Having been turned away from the ever-popular Jamie’s Italian for the second night in a row, Matt and Cat headed off to King’s Parade to see if one of Cambridge’s other fine eateries would be more accommodating.
As luck would have it, they got the last two unbooked seats at The Chop House, a swanky double-aspect venue with views of historic King’s College and also the spectacular grasshopper clock. As its name infers, the Chop House is not a venue for vegetarians. And, to dispel any doubt, there is a massive cleaver hanging above the door and several smaller decorative meat axes inside.
Settling at their butchers-block table, Cat admired the view and Matt eyed up the menu. This venue has what could arguably be one of the best public aspects of the most iconic tourist attractions in the city. The restaurant was bathed in the last of the day’s light as the sun made its way languorously down behind the ecclesiastical wonder that is the Chapel of King’s College. The waiter was not quite so leisurely and he eagerly dispensed drinks and breads and hovered expectantly as M&C chose their dinners. As Matt had already eaten offal two nights in a row he declined the liver, instead choosing the suet pudding of the day. Cat, failing to find chicken, fillet steak or salmon on the menu decided that it was pork o’clock and stabbed her finger at sausage and mash. The Chop House must have a good relationship with its meat supplier for these were billed as no ordinary sausages - home made from Gloucester Old Spot pork, and gluten-free by default. There was a choice of three sausage flavours, about four mashes and five sauces – an almost infinite number of pork/mash/sauce fusions of this traditional English dish could be combined. Cat rather unadventurously chose plain sausage and plain mash to be accompanied by the slightly racier mushroom sauce.
Steak & Stilton suet pudding £13.50
Sausage and mash £11
Dessert x 2 £11
Apple juice £2.30
Before the grasshopper had tirelessly hopped over five minutes, the dinners arrived. Cat’s plate had a quartet of medium-sized sausages - not quite small enough to be ranked as chipolatas on the sausage sizeometer, and certainly not those gurt fat ones that you get in the butchers. For Cat they were Goldilocks sausages – just right. The sausages lay contentedly on the plain mash, wallowing in a puddle of the creamy mushroom sauce. Alongside came a little pile of steamed greens. Cat’s not particularly partial to burgers or sausages; any meat that’s been through the mincer can sometimes have resistant gristly bits to which she has an aversion. But to her pleasure the sausages at the Chop House were as smooth and untextured as Kylie’s forehead. She was pleased that she had chosen the plain version – the other choices were onion and mustard – as the porky taste shone through. The dish must have been good as she gobbled it all up, offering Matt just a mere nibble.
Matt wasn’t likely to go hungry as he had the suet pudding of the day and, as luck would have it, this day it was steak and Stilton. Suet pudding always takes Matt back to his childhood, eating hearty dinners around the vicarage table. Steak-and-kidney pudding, steamed for hours in a tea-towel-wrapped pudding basin, was a perennial favourite, and he can only judge any suet pastry he eats against the yardstick of puddings cooked by The Vicar’s Wife. The Chop House did not disappoint. A big pudding, with plenty of pastry, was supplied on the plate with mash, gravy and peas. Nothing more: because nothing more was needed. When Matt cut into the herby pastry a cascade of rich steak and Stilton mixture gushed out impressively. The smell, the texture, the entire experience was a good one. Matt gave a thumbs-up to this simple and respectful rendition of a classic.
Matt and Cat pushed aside their empty plates, laughing as a stag do dressed as Roman legionnaires marched by with the stag made up as a particularly gruesome Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile (think Sid James in drag and you’re halfway there). However, Matt did a double-take as his attention was quickly distracted from this comical legion by the delivery to the adjacent table of a long glass full of pork crackling. Like a meaty version of Robert Thompson’s squid-ink bread sticks, the curly strips coiled their way out of the top of the glass, waving enticingly to Matt. How he resisted having this crunchy delicacy for pudding is a mystery.
Instead of double-meat, Matt had a sweet desert of sticky toffee pudding. Cat chose crème brulée or, as they call it here, Cambridge burnt cream. Again both dishes were delivered promptly and both were delicious. Matt was particularly pleased that his sponge was made with dark treacle not syrup as so often the case - take note, menu-writers, syrup and treacle are not the same thing!
With its prime spot on the city’s main drag the Chop House could easily rest on its laurels, pumping out work-a-day fodder for the ever-present tourists. Although the menu was simple the quality of the food was excellent; like the Taverners but without the conspicuous cleverness or occasionally haphazard service. The Chop House is another decent eating-house in the heart of Cambridge. Recommended.