FOOD MONSTER: Cafe Zoot in Lincoln
I pass Cafe Zoot reasonably often, glancing in at the small and usually bustling front room.
Earlier this year, that seemingly perpetual motion stopped as the long-standing Bailgate fixture underwent refurbishment.
One of my bugbears in years past is that Zoot was too cramped. A freshening of its character was required.
Although the nature of the building means it's unlikely to ever win prizes for the contemporary nature of its open spaces, there is a slight difference as you're taken into the new-look establishment.
Little details, like the hanging lights of different lengths in the window or the rustic-style clock, made me think of a French bistro.
Contact details and location map for Cafe Zoot in Lincoln...
Although Zoot can count on the footfall of visitors to the city's cathedral quarter, I know of several Lincoln regulars who were pleased that the restaurant was not merely trading on its prime location.
My dining partner is a more than capable cook and she was savouring this rare opportunity to sit back for once.
For starters, she opted for marinated fillet of red mullet. it was well cooked but would have benefited perhaps from a bit of chilli flavour rather than a whole chilli as decoration – and maybe a splash of sesame or soy flavours.
My crepe au champignons were light and topped off with just the right amount of Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, which made for a fine opener. I've always felt that Zoot sits somewhere between decent restaurant food and the higher end of city establishments like the Jews House or The Old Bakery. Our first courses merely confirmed these views but our final bill would suggest that it's decent food at a reasonable price.
The faux fillet which I chose for main course, from the a la carte menu, was well cooked, tasty but lacked something to put it into the outstanding category. Unfussily presented, the side accompaniment of seasonal vegetables – which were split between us – were fresh. The pomme gratin and sage napkin dumplings, with roast red onions, made for a reasonable dish with a fair level of taste.
If you're looking for little creative flourishes to make your meal stand out then I would suggest you head to one of the aforementioned restaurants but the beauty of Zoot is that it's not trying to be anything that it's not.
My dining partner's barbary duck was accompanied by braised cabbage with caraway seed, pomme fondant, juniper glaze and confit of garlic. These were interesting tastes and was the best meal we ate all evening, a fine combination of subtle and interesting ingredients.
The two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon which were sipped slowly as an accompaniment to our meal were rich in flavour and, at £5.40 each for a 250ml glass, about what you'd expect.
I'm a chocolate-lover and I'm happy to report that the dark chocolate can can did not disappoint, providing enough depth of flavour to round off the meal.
At just over £60 for two people, a trip to Cafe Zoot isn't in the cheap bracket but neither is it a complete extravagance.
It will still pull in tourists, families of students at the University of Lincoln and those sightseeing around our stunning cathedral. But if you are a Yellowbelly then Cafe Zoot, and its stylish new interior, is definitely worth a visit.
THE FOOD: Two 250ml glasses of Antina Cabernet Sauvignon £10.80; red mullet £5.95; crepe au champignons £5.25; faux fillet £14.50; barbary duck £15.95; bowl of seasonal vegetables £2.75; dark chocolate can can £4.95.
FINAL VERDICT: he new Cafe Zoot is an improvement in looks and atmosphere. The food is pleasant but don’t expect anything gobsmacking.
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