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Food: The future is alfresco at Cambridge Cookery

At a time when many of us are bored of home cooking, Tine Roche, of Cambridge Cookery, has been spreading culinary joy with her gourmet takeaway meals – and this month hopes to open her terrace for alfresco dinner and drinks

Picture this laid out on your dining room table: fresh langoustines, drizzled in zesty home-made lemon mayo; tender organic pork fillet, marinated in honey and garlic, with grilled mango, lime and chilli; a devilishly moreish white chocolate and raspberry tartlet; pungent cheeses galore and a platter of dainty handmade chocolates. Countless months into lockdown, when home-cooking is beginning to feel oh-so-uninspiring, this tantalising menu sounds like the food of the Gods, doesn’t it? A dreamy gourmet extravaganza you’d expect to be served at a top-class bistro like The Delaunay. In fact, the scrumptious Cordon Bleu menu - incorporating starters, mains, desserts, cheese plate and petit fours - has been devised by classically-trained chef Tine Roche, and has become a runaway success.

“When we launched the gourmet menu we thought we’d start slowly and build up,” explains Tine, MD of Cambridge Cookery – a café, bakery, bistro and cookery school, based on Purbeck Road. “But it was such a shock because that first weekend it just went ‘Bam!’ We can do up to 55 covers and we were at that number straight away.”

The feedback was wholeheartedly positive, customers relishing the opportunity to enjoy high-end cuisine in the comfort of their own homes. “People were incredibly lovely, saying how much they’d craved this type of food and what a luxury it felt, then re-ordering for the following weekend!” she enthuses.

Tine had closed the doors to her award-winning cookery school, neighbourhood café and restaurant with a heavy heart, back in March, five days prior to lockdown.

“I felt shell-shocked and knew it was bad situation after hearing reports from my daughter Natalie, who is a midwife in London. It felt like preparing for some kind of war scenario as we were shutting things down, cleaning fridges, and sending people home with food that would have gone to waste,” she recalls. “I cried as I locked the door.”

Keen to keep in touch with customers, Tine launched a lockdown cooking blog #whatsforsupper, sharing swift, simple, nutritious daily recipes. And over the next five weeks, she talked to various producers and formulated a strategy to allow Cambridge Cookery - based in the former headquarters of Rattee and Kett stonemasons - to reopen for socially-distanced takeaway collections, Thursday to Sunday.

“We’re lucky to have such massive premises, with a large terrace, so could reopen while maintaining safe distances. I also had a nice glass counter built so food is covered but can be slid in and out. We cautiously reopened on April 25,” she explains.

As always, using the finest, locally-sourced, sustainable ingredients, Tine offered fresh artisan breads and pastries, vibrant cakes, coffee, seasonal salads (such as griddled apricot and goat’s cheese), open rye sandwiches (a nod to her Scandi roots), filled focaccias and tasty tarts, all freshly made each morning.

“I’d put out announcements on social media and sent a newsletter, but I had no idea what to expect the day we re-opened,” Tine explains. “But the reaction was extraordinary. Some people were actually in tears, saying ‘thank you, this just feels like a little bit of normality’.”

Chats with her regulars soon revealed a demand for a premium dining takeaway option. “I kept hearing that people were bored with their own cooking,” Tine explains. “Customers would pop in for a coffee, take away their lunch and say ‘if only you had a nice dinner option, I’d take that too’. So I thought, I’m classically trained, and the other freelance chefs are Leiths and Cordon Bleu trained – we’ve got so much in-house skill, so maybe it was time to show off those skills?”

And so the gourmet menu, offering three starter, main and dessert options, for plant eaters, fish lovers and omnivores, came to fruition.

“The menu is based on nice dinners I enjoy like wild salmon fricassee, chicken saltimbocca and confit duck leg. Really good bistro food with French, Italian and Scandinavian influences.”

For spice aficionados, there’s also the sublime curries of Inder Bull (formerly of Inder’s Kitchen) on offer, along with marinated barbecue meat, seafood and vegetarian meals, to be cooked at home.

The next step for Tine is to reopen the terrace for drinks and takeaway cuisine, Thursday to Sunday, with a socially distanced evening service on a Saturday.

“We’ve got an expansive terrace, which is more like a mini plaza really, with a massive old fashioned awning and beautiful Scandinavian style patio heaters, so customers can have a pleasant time outside, enjoying happy hour with a nice glass of Pimm’s and food offerings, whatever the weather,” Tine explains. “The terrace fringes a communal lawn with benches, deck chairs and a play area, so we can probably seat 30 or 40 people, very spread out.”

Tine is hoping July 4 will be the reopening date, as dictated by the Government’s latest lockdown announcement. “It has been quite difficult to plan with the ever changing information,” Tine admits. “But we’re such a community hub here, and have really missed our customers, so can’t wait to welcome them back!”

Cambridge Cookery, at Homerton Gardens off Purbeck Road, is open 9am to 1pm, Thursday to Sunday. Gourmet menus are published Friday mornings for collection the following weekend. See cambridgecookery.com for more

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