Honey, I’m HOME
Parker’s Tavern was one of the city’s most highly anticipated restaurant projects. Two months after its grand opening, Abigail Rabbett catches up with chef patron Tristan Welch to talk all things Cambridge.
Barely a month goes by without a new restaurant, café or bar opening in Cambridge but few were as highly anticipated as Parker’s Tavern. The reputable new eatery is located within the £80 million refurbed University Arms Hotel, which has been recognised around the globe for its impressive architecture and stunning views of Parker’s Piece. But chasing Michelin stars and international acclaim isn’t on the menu for Cambridge’s hottest chef, Tristan Welch. “I’ve had some of the most wonderful meals of my life in Michelin star restaurants,” he mused, looking every inch the king of the castle as we settled into the library for a chat. “But I have had some of the best times of my life in restaurants which just have great wine, great food and simple service. If we create a restaurant which people can’t just walk into we have failed, likewise if we get a Michelin star we have failed.”
Tristan is looking to keep Parker’s Tavern “as local as possible” and he aims to highlight the best of British cuisine using regionally-sourced produce and historic recipes. He says: “I really want to keep everything as local as I can, which is difficult with a big beast like this one. We didn’t want to create a flashy restaurant, with a red carpet and limousines pulling up outside, that’s just not Cambridge.” Parker’s Tavern officially opened two months ago on August 1, after a busy soft launch period, and has already gained a great reputation among bloggers and reviewers, one of whom described visiting it as a “habit you can’t break” on Twitter. Flattered, Tristan explains: “The soft launch was meant to be invite only, however that didn’t go to plan. When people saw the restaurant was open they just started filing in, which was great but unexpected. The response on social media has been overwhelming, I love seeing people tweeting about the food and the cocktails, it’s great to be a part of that buzz.”
Tristan, who grew up just outside Cambridge, started his formidable career in London, before travelling around the world, working in a number of award-winning restaurants. And when it came to devising a menu, he wanted to keep regionality at its core. He and his team worked closely with local producers to ensure each dish is loyal to the season. The Gordon Ramsay-trained chef explained: “We’re hoping the regionality will give us an appealing edge. Our saffron is from Saffron Walden, our lamb is sourced from just outside Bury St Edmunds and a lot of our cocktails are made using Cambridge Gin.” But above all else, Tristan wants to ensure every plate of food served at Parker’s Tavern is “purely and simply delicious”.
Before his return to Cambridge, the award-winning chef was enjoying life in the Caribbean. He has an impressive list of accolades including The Caterer’s Acorn Award (2007) and Academy of Culinary Arts’ Annual Awards of Excellence in 2001.
“The menu has lots of little quirks and sometimes I do stray from the rules,” he laughs. “My Caribbean past definitely makes an appearance here and there, in fact, one of my favourite items on the menu is a mango ice cream, which I just love. The way I look at it is, it might not be local but Cambridge has got fantastic transport links and rules are meant to broken, every now and then.”
Putting his jet-setting lifestyle on the back burner, Tristan is very excited to be back at home for the latest adventure. “I’ve had a long time to think about this project,” he adds, relaxing into the sofa.“And I’ve decided the sparkling accolades, international reviews, Michelin stars and awards don’t mean anything to me, it’s the local support that I want. After travelling around the world, opening restaurants in London, the Caribbean, France and the States. I have learned the biggest reward you can ever have is coming home and having your community behind you.”