Based in Cambridge, Alimentum joins the small but growing band of fine dining restaurants in the city. Marc Poynton, the Chef Patron, came from Cambridge’s Michelin starred Midsummer House, before moving to Alimentum as Head Chef in 2008, and becoming the Chef Patron in 2010.
Mark has developed a very steady and loyal local following, as well as an increasing number of visitors keen to try his developing style. I was lucky enough to find myself in Newmarket for the races, and Alimentum went straight onto my list of restaurants to visit. The promise of such culinary riches also tempted along the very talented Mr Paul Winch-Furness, and it is his handywork you see here in this article. We arrive separately, both windswept, but are quickly ushered into the warmth inside. There is a lobby bar, all very plush and smart, and giving way to the restaurant. By using the same scarlet colour palette, the two spaces are neatly combined, but are also quite distinct – two ends of the same spectrum, and very polished.
In this smart bar we chat, while little treats are put onto highly polished mirrored tables – salt and vinegar popcorn, distinctly vinegary and definitely more pleasant than it sounds, paired with smoked paprika and hummus macaron – the smoked paprika induces that memory of prawn cocktail flavoured crisps, but the hummus grounds it, giving it a more satisfying flavour.
At the table we decide to have a tasting menu, and begin with a pea mousse with cottage cheese, lemon and ham – this is light, vibrant, with the acidity of the cheese balancing the creaminess of the pea mousse. The whole dish is topped with crispy Joselito gran reserva (one of the finest jamón ibérico de bellota).
This is followed by new season asparagus with a hen’s egg: there is asparagus puree, raw green asparagus, barbecued white asparagus and a confit egg (in rapeseed oil at 62º for those of you who like these details, the same temperature as sous vide, but here more delicate,silky and flavoured by its rapeseed bath). There is also a slice of truffle brioche, a pickled morel, a goats curd ice-cream and grated truffle to top the dish. I have eaten at least two other variations of this dish in recent months, but here the morel and the goats cheese take it in a different direction, adding depth and contrast to the overall composition.
Next sole, with a toast puree and a pickled fennel puree, silky leeks, pickled grapes, semi-dried pickled grapes, and soused fennel topped with a yeast foam. The yeast foam is piquant and lifts the dish, whilst the fennel and grapes add a sweet sharpness to the soft and delicate fish – a perfectly modern elevation of a classical sole Veronique.
This is followed by a crab meat and scallop mousse, encased in a translucent cylinder of pink-grapefruit jelly, with shards of charred spring onion, prink grapefruit, a stack of crabmeat in marie-rose sauce, and a cube of pressed chicken wing. The combination of fish with umami rich chicken is becoming increasingly popular, but here the pink grapefruit with its strong acidity cuts through the dish – I felt it somewhat overwhelmed the delicate mousse – but it is an interesting combination. Then pressed duck, together with a stip of succulent barbecued duck breast, beetroot quinoa, turnip and orange puree, little turnips dressed with turnip leaf, a beetroot gravy and roasted beetroot, both red and yellow.
Here the menu steps up a notch, with increased flavour and intensity. Though I would not have described the duck as particularly hitting that umami button, it did certainly fully round out the meal, and the delicacy of the turnip, and the sweetness of the beetroot were not drowned out by the savouriness of the meat, a good combination – with the quinoa adding texture and earthiness.
Pre-dessert is a passionfruit curd and granita, with a coffee tuille and coffee ice-cream, and a saffron meringue. This was a perfect dish – the light but intense acidity of the passionfruit cuts through the rich and rounded depth of the coffee elements, and the metallic saffron tips the scale in a different direction, so that it’s not simply a contrast between the other two flavours. Texturally it is a perfect contrast between cold, smooth, zingy, and crisp too.
The second dessert of a dark chocolate pavé, with a breadcrumb, maldon salt and olive oil crust, caramelised puff pastry at the base stuffed with popping candy, together with a pear sorbet and pear puree on cocoa nibs. The chocolate mousse was intense and smooth, and the textural elements cut through the density. Little cubes of pear scattered the plate and the pear sorbet refresh the palate in-between.
The petit four were a cassia bark jelly, a coconut and lime truffle, and a ‘seared’ marshmallow. I must admit that I did not try any of those, but given that Paul promptly finished them all off I can only but assume they were pretty good. I did look though, and the jellies were perfect cubes, the chocolate glossy with its brush of pink lustre, and the marshmallows suitably squidgy.
The service at Alimentum is extremely professional and well-informed. It is a good looking room, and I am sure the intense scarlet silk elements look very rich in the evening, though they brought warmth during the lunch service too. Mark’s cooking is everything it should be, both accomplished and experimental, it shows that thought has been put into the menu. The dishes change frequently with the season, the chef always striving to achieve new heights. There were a number of dishes I thought were taken beyond those offered to me in other restaurants of a similar standard, and I think we can only expect greater things from Mr Poynton in future. If you are going to Cambridge, Alimentum must be on your list of places to try. Indeed given that Cambridge is a scant 45 minutes from London by train, I would argue it’s worth popping up for lunch, and for a wander around the ravishing architecture of the old town just a few minutes away.
152-154 Hills Road
Cambridge, CB2 8PB