As the Grafton’s new food concept comes to fruition, we pay a visit to some of the centre’s new eateries and find out what else is on its way
Bao fans of Cambridge, listen up! Chi is now open for business in the upstairs food court at The Grafton, making it the first bricks-and-mortar bao restaurant in the city. In addition to lusciously filled steamed buns, there are also banh mi rolls, amazing chicken wings, noodle and rice bowls, salads, bubble waffles and bubble tea.
Owner Aidan Tjinakiet is no stranger to the hospitality industry, his father having run Chinese restaurants for many years, including one (The Ambassador) that sat just outside The Grafton. “When I was a kid I used to basically live in this shopping centre” smiles Aidan. “Fifteen or 20 years ago, I remember how popular it used to be. You could barely get into the Burger King it was so busy. They’ve spent a lot of money on the centre itself. It’s looking good and we thought, ‘Yeah, we could be a part of that.’ We can offer something different, and hopefully help bring people in. I think it works well – having us and Amélie Flam-Kuche and Duck Truck coming in. These independents, it’s a point of difference, and hopefully they will make it a destination. Now there’s a few of us here, it’s really starting to pick up.”
Food-wise, you can expect a unique, modern, pan-Asian offering that incorporates Chinese, Japanese and Thai influences. “It’s not traditional,” explains Aidan. “It’s kind of modern Asian fusion – everything has our twist on it. It’s not your same old Asian flavours and we make all of the marinades here ourselves. Our house speciality is the beef bao, and the chicken wings are really popular, too.”
The restaurant is on the cusp of opening a second branch in a shopping centre in Watford, which begs the question, can we expect to see a Chi on every high street in the next few years? “Not every high street, no” laughs Aidan. “We want to keep it relatively local. We might expand to a maximum of six or seven restaurants, but we want to keep it personal.”
The Duck Truck
Preparing to open its doors in the upstairs food court at The Grafton is independent brand The Duck Truck. A regular at festivals with its neon-lit vintage Airstream vans, the company plans to open in Cambridge before this month’s out.
On the menu, you’ll find crispy duck wraps slathered in hoisin sauce, pulled duck brioche buns with Asian slaw, and confit duck leg and pomegranate salad. You can also build your own feast, tailoring the base, veg and sauce to accompany your crispy duck. The duck fat chips with rosemary rock salt sound well worth a try as well…
The Burger Priest
Cambridge has more than its fair share of venues to get your gourmet patty fix and, as of this winter, there’ll be a new option to add into the mix. Opening on the first-floor food court at The Grafton, The Burger Priest offers high-quality burgers to your specification, as well as milkshakes, cocktails and more.
Keith Fox, director at The Burger Priest, has over 33 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, and says The Grafton team’s ambition to grow its independent food offering is what particularly appealed about bringing his concept to the shopping centre.
“When we began speaking about the opportunity to come to The Grafton, it was immediately clear the management team and Legal & General (the owners of the shopping centre) are very ambitious with planning to improve the independent food offering”, he explains.
“It was an opportunity we couldn’t turn down. We pride ourselves on delivering good, honest burgers and have grown quickly over the last two years. The Burger Priest will bring something completely different to The Grafton and we can’t wait to spread our wings in Cambridge later in the year.”
With a successful Italian deli and cafe on Burleigh Street and now a flourishing eatery downstairs in The Grafton Centre, Alex Signorelli is relishing bringing a little slice of his motherland to Cambridge. But he didn’t always have a passion for the hospitality industry. “I grew up in a family of professional restaurateurs and I hated every moment of it!” he laughs.
“I was finishing school and having to go to straight to work in the evenings where we lived in northern Italy. When we came over to England when I was about 13, the family set up a restaurant in Colchester, and again, I was working there constantly and never really had time to enjoy growing up. So, I promised myself I’d never go into it…”
Determined to make good on this, Alex went off to university and got a corporate job, but it wasn’t long before the call of the stoves returned. “At one point I just thought to myself, I want to go back,” he recalls.
But this time, he wanted to do it differently, importing his own products and baking on site. Signorelli’s opened two and a half years ago, instantly becoming a hit for its delicious patisserie, gourmet sandwiches, Italian-style pizzas and melty arancini.
When the opportunity arose for a second branch in The Grafton, he jumped at the chance. Located on the ground floor of the shopping centre, by the foot of the escalators, La Piazza has already animated this large space into a buzzing meeting spot.
“I wanted to create a typical Italian-style square, with a Mediterranean approach: tapas, cocktails. It’s one fixed price for two terracotta pots – one side and one main, or you can get a Mediterranean tasting platter, which is three pots. One of our house specials is the parmigiana, which is great, and our Tuscan sausage and mushroom lasagne is going down a storm, too,” says Alex.
As well as the tapas and hearty Italian mains, you can grab a scoop of gelato, plus there’s a well-stocked bar with interesting spirits from all kinds of indie distilleries, and craft beer from Alex’s home town. There are also cocktails on offer, including a Frangelico and limoncello number which sounds ideal for a quick pre-cinema tipple.