Meet the owners
Since opening its doors in March 2009, The Oak Bistro has earned a reputation as the home of elegant Cambridge dining. Velvet chats to owner Philip Newman about his recipe for success
What inspired you to open The Oak Bistro?
I ran restaurants all over London for about 10 years and then my wife got a job with the University, so we moved to Cambridge. I spent about a year looking for the perfect premises and eventually walked into what used to be The Advocate Wine Bar as I saw it was up for sale. I liked it straightaway so I sat in what is now the garden and did a deal with the owner there and then.
There’s an interesting history to the building isn’t there?
It is grade II listed and was an old coaching inn on the road to London, so the inn was downstairs, with rooms upstairs and the stables where the garden is now. There’s years and years of eating and drinking seeped into the architecture and it’s got that atmosphere that you just can’t replicate in a new build.
Describe your style of cuisine?
In a nutshell, it’s modern British and European cuisine. We are a proper grownup bistro with linen on the tables, serving simple food, which is well sourced and properly cooked. There’s no nouvelle cuisine; we put it all on the plate, so confit dug leg has braised red cabbage, mashed potato and a red wine jus – it’s three elements done well. Our head chef, Tiago Reis, has great attention to detail and all our dishes are freshly cooked to order.
What are your bestselling dishes?
Right now it’s the beef wellington. We used to do it as a special, but we put it on the menu because everybody loves it. We serve individually wrapped beef wellingtons, and we sell a huge amount. If you look at google photos our beef wellington is everywhere; people cut it in half, take a picture and post the photo!
Which is your favourite dish off the menu?
I like a ribeye steak; we make a great steak here, and I have it medium rare, with a nice glass of Claret. We have an extensive wine list as well as we believe the wine is just as important as the food.
Do you source the produce locally?
Yes, as much as we can we use local people, so we get our meat from a great butcher on Arbury Road, our fish from local company, Stickleback Fish, and Papworthbased Kale & Damson for the vegetables. The cheeses I get from Culinaris on Mill Road, which is an amazing place. We have to support independent people because if we don’t support each other, then who is going to?
What type of customer do you attract?
It’s a real array, to be honest. My dream was to become the local bistro for Cambridge and I think we have kind of done that. The University has an account with us, and the vice chancellor Professor Steven Toope comes in regularly. When I worked in London we had a lot of celebrities and sports people dine with us, but what I like about Cambridge is that the people here have really made a difference like Nobel Peace Prize winners. It’s quite a special town to be in.
What makes The Oak Bistro unique?
We’re friendly, the food is good, the ambience is nice, we have lovely linen on the tables, the wine list is pretty good – it’s the whole package. Plus, the beauty of our a la carte menu is it caters for all occasions
so you can have three courses or if you just can’t be bothered to cook on a Tuesday night, you can come along and have a duck leg and a glass of red wine and then head home.
Your hopes for the future of the bistro?
I hope we can continue to feed the great and the good of Cambridge. I’m very proud and pleased at what we have achieved over the past 13 years. More of the same would be lovely.
The Oak Bistro is at 6 Lensfield Road, Cambridge. Find out more at theoakbistro.co.uk
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