The Hole in the Wall, restaurant review: A MasterChef graduate plays an irresistible hand

According to reports, Alex Rushmer and Ben Maude met as freshers in Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in October 2002, which means we probably have a huge number of mates in common. I was at a different college, but a few of my dearest and nearest were at Tit Hall, as it's widely and chauvinistically known, which means that when the fateful meeting between these two took place, my friends were probably just metres away, dressed in a toga and carrying a bong.

I say the above as a disclaimer, because while Rushmer and Maude haven't gone very far geographically, they have come a very long way professionally, and now run what must be one of the best country pubs in England. The Hole in the Wall in Little Wilbraham, a soporific village between Cambridge and Newmarket, does food that is technically exceptional, deserving of a Michelin star, unusually affordable, and served with panache in a setting that oozes charm. And I say all that despite, rather than because, of the probability that our social networks intersect.

By unusually affordable, I am referring to a £45 tasting menu of seven courses, or an à la carte menu with starters ranging from £6 to £9 and mains from £13 to £22. This is astonishing value - and all the more so at lunch, when two courses are £16 and three courses are £18. Frankly speaking, I'd be surprised if the prices stay in this territory for very long.

Each course of the tasting menu has countless parts. First up is curried parsnip soup that is thick and spicy, and comes with potato crisps that are blissfully free of grease. This is followed by a gluten offensive: tomato-and-oregano focaccia, black-treacle soda bread and poacher butter. Individually, these elements are superb: the focaccia is imbued with a musty, Mediterranean odour, and the black treacle is sweet without being sickly. My only gripe: why have this as a heavy second course? Better, I think, to stick with the light stuff at this point - especially given what's still to come.

This includes a magnificent offering of cauliflower florets with seriously smoked goat's cheese, which has a smooth, pasty texture, and then a beautiful, delicate square of sea-bass fillet with crunchy khaki-coloured kale and onion. I wouldn't have thought to put these elements together, but they work very well, the flaky fish acting as a warm anchor.

Perhaps the best course, however, is the beating heart of the tasting menu: duck, pickled cucumber and spiced caramel. Two things strike me about this dish. First, it reminds me of a similar plate I once had at Dabbous, the brilliant restaurant in the heart of London. Second, this was the dish that made Rushmer famous, as a MasterChef finalist in 2010. And with good reason: it is very hard to fault, and very easy to eat.

By now the going is pretty heavy, and some light relief is welcome. It comes in the form of a lemon and Earl Grey posset with fennel, a silky mixture of bergamot and aniseed flavours that sit in very happy union, while being mildly sweet. That prepares our palates for a tub-thumping dessert course of exquisitely poached pear, somehow hard and soft at the same time, with white- and dark-chocolate cubes. All of which is a preparation for a toy playground of sugar-coated doughnuts, which in turn is a preparation for a spot of liposuction at nearby Addenbrooke's hospital, should you now need it.

No tasting menu is designed to leave you hungry, but it is fair to say that this one has left us fuller than most. If you get the matching flight of wine, at £35 per head, as we did, you'll be even more appreciative of what is a very smartly put-together nine courses, rather than outright sozzled.

The Hole in the Wall satisfies four of my abiding loves - a proper English pub, Cambridgeshire, fantastic food, and real value for money - and all under the aegis of two young guns who appear to have real star quality as both entrepreneurs and gastronomes.

I get the impression that you'll be hearing a lot more from Rushmer and Maude - and not just on this page.

8.5/10

The Hole in the Wall, Primrose Farm Road, Little Wilbraham, Cambridgeshire. Tel: 01223 812 282. £160 tasting menu for two, with wine

Four more things I've been eating this week

DASSAI SAKE: At a dinner for the Japanese Prime Minister, we had special bottles of this stuff: think sake mixed with champagne. Think boozy.

BIRCHER MUESLI: I generally try to avoid breakfast, but if needs must, this is now my default option. The Delaunay does a wonderfully rich version.

BACON & LENTIL SOUP: Soup really is magic: tastes like a whole meal, sod-all calories. M&S does an exceptional range, of which this is my favourite.

LADY GREY TEA: Perhaps the greatest of all tea flavours, less smoky than Earl Grey with lemon or orange oil. Makes a Saturday morning.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones