So it may not have the dreaming spires of Oxford, but Cambridge is generally a pretty nice to place to live. There's lots of green spaces, the river, plenty of pubs, a daily market, and history all around. However on first glance it does seem to have a distinct lack of independent, good quality places to eat. For quite a small city, Cambridge is dominated by a large number of chain restaurants; name a chain and there's likely to be one if not more in Cambridge. I have no moral objection to these outlets, which provide food which is affordable and edible if not original, exciting, (or sometimes even freshly prepared). Some, like Pizza Express, are the acceptable face of this phenomenon, but others which don't need to be named are less so. And they do also make even a place as unique as Cambridge feel like AnyTown, UK. But the good news is that dotted among the chains are lots of more interesting options.
One of my favourites is Teri-Aki. This is a Chinese-owned Japanese restaurant that brought communal-style bench dining to Cambridge long before Wagamama appeared on the scene. I've been here on numerous occasions, and though the service has often varied, the food is invariably lovely. I arrived here recently to meet friends for dinner, but unfortunately was greeted by a sign saying that Teri-Aki was closed for maintenance work. Luckily they had just moved next door into sister restaurant Aki-Teri (but may well have returned to their original site by now). Both have similar styling, with glass doors that open out to a large courtyard area, funky fittings and a bar behind which you can see some of the sushi chefs at work.
They've always had menus that doubled as place settings, but they've now also introduced notepads to write down your order in a dim sum-stylee. I'm not sure this was strictly necessary as it also involved a lot of checking of handwriting and numbers by the waitress, but I'm happy to accept innovation.
So onto the food. I'm fan of most things deep-fried, and was already thinking of tempura before I arrived. The mixed seafood tempura was made up of a huge king prawn, squid and scallops. This was all succulent and covered in a light batter than could have been a bit crisper, but was not at all oily. I also had some yakisoba noodles with vegetables and prawns.
Again, these were not in the least all oily, the prawns were lovely and soft and the dish had that fried noodle flavour which is so distinct but difficult to describe. My only criticism is that apart from bean sprouts and the odd bit of carrot, there wasn't much going on here in the vegetable department, and bit of greenery wouldn't have gone amiss. The friends had miso soup, hotate kushiyaki (grilled scallop skewers), yasai kushiyaki (grilled vegetable skewers), and a five-piece sushi set. All of this seemed to go down well, though I was a bit suprised to see a bit of rare-ish beef appear in the sushi selection. There wasn't anything on the menu to indicate this and although my friend eats meat, I don't and wouldn't have been too impressed if this was something I had ordered.
All the dishes were generous in size but not so huge that we couldn't comfortably fit them all in, and the bill for three with non-alcoholic drinks came to around £44 (not including service). I've never been to Japan so my knowledge of this cuisine is relatively limited, and I'm not sure how it would compare with equivalents in London. But all in all for a relaxed dining option Teri-Aki still remains a firm favourite with me, and one of these days I will go in and manage not to order tempura.
Teri-Aki Restaurant and Bar
Cambridge CB5 8AB