Restaurant Review – Loch Fyne, Trumpington Street, Cambridge

William Clement 1 October 2009

This restaurant is just right – 5/5

You know how when you’re watching Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Gordon’s shouting at some particularly nonplussed-looking proprietor you think, “How stupid are you? Why is your restaurant failing – why do you think? Because you swear at the customers? Because it’s decorated like a sports bar from the nineteen-seventies? Because the food you serve is made largely with fish that’s gone off and sauces out of industrial buckets?” It seems so obvious what’s wrong. But what’s “right” is harder to say. It’s rare you go into a restaurant and think not, “Oh this is nice,” or, “Smells good,” or “I like the tablecloths,” but, “This is right!”

Several of us came back to Cambridge on Sunday. We went for drinks and a meal. The drinks we had at Browns, because they’re flogging cocktails on Sunday evenings at £3.50 a throw. (The Sherbet Caiprovskas we ordered were excellent, so we had two.) For the meal we walked a couple of hundred yards along Trumpington Street to Loch Fyne.

This restaurant is one of those places. You walk in, you’re shown to your seats by a waiter who talks to you affably, you’re brought menus, complementary bread and butter, you look around at the scrubbed wooden tables, the low ceiling and oak beams, and think, “Hang on a second. This is right!”

You think it before you’ve really thought about the food. Or not strictly before. For all its carefully managed, professionally executed image, the restaurant (one of a 50 branch chain) is serious about food. You can just tell. There’s a delicious smell of garlic butter – as far as I’m concerned, the smell of all good fish restaurants. At the entrance there’s a counter mounded up with ice, where the seafood – lobsters, crabs, oysters – is displayed. It’s done with the sort of clever abundance you see in markets in France, Spain and Italy, which makes you think, “I want to buy that! I want a part of this – to live, eat, and be free!” As you walk past, with your nice waiter, you’re reassured that. Even if you don’t order lobster, crab or oysters, you’re in for a feast – If you like fish.

A vegetarian friend isn’t going to be enthralled by options not much more extensive than risotto – the menu is bewildering. Not because it’s too long but because, somehow, either by divination, or because you’ve already bought into the Loch Fyne “come on, you know it’s going to be good” feeling, you know the few things they offer will be done well. The starters, from £5 to around £10, include a small range of smoked and cured fish, oysters (sold singly), and various pates and potted things. Mains are £10 to £20, from a pair of kippers, through moules mariniere, to bass and – for the carnivorous – a capitulatory steak. Whatever happens to be fresh and seasonal is chalked up on a specials board.

A hot and cold seafood platter with lobster – which we shared – was £45. Oysters, prawns, crayfish, langoustines, mussels and clams were exquisitely fresh, served simply with fresh mayonnaise (I’d have liked some aioli) and shallot vinegar.

You leave feeling you’ve eaten Epicurean-style. You’ve feasted, but not gorged, on simple but very good things. It’s not ‘too’ anything, nothing fancy. The seafood platter has a great drama – it’s bountiful and impressive, a stolen treat – but you’re still left wanting more. And that feels, well, just right. Perhaps it’s more Goldilocks than Epicurus. Whatever. A lovely start to the term.

William Clement