Isn’t Sunday lunch out great, especially now winter’s lurched into life? My criteria? It’s got to be better than I make myself but affordable and relaxed too. I want to eat a bit too much and chat and linger and well… just one more glass of vino then, go on.
We took our chances at the Nelson. I wasn’t expecting much. I imagined fusty carpets clinging to our feet; dark oak panels full of history and festering secrets. Nope. It’s light and airy. There are beams, chattering locals and roaring fires though. When a bus rumbles past the window it becomes super dark. Seriously, why doesn’t everyone go here?
We’d decided not to bother with starters but the cauliflower soup beckoned and oh, ok then, maybe just a few onion rings.
The soup was tasty but not too heavy, warming but not overly hearty. The brown bread was lightly toasted which made a change from dreary old baguette. The onion rings were slightly greasy but that’s half the point, isn’t it? They’re not supposed to be a health food. I licked my fingers, gazed at the fire and sipped my gin.
Service? Simple but friendly. Order at the bar. Oddly, we were asked – twice, in fact – whether we wanted our starters first, before the main course. Um… yes? Does anyone want their soup on the side to dunk their spuds in? At least they asked, I guess.
So. Beef, cooked rare. Vibrant greens, roast spuds and parsnips plus a big ‘n’ crunchy but still chewy Yorkshire pudding soaking up the decent enough gravy… I was defeated.
We only managed one pudding between us so it had to be the pear and ginger crumble with custard which was just like my mother used to make (that’s a good thing) but I bet the baked chocolate tart would have been good.
With a G&T, a pint, a bottle of quaffable Bordeaux and a cheeky something else after pudding, our bill for two came to around £65. Our cheeks glowing from the fire and our buttons bursting at the seams, we left the Nelson feeling very happy. And, oddly, I’m still thinking about that soup. Lovely. An absolute hidden gem.
I’m always in two minds about Sunday lunch out. It’s a bit of a cop-out; doing a roast at home is easy, isn’t it? And there’s all the lovely leftovers to cook with for a few days after. A cheeky chicken risotto or a lamb biryani. Re-roasted spuds dunked in a fried egg. It’s all even better a few days on.
But then there’s the washing up. The fridge full of stinky chicken that even the dog doesn’t fancy when there hasn’t been time to use it up. Those are the moments I toy with embarking on a mission to find the Best Sunday Lunch Out.
The Cambridge Chop House set the bar pretty high. A stone’s throw from King’s College Chapel, it has a great view (unless you’re in the basement, as we were, but didn’t even care) and means you can also have a sharpener at The Eagle on Benet Street round the corner beforehand. (A pretty decent roast to be had there but that’s another story.)
Between the four of us, we pretty much had a bit of everything. Me? I had the Roquefort, glazed fig & cranberry salad (it didn’t blow my mind, to be fair) before perfectly rare roast sirloin (amazing horseradish and vibrant greens) with a perfectly crisp yet gooey Yorkshire pud. In some sort of pork-ordering calamity, we also ended up with a pint mug stuffed with crackling – currently on the menu as a starter and hideously moreish. Go, just for that!
I don’t eat pudding (I’d rather have a jug of cracking crackling all to myself instead ta) but somehow devoured an Advocaat crème brûlée complete with a dinky gingerbread dude. Wonderfully sweet but with the brandy cutting through, it was so unctuous I couldn’t help scooping out every last molecule with my finger. I don’t know who thought of putting Advocaat into an already-creamy desert but I truly love that person. I actually do.
Ok, so Sunday lunch out is a treat. An indulgence. But I can’t cook roast beef like the Cambridge Chop House. Or do their puddings. And apart from that, the atmosphere is just so great. People watching at its best. The ideal place to while away a few hours – preferably with a pint of crackling. Did I mention the crackling?
Not cheap but worth taking a punt on. Ho ho. See what I did there?
The Sunday lunch bar’s set high. Where’s your fave Sunday eat-out treat?
I felt a bit sorry for Mizu when Wagamama announced they were opening in Ipswich. I steadfastly ignored the new kid on the block until one weak moment on New Year’s Eve, when we decided Wagamama would be ‘nicer’. And yes, she’s the bigger, shinier sister at the pan-Asian party but I tell you what: the food’s not a patch on lovely little Mizu.
Last week, Mizu had put on an extra slick of lippy. A bit of a makeover but nothing flash. A couple of pictures on the walls; a fresh coat of paint. Open a few more hours now, it’s perfect for a quick bite.
Between the three of us we scoffed our way through roast duck with noodles – wonderfully simple with the tender duck in a rich, glistening salty soy sauce; the combo curry, in all its unphotographable glory, a mixture of chicken, beef, prawns and pork with rice, onion and peas that induced a serious amount of happy man-grunting. Let’s not forget the crunchy little chicken & coriander gyoza and my beloved chilli & pepper squid. I swear I dream about their squid. The Chicken Laksa Lomein was apparently so delicious I wasn’t even allowed a taste.
The thing with Mizu is that the food’s bloody good and there’s an alarmingly huge amount of it – neither fancy nor elegant but rather like something you could knock up at home, if only you had the energy. The long tables are friendly but not intrusive. It’s quick and buzzy but, ok, not remotely romantic. The ever-so-slightly disdainful service is part of its slightly tawdry charm. Who needs big and brash when you’ve got small and honest?
I’m glad they’re holding their own in the big, glitzy world around them. Long live the independents!