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A cup of tea and a kitchen, leading to two Michelin stars

June 3, 2014

Sorry if I gave you the impression from the title that I’d captured the biography of a Michelin-starred chef on my blog (but oh my, wouldn’t that be good?!). No, this is merely the tale of my food trail back in March and April, at a time when I was too busy eating and drinking to put fingers to keyboard and tell anyone about it. But it was all too good for me not to share the experience and recommend it to others.

We started off in March with a visit to the tea rooms at Fortnum and Mason (fortnumandmason.com), as it was my birthday and after seeing some programme on the box about the Queen visiting F&M, I realised I had never been there. Not that I often try to follow in the footsteps of the Queen; it’s all too humiliating that nobody knows who I am. Except for my family and friends; in fact, my friend Alison would love any excuse to get her Union Jack bunting and flags up – I should suggest it for my next visit.

But where was I? Oh yes, tea. Bizarre choice of birthday celebration for me really, what with the fact that I don’t actually like tea. Or coffee for that matter. But I knew they’d sell champagne, so I rounded up a wonderful group of friends and family and off we popped to London. The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon is a decadent set of rooms, quite befitting what you would expect from Fortnum and Mason – I almost felt like I’d been transported back to the 1940s. Sandwiches, cake and the most sublime canapés were in abundance. And despite us confusing the waiting staff with a few food allergies within the group, they handled our large party rather well. I imagine it’s a completely polished experience for a party fewer in size.

Afternoon Tea

The following weekend, I was back in London, with my ‘Posh Scoff Lunch Club’ dining companions. The choice of venue was a previously unknown restaurant to me; Kitchen W8 (kitchenw8.com) in Kensington, but wow, it’s definitely one I would recommend and will go back to. Not least because it’s got a lovely pub, The Abingdon, (theabingdon.co.uk) two minutes down the road, with the most charming employees and décor. We were treated like princesses, which is just what you want on a Saturday lunchtime jaunt into the Big Smoke!

In Kitchen W8 itself, the menu offered a wonderful range of seasonal and lesser-known ingredients, and presented excellent value through its choice of lunch menu. Whipped polenta was certainly something I’d not come across before but was a truly joyful eating memory. The rabbit I had with black carrots and morels for my main was less than a hop, skip and a jump away from being perfect. All this, combined with attentive but not overbearing, employees and a relaxed and conversation-provoking décor, made for a very special lunch club outing.

And whilst on the subject of ‘special’, I want to move us now to Cambridge and Midsummer House (midsummerhouse.co.uk), the destination of my birthday present from my wonderful husband. Accompanied by two very special friends of ours, who were also celebrating in the form of their third wedding anniversary, we arrived at this beautiful destination by the river Cam, not entirely sure what to expect as the set seven or ten course menu changes regularly. With no hint of exaggeration, I can honestly say that from the moment we arrived to the moment we left (and even a few moments later as the sommelier dashed after us with some takeaway chocolates) it was the most amazing, definitely top-of-list, dining experience I’ve ever had. Yes, it came at a price and yes, the food wouldn’t suit everybody’s tastes, but boy, I’d arrived at the place I hope is waiting for me when (if) I enter the gates to heaven. It was perfect.

The waiting staff were brilliant – friendly, attentive and timely – they knew just what we wanted, just as we wanted it. And the sommelier – he was a treat! I took a photo of all of the dishes so that I could remember everything I’d eaten (which gets harder and harder the more wine I’ve drunk) but there was no frowning from the staff. In fact, at one point, they were even posing for a photo. How lovely that they joined in. The food itself was art in its finest form – it looked, smelt and tasted like a master had out done himself. Hats off to Daniel Clifford and his team. I’ve just flicked through the photos to remind myself of my favourites; it’s a tough choice between the quail with shallot purée and the Wagyu beef with braised oxtail. All the additions in form of the amuse bouche, canapés, handmade chocolates and extra desserts also lent themselves to making the experience.

But my favourite touch of all was not even about the food itself, which was enough to get me so excited I’m talking in a high pitch in my head as I write this. No, the best thing for me was when we left!

On one visit to the ladies I noted that there was an empty coat stand in the hallway, quite near to the entrance. I remember thinking it odd that there was nothing on it. But all became clear when we had paid our bill and moved to the entrance hall, expecting to find someone to ask for our coats. No need. There they were, magically awaiting our departure. No waiting, no hassle. This is just one of those touches that for me demonstrates that the team at Midsummer House have thought about the customer experience from start to finish and have addressed it accordingly. Well worth a visit ( = understatement).

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