Daniel Clifford is chef-patron of Midsummer House. When we visited his Cambridge conservatory style dining room, the initial impression wasn’t a good one. The main problem was the roller-coaster service, which ranged from a very nice welcome to some pretty obvious errors. While ★★ is principally about impeccable gastronomy, it’s also about the experience. Being left without bread, water and wine at the right moments affects how you feel about a meal. Milling, ineffective waiting staff don’t help either. Though while this might be true, what Clifford doesn’t deliver in service, he delivers with his food.
His deconstructed duck à l’orange is elegantly presented and was certainly the best of the seven courses offered. Decorated with delicate spheres of sweet potato and orange and a balanced cherry sauce, the rosé meat was well accompanied. Also, the crumbed, red mullet with flavours of confit lemon, iberico ham, olive and a lovely parmesan purée was high-level cooking. Tasty, somehow simple, and nicely balanced.
The entrées were also two very pretty dishes, full of flavour. Particularly note-worthy was the confit chicken wings with reblochon and endive. A decadent salad, garnished with slithers of crisp chicken skin and a rich chicken reduction. The flavour of reblochon was just subtle and not over powered by the chicken. A combination to remember, certainly a nod to the Haute-Savoie.
Though while Clifford’s savoury dishes are very accomplished, he suffers from the common British affliction of not being able to create starred-level desserts (a trend present at the The Ledbury). More of an after-thought than a triumph, some strawberries (however nice) dropped in a soup bowl with some meringue pieces and some elderflower syrup is not ★★ gastronomy. In fact it was quite disappointing after the lovely earlier courses.
Fortunately, one of the better waiters sensed that something was wrong and went into service overdrive. We were moved to the upstairs terrace, overlooking the garden and river to have our coffee, freshly prepared bugnes and some top-level petit fours; a nice touch.
In the end it must be said that Clifford’s cooking hits the right level, which he should be congratulated for. He is certainly more deserving his **2 stars more than The Square in London; that needs no reflection.