Review of 'Varsity Restaurant'

Having lived for many years in Cambridge it is a wonder that I only recall having visited the Varsity Restaurant on St. Andrews Street (just down from the entrance to Parker's Piece). The Varsity is a bit of a Cambridge institution, small though it is, it has been host to many a reunion between student and parents, the great and the good. Indeed, I recall seeing Stephen Hawking once being picked up from a meal there. It is as much a part of the city as the colleges.

Interior - Kitchen Door

Now in London I only occasionally visit Cambridge so we decided to make the most of our recent visit for me to finally take in the Varsity so booked an early Saturday evening slot (to be able to catch the bus back to Trumpington park & ride). The long, thin main floor has only a few tables with a long seating bench along the one wall (though I believe there is seating upstairs, alongside the cloak room and toilets), modernly decorated with plain tables, mirrors and ceiling spotlights warming up the interior. Despite the harsh surfaces throughout our visit it was quite quiet and pleasant though the seating was not exactly cozy or conducive, perhaps, to an extended stay and with the bright lighting it was not exactly romantic…

We were seated about mid-way along and shown the menu by our friendly helpful waitress who also helpfully took our coats and bags from us. In the evening there are two menus, one is a “lunch” set menu (£11.00 one course, £15.50 two, and £20 for three, 10) but this did not apply to our visit as it is only during the week, 12pm – 3pm and 5pm – 7pm, so it was odd we were shown it when we were seated. The a la carte menu is on a single sided piece of paper with simply “Starter”, “Main” and “Side Dishes” sections with only a handful of options each, and all at reasonable prices. The alcohol list is similarly brief, a small book with only a few pages.

Before our starters arrived, we were treated to a complementary order of rosemary focaccia which was lovely and moist but a tad on the greasy side. The balsamic provided for dipping was top quality with just the right amount of acidity which balanced wonderfully with the delicious first-press olive oil.

Bread

I decided to start with the “soup of the day” (£6.00) which today was “carrot and buttermilk squash” and was, for me, a standout dish of the evening. Delicately seasoned and wonderfully creamy which went well with another (complementary) serving of bread brought by our helpful watcher.

Soup

My companion was not so lucky with her “Courgette & feta croquettes, minted Greek yoghurt, pickled cucumber” (£6.50) starter which, while tasty, was quite greasy and not, as might be expected, crunchy at all.

Aubergine Croquettes

For our mains, I had the “Corn-fed chicken supreme, sweet potato fondant, Swiss chard, celeriac purée, Nduja emulsion, red wine jus” (£16.50) which was tremendous - The chicken was moist and full of flavour which the sweet potato was only slightly sweet and the celeriac purée providing much needed moisture to join all the flavours. It was only the Nduja emulsion which slightly jarred here with it's tremendously hot notes simply impossible to use without completely destroying the other flavours on the plate.

Chicken

My companion had the “8oz lamb rump, beef dripping mash, pickled carrots, kale, carrot & burnt butter purée, red wine jus” (£21.00) which she indicated was much milder in flavour than you might expect, much more like a beef than lamb – Extremely tender and perfectly cooked (medium rare). The kale was perfectly cooked without the harshness often seen when under.

Lamb Rump

The portion sizes for the price certainly were quite good and the plating was wonderful – Simple, elegant and modern. This theme continued to the dessert course with our brought the small dessert menu with only five options (with two being a cheese board and ice cream). The choices, I have to admit were not great, but I decided to see what they offered so chose the “Dried fruit & orange cheesecake, honey roasted walnut crumb, cranberry gel” (£7.50). Disappointing to say the least. As I feared, the bitter dried fruit and orange simply overwhelmed the dish without even a hint of a taste of cheesecake (though this could be because of it's small portion). Even the roasted walnut crumb could not in any way provide any sweetness to the dish. Everything was prepared nicely it just did not taste good.

Cheesecake

My dinner date chose the “Chocolate sponge, biscuit crumb, espresso cream, vanilla ice cream, toffee sauce” (£8.00) and had slightly better feelings about it. She indicated the chocolate sponge was quite “coco-y” (tasting like coco powder rather than chocolate), and she could not taste the espresso.

Chocolate

Throughout the evening our service continued to be charming and warm, without being overbearing or trying to push us out the door. Willing to chat about anything as well as the menu. We felt very welcomed.

At £80.70 (not including service) it was a reasonable price for two people, three courses each and drinks. Despite disappointment on several of the dishes I would be happy to return…but perhaps avoid the dessert.

Interior

Rating:

Review Date: 2019-11-16


Cuisine: American/British

Address: 35 St Andrew's St, Cambridge CB2 3AR ENGLAND

Location: Cambridge (England)

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Telephone: +44 (0) 1223 356060

URL: http://www.varsityrestaurant.co.uk/