Restaurant Review: The Vaults

20 March 2011

The Vaults, 14 Trinity Street, Cambridge, CB2 1TB




£140 for four people, three courses with wine.

The Vaults is really a cocktail bar. I found this out the first time I ate there, at nine o’ clock, and it was like dining amidst a lame indie concert. This time we were prepared, and went earlier. With the result that the restaurant was entirely deserted. Never a good sign, however much one (and one’s socially unfortunate companions) dislikes people. Zero people makes for zero atmosphere, and the hip-trendy-but-not-enough-to-be-worthwhile decor didn’t really add to this. Ho hum.

Then we were pestered for a while, until we at last made incompetent fool number one leave us alone long enough to decide what we wanted. The menu is not a particularly lavish affair (did I mention that it’s a cocktail bar?), aside from the plethora of starters, which you are invited to ‘share’ en masse. We thought not, and so ordered three courses (we like to call it “dinner”); with something which looked as though it might be palatable from an obscenely poor wine list. The resulting Sangiovese/Merlot thing from Argentina was utterly forgettable.

The duck pancakes (complete with not-at-all-culturally-patronising bamboo baskets) were okay, but the sauce was unidentifiable, oversweet and obviously pre-made.

My venison medallions were, surprisingly, beautifully rare, though why anyone would char-grill venison is beyond me, and the added taste of burnt meat was not particularly delightful, though the meat was good. It also came with one of those bloody annoying salad garnishes which we all love so much.

A poor start, made even worse by incompetent fool number two’s general haphazardness. He failed to clear things away without dropping them. He failed to deliver things without clattering. In short, he failed.

Why must I be beset by waiters who are either on their first day or more incapable of learning than your average shrimp? It is tiresome.

But salvation was at hand, in the form of the Suffolk Pork Belly. They do, do a good bit of pig here, it must be said, and the taste could not be faulted (fools quibble about over-salted rind. That’s the point).

What could most certainly be faulted were the accoutrements: a sprinkling of cubed, over-cooked vegetable and a couple of slices of uninteresting chorizo were all we got. Oh, and the enormous mound of mashed potato. We could perhaps have done without this. Perhaps.

Pudding was also disappointing, miscellaneous ice-cream, an espresso chocolate mousse which tasted like nothing so much as Cadbury’s Worst, and a trio of burnt creams whose flavour might have been added from a (test) tube. Oh dear me. Declining to order coffee, we scarpered, though not without yet more waiter-ly incompetence about the bill.

If you are the sort of person who doesn’t particularly care what you eat, has a fetish for little annoying sharing dishes, or feels that to walk from cocktails to dinner and back is too much like hard work, then the Vaults is for you (though, if the latter, why not go to Hotel du Vin? Much nicer). Otherwise, you would be advised to stay well away.

Matthew Topham

Photo: Devon Buchanan