Note: Cotto closed at the Gonville Hotel in 2020 and now reopened at the Golf Club in Bourn in 2022.
Eight years ago, in 2012, a very close friend told me about Cotto, a lovely cafe and restaurant, opposite Anglia Ruskin on East Road. She explained that the chef, Hans Schweitzer, used to be the head chef at Midsummer house. Hans and his wife Ruth left Cambridge and moved to the Caribbean to run Sandy Lane in Barbados, and she was surprised that they had returned to Cambridge.
At the time, I was toying with the idea of starting food walking tours in Cambridge, looking into the route, and talking to potential partners. I soon found out that Hans was a highly acclaimed confiseur and chocolatier. He was keen to share his love of chocolate with others, so we discussed how we could work together. At the time of the start of the Cambridge Food Tour in September 2012, Cotto had become so popular that they had to close the cafe. So including Cotto on my food walking tours wasn’t possible.
On my tours, we not only talk about the places we visit but also include historical and interesting highlights. On our walk from the Free Press Pub to the Norfolk Street bakery, we always stopped at Cotto to tell our guests about the excellent food of Cotto and Hans.
At a very young age, Hans realised that the kitchen was his calling. After training at the prestigious Munich Hotel School in Germany, Hans gained the title of Maitre de Cuisine by the age of 25. Hans worked in many places all over the world as an Executive Chef, from the Teheran Arya in Iran to his own Restaurant, Table in Germany, where he was awarded a Michelin star at the age of 29.
I used to dine at Cotto on East Road regularly, but little did I know that sharing the story of Cotto would have such an impact on their business. Apparently, our guests took our advice and booked a table here. I have to say that this put a smile on my face. It is so great to hear that guests follow up on our recommendations.
In 2016, Ruth and Hans took the opportunity to relocate their restaurant to the newly refurbished Gonville Hotel, which is aiming to be one of the top hotels in Cambridge. They are the only hotel in Cambridge which offers their guests a free sightseeing tour in a Bentley.
On Christmas day, we were child-free, so my husband suggested booking a table at Cotto for Christmas lunch. I cannot remember the last time I didn’t cook on Christmas day, so I almost felt guilty, but that feeling disappeared quickly!
We walked along the river to Parker’s Piece to build up a good appetite. Cambridge was at its best, as it was a glorious day. It is always a joy on days like this to walk through the commons and soak up the views of one of the oldest university towns in England.
Over a glass of Champagne and delicious canapes, we decided what to have. It was a hard choice as I couldn’t decide on the starters; they all looked delicious. In the end, I opted for the duck parfait and cured duck breast, courgette, fig, mooli, walnut brioche, apple and red onion chutney. John, my husband, has a soft spot for slow-cooked meat, so he chose the slow-cooked beef cheeks and barley with vegetables.
What was it going to be? Fish or meat for mains? We agreed on the same main course, and that doesn’t happen often. The roasted supreme of guinea fowl with chestnut, cranberry stuffing, winter truffle jus, and roasted vegetables and potatoes was absolutely delicious. The guinea fowl was such a good alternative to turkey, which I don’t like. It probably has to do with my Dutch roots. The creamy truffle celeriac puree perfectly matched the crunchy and slightly sweet stuffing. Hans has undoubtedly given me an idea of what to dish up next year at home!
I completely forgot to mention the bread and butter. Cotto always has an excellent selection of homemade bread, but this time they did surprise me with the very unusual potato and cumin bread. Not your regular potato bread, but nice chunks of potato in the bread spiced with cumin. Topped with a thick layer of truffle butter, made it just the perfect ‘naughty’ treat for Christmas.
What better to finish the meal than with a musical note? John can’t resist Hans’ masterpiece, the chocolate piano. It’s delicious with the dark chocolate truffle cake, milk chocolate mousse and cocoa ice cream and looks stunning. Something you never can get bored of! I thought I stick with the theme. Having started with a parfait, I wanted to finish with one too. Back at home, we always have Stollen bread for Christmas, so bringing the Netherlands to Cambridge, the Stollen ice parfait with clementine gelée and brandy and almond cake, was the perfect ending to our Christmas day lunch. Or was it?
Of course not! You cannot dine at Cotto without having a coffee, a digestive and a selection of Hans’ hand-made chocolate. We left as we came, a brisk walk along the River Cam.
Cotto is closed for a few weeks now for their annual break so please check their website for opening times.
Views are my own, and the article is not sponsored