QuailThe Graduate Hotel

Mushrooms are controversial. You either love them, or you hate them. Growing up, I belonged proudly to the latter group. I couldn’t understand how something with such a spongy texture could be considered appealing. Certainly, I shied away from them at home, let alone when they appeared on a restaurant menu. At first glance, the dinner menu at the Graduate Hotel awoke my childhood instinct to drop the menu and seek refuge in the bathroom. Though, after meeting our lovely waiter Laura, who was warm and chatty from the outset, there was little I could do to evade her recommendations. Mushroom was the order of the day.

An assortment of crackersThe authors

When you first wander into the Graduate Hotel the glint of the liquor shelves from the bar catches your eye. If you follow your feet to the left, passing the couches and chairs where bar-goers recline lazily and contedly, you will arrive at the main restaurant. Situated along the river Cam, the rustic wooden beams combine with the elegance of the Parisian-velvet booths to affect an ambience of style and comfort. At the rear of the restaurant, the kitchen extends horizontally, so that the chefs and their tools are visible to the patrons as they wait on their meals. We took the opportunity to catch the head chef, Adam, as he stood, hands working ferociously, in front of the grill.

Originally from Cardiff, Adam initially began work with Mark Waring before moving on to Square - a two Michelin star restaurant in London. Towards the end of the meal, when Isabel slumped back contentedly against the chair, and I reached across for her saucer to scoop up the remnants of her mushroom ice cream, Adam reappeared. Very quickly, he picked up on my rough, easily distinguishable, Australian accent; it was even more distinguishable, he tells us, because of his prior experience working in the Northern parts of Melbourne city. After seven years in London, working 7am to 1am shifts, Adam travelled to Australia and around South-East Asia before moving into the role at the Graduate Hotel.

Hen of the mushroom with yeasted hollandaiseThe authors

At Home now in the kitchen of the Graduate Hotel, Adam and his team are finding their ground in the use of local ingredients, sourced from spots not far from the restaurant itself. Unlike Nick, I have always loved eating mushrooms; growing up in Germany left little option but to indulge in their various tastes and flavours. Consequently, I was looking forward to our trio of mushroom dishes, yet I was less prepared for the odd-looking array of crackers that arrived at our table before the starters. Aligned with their ethos of creating food that is natural and wholesome, the kitchen reuse ingredients that may otherwise go to waste, developing them into surprising treats. Besides the onion and cheese rind, or the lemon, it was definitely the seaweed and coffee ground crackers that seemed perhaps just a step too far into the experimental realm of modern cuisine. Yet, the seaweed and coffee seemed to melt together, combining the richness of the latter with the saltiness of the former in an unexpected burst of flavour.

Roast jerusalem artichoke, egg yolk and black pepperThe authors

Before the appetisers arrived, Laura kindly brought out a basket of the restaurant’s malted grain sourdough bread and bangay cultured butter. The recipe, perfected by chef Ben, was a lockdown creation - guiltily, I asked Nick what he had achieved during his stint at home. The first mushroom starter arrived next, and it was this dish which reaffirmed for me, and convinced Nick, of the versatility of the humble mushroom. Since both of us follow a vegetarian diet, we were surprised to find the texture of the hen of the wood mushroom to be similar to that of chicken or scallops. The richness of the mushroom meat was balanced out by the bitterness of the hollandaise sauce. Next to arrive were the roast jerusalem artichokes. After we had punctured the egg on top of the dish, the creamy yolk enveloped the artichokes, the fattiness obscuring the fact that the dish was solely composed of vegetables. The yolk’s heaviness blended well with the earthy flavour and texture of the artichokes, with the black pepper bringing heat to the creaminess. Often, restaurants either do too little to season a vegetable dish or go overboard in trying to conceal the fact that it is after all just veggies. The kitchen found the perfect balance of two dishes which were well-balanced and left no need for a meat-based protein.

Broccoli and berkswell tartThe authors

The main courses we chose firmly stayed in the English garden, with the steamed and grilled flourish farm vegetables and the broccoli and berkswell tart proving the versatility of simple vegetables, if carefully attended to. What Adam’s kitchen has perfected is finding the most interesting way to prepare the vegetable and then balancing its natural flavour with a light, oftentimes acidic sauce. Whether that be the sour hollandaise sauce of the starter or that of the farm vegetables: the vegetables’ natural tastes are accentuated through the addition of the sauce that elevates but does not overpower the original flavour.

Aged mushroom mashed potatoThe authors

The berkswell tart was flavoursome, but perhaps became overshadowed by the mushroom mashed potatoes that we ordered as a side - the second element of our mushroom voyage. The richness of the mushroom, combined with a strong saltiness and the creaminess of the potato made this side addictive. A truly beautiful addition (Nick and I both agreed that this is ‘the best mash we’ve ever had’), yet perhaps diverting attention away from the two mains, whose flavour was more subtle, albeit satisfying. We both agreed that we would happily eat a main course of the mushroom mash potato.

Cambridge burnt cream tart The Graduate Hotel

Already content from the dishes and the drinks we had consumed, we soon arrived at dessert. At first, we both ordered ice cream - salted caramel and chocolate mint. Although Nick quickly decided to change his dessert to the Cambridge burnt tart. At this point, Adam remarked how we truly managed to hit every mushroom option on the menu, and Laura told us that almost everyone who orders the ice cream felt dubious about it, yet no one ever disliked it. The taste itself was curious, as there were no hints of mushroom flavour, only a heaviness in taste that arose from the fungus, yet that combined with the salted caramel sauce left only the sweetness of caramel as the dominant flavour. The burnt tarte was good, yet perhaps not what we were looking for in the way of a refreshing dessert after a substantive meal.

Garden House SpritzThe authors

Our dinner at the Graduate Hotel was marked by unexpected ingredients and a (re)discovery of stimulating flavours. Alongside the different dishes we tasted, the cocktails we selected added a welcome fresh touch to our meal. We tried the Garden House Spritz (blanco vermouth, ahus akvavit, pineapple, sparkling wine), as well as the River Cam Fix (wyborowa vodka, dolin chamberyzette, pear, lime, lychee), both of which acted as stimulating aperitivos. It was the deep, somewhat bitter flavour of the Garden House Spritz that went well with the artichoke starter, whilst the summery fruitiness of the River Cam Fix complemented the zesty crackers. Whether it be for a wholesome and diverse meal, or simply for drinks at the bar, The Graduate Hotel is definitely a must-visit spot on a Cambridge food tour - even if not during mushroom season.


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