As the bus rode into the distance, we felt delirious. Studying in Cambridge often feels as if you are occupying your own time zone, stuck in a series of ritualised routines: agonisingly waiting for 12pm to eat lunch, £1 Pret filter coffee in the afternoon, in bed with a bit of Peep Show before 12am. So as the bus scooted off into Histon, exiting the 7 minute radius of my daily life – approximately the English Faculty Library to Kings Parade – we felt nauseous with anticipation and excitement. Squealing as we spotted ‘The Boot Inn: Pub and Brasserie’, it probably sounded as if this were the first time we had stepped outside Cambridge.
There’s something immediately welcoming as we enter The Boot. The staff – all unpretentiously smiling and relaxed – greet us as if we were dinner guests at their own homes. The interior is also inviting – dark wooden floor boards, low stone arches and wooden columns create an instant cosiness, whilst the earthy palette of the walls – leaf green and strung with tiny floral paintings – bring a burst of natural brightness. Sat by a stretch of large glass doors, overlooking a garden where boys aged six to sixty had begun a football match, the warm evening light cast a soft orange glow over the tables inside the restaurant. Greeted by a bubbly waitress, we were offered the drinks menu.
“I’m still at the age when I buy the £5 bottle from Sainsburys,” she confessed to me. I giggled, as if I spent more than £4.65 on a bottle of wine myself.
We ordered a bottle of the house white wine, Cave de Massé, which was crisp and citrusy. I scanned the menu, which seemed to offer at least five different cuisines. From the curiously collected list – spanning from Burgundian snails to Malabar fish curry – we ordered smoked salmon with beetroot and cauliflower and summer rolls. The salmon was cooked superbly, tender and charcoaled – almost meaty in flavour – and balanced by the vibrant pink and yellow slices of beetroot. The plate was let down by the large clumps of cauliflower, sat cold and coated in horseradish crème fraîche; its nutty, creamy flavour could have been utilised much better if puréed or roasted. Whilst the Vietnamese Spring Rolls were by no means authentic – avocado and a mint and coriander pesto creeping their way inside the traditional combination of vermicelli noodles, carrot and cucumber – they worked surprisingly well. Combing smooth and crunchy textures and splashed with the ginger and soy dipping sauce, the rolls were a delicious vegan take on the traditional dish.
For mains, we ordered the salmon and crab fish cake and a cheeseburger, which arrived swiftly. The mains were rich and satisfying – the fishcake topped with a golden poached egg and a tangy crab mayonnaise and the cheese-burger, cooked to a flavoursome medium-rare and topped with juicy bacon, melted Compté and a smokey tomato chutney. In both dishes – more attention to the vegetables would well benefit the dishes – the bed of wilted leeks were an uneventful addition to the fishcake and the burger could have done with some onions – salted raw or fried.
By 10pm we were tipsy, and feasted our eyes on the desert menu. We decided on the pistachio soufflé and the rice pudding with mango. Whilst not particularly exciting in terms of flavour (and sadly lacking pistachio in the former) – both were dense and indulgent – the rice pudding balancing textures of stodge and crisp and the soufflé served exploding out the pot, rimmed with dark chocolate and served with a smooth chocolate ice cream.
By the time we left, the restaurant was full of people; the football match had recruited even more players in the garden. Whilst the dishes are by no means perfect – this is not what The Boot is about. The Boot is the kind of place you could stay for hours – beginning with a pint in the garden, a coffee after desert, and ending with several glasses of wine at the bar. The whole family (even the dogs) are invited.
We returned to Cambridge feeling replenished and relaxed.
Value for Money: 7/10