'When you go out, you want to feel full, a bit drunk and like you've eaten some luxurious food'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 20th February 2020

Sam Carter is the chef and owner of Restaurant 22 in Cambridge. 

Having first worked in pubs, he always dreamt of owning one - despite having trained at Hambleton Hall under longstanding Michelin-starred chef Aaron Patterson, followed by Gordon Ramsay's Maze in London.

However, because of a scarcity of affordable property, he and his fiance Alexandra Olivier 'settled', so to speak, on Restaurant 22. 

"This restaurant formed itself. We created something with what was available to us but we're really happy with what we've got now. It's small, it's intimate."

Looking little like a compromise, stained glass windows give onto a cosy dining space, with a rickety staircase down to the kitchen and another up to a private function room.

Further up is Sam and Alex's home, which they share with their pet cavapoo, Doug.

Sicilian lemon and pistachio parfait,
Italian meringue and sheep's yoghurt sorbet - recipe here

 

'The fridge space that we've got, it leads what we do here.'

At Restaurant 22, dishes are changed as often as the produce coming in varies - which can be daily, weekly, or, occasionally, longer. This hyper-seasonal approach, Sam explained, found its place organically, through a closeness with suppliers, and the result is an ingredient-led menu where each element has its place. 

Much in the way that Sam and Alex took what they were given in terms of property and ran with it, they have adapted to the size of the kitchen by serving most of the food they get in within a twenty-four hour timeframe.  

"Nothing is in the fridge for more than two days," Sam said

"It can't be, there's no space for it so we make it, we chill it and we serve it."

 

'If I could use all lavish ingredients, I would' 

While he believes that his team has the skills needed to make humble ingredients shine, Sam explained that were he left to his own devices, he would have as much luxury as possible on the plate. 

"I love prime meat, prime fish, beef fillet, scallops, caviar.

"I think the idea is that you do go out and you want a treat and some of our food is rich - we use a lot of butter and we use a lot of salt and everything is rich - and I think when you go out, you want to feel full." 

"You don't want to leave a restaurant and be like, just the right level. I want to feel a bit drunk, I want to feel a bit full and I want to feel like I've been out for a nice meal." 

Obviously, with the budget of an independent restaurant, this means concessions have to be made. 

"It's about balancing the books so you can afford to get it on." 

Haddock, smoked butter sauce, exmoor caviar, roasted cauliflower

It's hard to ignore reviews when they're all good

Having started, somewhat ambitiously, with a skeleton team of four, the whole crew at Restaurant 22 now counts eleven people.

Having been awarded two Rosettes in the AA's last guide for 2019, the team is hopeful - yet not obsessed with the idea - that other accolades will follow. 

In the meantime, Restaurant 22 is ranked first in Cambridge on TripAdvisor. Many chefs will agree that the platform is fraught - but with just one 1 star comment in the history of the restaurant, it would be surprising for Sam to be too critical.

"Cambridge has got a massive tourism scene, people get off a train and they look at TripAdvisor and that's the first thing they do, so to be the top of it I think it really helps us.

"I'd like to say I don't care about it and I'd like to say I don't check it, but I do -  it's like a habit, it's like an addiction; I check it every day, definitely. 

While he argued that if customers have taken the time to write a review, there must be "some truth behind it," he said: "You have to take it with a pinch of salt."

"You definitely can't please everyone." 

"The decor, the food, the seasoning, there are so many things that are just preference. But it's great to be at the top of that list and we'll see what happens with the others."

Inside Restaurant 22

 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 20th February 2020

'When you go out, you want to feel full, a bit drunk and like you've eaten some luxurious food'