I like to go out to dinner to celebrate my birthday and given our experience during the Covid period I wanted to go somewhere good (don’t I always?) and different. So I did a search on TripAdvisor for restaurants with some sort of Michelin connection. This yielded a list including Navadhanya on Newmarket Road and Restaurant 22 on Chesterton Road, The Crown & Punchbowl in Horningsea and the Tickell Arms in Whittlesford all of which I’ve been to and to which I would return. It also included Midsummer House on Midsummer Common and Parker’s Tavern at the University Arms, neither of which I’m inclined to go to, and the rather new MJP@The Shepherds in Fen Ditton which looked interesting and different. I decided to give it a go.
The Ancient Shepherds has been in Fen Ditton for as long as I can remember. I had dinner with several friends way back in 1967. Back then it was one of the pubs around Cambridge which also did good food. It was still a pub with lots of horse brasses but there was also a dining area with proper tables and chairs. You’d be served at a laid table but it would have been more a case of place mats than white linen. Nonetheless it was good food I seem to recall and of a price which students could only afford very occasionally. Amongst those present were old school friend David Hall and fellow students at Churchill Ed Libbey and Julian Flochowski.
It’s all changed now of course. There’s no more horse brasses, no more carpets and no more quaint leaded glass windows. Inside it’s almost austere with a bare wooden floor and walls adored with the for sale limited edition prints which seem almost de riguer for modern restaurants. It might of course be a left over from Covid separation rules of course but there’s also lots of space. Sadly I suspect they’ll pack a few more in when they reckon their clientele would live with that.
We were sat down and looked after exceptionally by Bradley, in skinny jeans and a jacket at least one size too small, and Polly, in severe waitress black and shoes which gave us a click-clack as she walked about. I was uber-impressed by Bradley’s knowledge of the wine list. Later I found out that he was the General Manager and that makes me doubly impressed.
I had my first grumble with ‘drinks before’ . There is beer available and although there’s an MJP Dry Hopped Lager on draft there are no good bottled lagers. Maybe I should have tried the draft. Instead I diverted from my G&T default and had a negroni (gin, campari and vermouth). I’m no cocktail expert but this one was very pleasant and, for me, different.
We were told that the menu changes every day and comprises ‘small plates’ and then fish, plant based and meat plates each in small, starter size, and large, barely main course, size. It’s apparently not expensive but the larger plates aren’t exactly large. The idea is that you construct your own menu and probably order a few plates for the table to share. We didn’t, share that is, but I had tandoori roast cauliflower as a starter and venison as a main. The former took me out of my comfort zone with a cumin dahl and pomegranate, and the latter was exceptional but, despite it being ‘large’, a little on the small side. It comprised two small steaks and I could have used three. Juni had halibut and then mushroom risotto. We then shared a lemon & white chocolate mille-feuille. To be honest that was not fantastic, more dix-feuille than mille-feuille.
When it came to wine I was impressed. There’s an eclectic wine list with lots of choice by the glass with 125 and 175ml being offered up front. For a white to go with my tandoori cauli Brad recommended an Italian: Nas-cëtta del Comune di Novello. Nas-cëtta is the name of the grape and its from Piedmont. I chose the red myself: Old Vines Petit Syrah from the Oak Ridge Winery in California. The white was just fine, that red was exceptional. I treated myself to a Chateau du Juge, it’s a Muscadelle blend from Cadillac in Bourdeaux, to go with our desert. To complete the package Brad managed to produce my wines within a couple of minutes of ordering. I was not left stranded with food but no wine to drink with it.
And that was it. We ran through the courses and I enjoyed a full set of wines. Not cheap but good value. Just right for a birthday. Roll on a similar experience in 2022