with guests I didn’t wish to take pictures in the restaurant. They do, however show how nice the food looked)

Alas, with the food, drinks and service, I expect to rate it highly. Yet, there is something holding me back. Its not the venue, although being across from a construction site is not exactly the epitome of culinary venues. It is the vibe, the feeling of the place. There isn’t anything wrong with it, but there just isn’t a sense of anything that unique about it. What is it trying to be? What is Mark Poynton’s raison d’etre? Surely he does not aspire to live in a world occupied by various shades of darkness. It’s a shame, because his cooking and staff deserve a bit more. For now Alimentum is a great venue for a business lunch, or for Cambridge professors to have a nice meal without risking eating next to some students. In reality, if it were in a city with more similarly priced restaurants  it is questionable if people would take notice. It is a restaurant that isn’t quite sure what it is about, other than serving very good food. Maybe that is what it wants to be.

Summary

  • Price for four people for three course dinner on a Tuesday night, with wine: apx £250.
  • Recommended for: A business lunch to impress, to bring a date to, and some of the best value high end cuisine in Cambridge.
  • Not recommended for: Those seeking a strong personality from their restaurants.

Pictures courtesy of Roger and Inspirational Food on Flickr.