Monday, January 09, 2012

The Jolly Scholar

Following on from Tea at Bill's we stayed in Cambridge for our evening meal.

Originally we had planned to use our Tesco vouchers at Brasserie Gerard, but it appears they've gone bust. So back to our list of new places we haven't tried yet.

The Jolly Scholar (the web site is somewhat incomplete at the moment) is where the Bun Shop used to be. We've heard good things in the press, and the one friend who's actually been there was very positive.

The good things we had heard are thoroughly deserved. We decided to book a table for 6:30 but actually got there only a few minutes after 6, as all the shops in Cambridge closed very promptly and it wasn't really the weather to wander. They were just starting to serve food, so we sat down and had a good study of the menu.

The food is exceptional. We both started with the wood pigeon. It was rather more generous than I expected, was very tasty, and the beetroot and chorizo complemented it well. (And there was the added bonus of a small lead shot.) Melanie had the chicken off the special board. My rack of lamb was supremely tender, simply matched to a selection of roast vegetables.

We decided to skip pudding - we were reasonably full in any case, and still had plenty of cakes at home from Christmas, but I would unreservedly recommend the food at the Jolly Scholar.

Tea at Bill's

I was wandering around Cambridge just before Christmas (a bit of last-minute shopping) when I walked past a new restaurant, but had to file it away for future reference.

Over new year we were in conversation on our Seckford Hall break and the couple we were talking to mentioned that they had stopped to have tea at this great place in Cambridge. It took a little while to connect the two places.

So, last weekend we had Saturday out and decided to have afternoon tea and an evening meal. And the afternoon tea location was set: Bill's.

It's quite out of the way, being neither in the shopping centre nor on top of any of the tourist traps. But it was absolutely packed, so word must get around (and I've never seen any advertising either).

There's a large table near the door, and we perched on a corner, with several other groups sharing the table.

We both had the standard cream tea. I actually drank tea (Earl Grey), while Melanie went for hot chocolate. The scones were delicious. If there was a criticism it's that the jam was a little runny (so you can't pile it high, and it runs off your scone), but that's nit-picking.

Overall, it's a little gem, and we hope to go back. (The burger on a board looked very tempting.)

New Year at Seckford Hall

We decided to try and get away for New Year. The girls are old enough to look after themselves for a night or two, so we can spread our wings a little.

It's also Melanie's birthday just before the new year, so that gives the opportunity of a double celebration.

We had a look around, and there are lots of places doing new year breaks. We wanted something not too far from home (which ruled out places like Scotland or the South West) but not in Cambridge itself. We wanted the night before new year, whereas a lot of places offered new year and the day after. And I definitely didn't want somewhere that was a formal black tie dinner.

We went to Seckford Hall, near Woodbridge in Suffolk. The distance was about right, the facilities looked good, and it met all our requirements.

They have old rooms in the main house and some more modern rooms. We went for one of the older rooms, with a 4-poster. It's a little more quirky, and has more character, although the floor isn't exactly very level!

The package included cream tea. It's more like stuff-yourself-until-you-burst tea. Lots of scones, jam, clotted cream, cakes, and of course tea. Delicious and very filling.

We had a good meal in the restaurant. We decided to sit in the bar and have a small drink beforehand, and they brought canapes out, let us peruse the menu, and took our order while we were still in the bar. Then, only when they were almost ready with the starter did they take us through to the restaurant. This is definitely more pleasant than occupying time at the table reading the menu, taking your order and then waiting for the food to arrive.

The food was excellent both in quality and quantity. I had smoked salmon cannelloni to start, with pork medallions for the main. Now, I'm rather partial to a cheese board for dessert, but decided against it as I would almost certainly have exploded if the quantity had matched all the other items we had. And coffee was again back in the more relaxed seating of the bar.

We took advantage of the small leisure facilities at the hotel. We swam several times and treated ourselves to a massage with Mary Scott.

On new years eve, we drove up the coast to Southwold. OK, so we did have a little walk along the beach and the pier, lost a few coins on the penny falls. But the primary reason for the trip was to do the brewery tour. This was really interesting. The last time I went on a brewery tour was (I think) about 25 years ago in Oxford. The Adnams brewery is somewhat more modern. The time of year meant it wasn't in operation during our tour, but this did have the advantage that we could get around more freely and study the equipment more closely. And of course, there's the obligatory tasting session and the free beers from the shop!

On to the New Year Dinner Dance. I have to confess that this sort of thing has never really been my cup of tea, and a gammy knee and broken elbow don't make it any easier. Of the dancing I'll just say that there was some, and I was occasionally seen to stand on the dance floor shuffling from one foot to the other. Any photographic evidence has been systematically destroyed. We were put onto tables of 8 (or so) for the meal. The hotel had clearly given a little competent thought to the groupings, so we were put with some very nice people and had a very enjoyable evening.

So, I would recommend both the general idea and Seckford Hall itself. Despite my general bah humbug attitude, I haven't ruled out doing something similar in a year's time.