The Mermaid (Ellington, Cambridgeshire)

May 2017

Chef: Nick Marriott

I have to start with an explanation…

OK, this restaurant does not have a Michelin star and you probably haven’t heard of it. I don’t normally review restaurants which don’t fit into those categories in fact *stage whisper* it is actually a pub restaurant. However I am making an exception because well, because it is exceptional.

We decided to eat out of London this month and had heard good things about this place so we went for dinner on Saturday evening. The restaurant, in a quaint little pub in a Cambridgeshire village, has low beams, a wood burner and a series of small, cottage rooms serving as the restaurant. It is everything I imagine a village pub is but never normally find.

We sat by the window to the kitchen, a nice touch, although I couldn’t actually see much of the kitchen not that that really mattered.

To start we had a Birds Nest amuse bouche with salted leek hay and quails eggs. This was great start to the meal as it was delicious. I never normally choose eggs on a menu but I thoroughly enjoyed this dish. The presentation was great and the dish was so flavoursome. Sometimes an amuse bouche can be a tad boring but this was definitely one of the better ones.

For my starter I chose the Kentucky fried pigeon which was also delightful. The pigeon itself was beautifully pink and moist and was accompanied by mushroom duxelle, burnt sweetcorn, charred baby leeks and a very tasty smoked sauce. I can’t say I can remember ever being served sweetcorn in an English restaurant before but it worked with the dish so no complaints.  Mr M had soft shelled crab which was also very good although the lemon and lime leaf puree was strong and maybe the dish did not need quite so much on the plate.

I chose the snail garden for the main and found it to be a very interesting dish. It was beautiful in appearance and very tasty with a lovely mixture of many colours and flavours. The snails themselves were braised and very soft. What a pleasant change to have them not covered in a sauce. The dish was very fresh and light and I was intrigued by the absence of any carbs but I can’t say I missed them. It was served on a bed of garlic yoghurt which was a little rich for me after a while but it didn’t spoil the dish as it was easy to leave it.

Mr M chose venison and for the first time in what seems like an age there was not an ounce of beetroot on the plate. What a pleasant change! The venison was exquisitely cooked and the accompaniments were interesting and tasty. The red cabbage spheres and the crispy kale working particularly well.

I had a pre-dessert of dill ice cream and burnt white chocolate which I very much enjoyed but, alas, had no room for a real dessert.

We moved into the bar for the rest of the evening which has a lovely country feel. They have a decent gin selection here and a well thought-out wine list with very affordable wine by the glass and some interesting wines by the bottle which we enjoy but don’t often see on local restaurant menus such as Primitivo and Malvasia.

I love the feel of this place, combining as it does country pub charm with some excellent food. The dishes were well thought-through, interesting and original. The chef (trained at Paris House, Woburn – see my review dated January 2013) clearly has skill and ingenuity and the bar and waiting staff were very good throughout.

In summary we had a superb evening and came away feeling like we had found a gem of a place nestled in the Cambridgeshire countryside. If you are ever passing (its about 10 minutes from the A1 before you reach Huntingdon) I would definitely recommend stopping for dinner. I hope they continue in the same vain as I am looking forward to returning.

Rating 8/10