BY GERLA DE BOER of Foodie Haunts
England outside London is often thought of as quintessential countryside or cities steeped in a sleepy English tradition. It is true, that you can come across places like this, but in many cities you can find a real vibe these days. One of the oldest university towns in the UK, Cambridge is one of these. Born out of a group of students from Oxford on the run from the law, it always has had it’s own character with its previous religious houses turned into colleges, the river Cam flowing through the heart of Cambridge and the Red Pole cattle grazing on one of the many commons. Despite of the fact that Cambridge was branded ‘the worst clone city’ in the UK some time ago, it’s on the mend at a fast pace!
Cambridge is becoming the Foodie heart of East Anglia with the only 2 and 1 star restaurant in the region. You’re spoiled for choice here these days, as you can dine in ancient colleges, tuck into delicious street food, feast on an excellent meal in one of the many Gastro pubs go for a healthy option in one of the trendy cafés or sample some fine food from one of the deli’s or at one of the Mediterranean or exotic restaurants. This might sound all a bit straight forward for a Foodie traveller as a real Foodie is always on the lookout for more excitement than just a table and a chair or a street van. You have come to the right place then! Although some locals probably would raise their eyebrows if you tell them that Cambridge is a Foodie destination, but it has a lot on offer. As soon as you go off the beaten track, you will stumble across a Cambridge with many hidden treasures and foodie gems.
Cambridge is changing at such a rapid pace, that even the locals cannot keep up. Exciting restaurants or artisan bakers opening up or well-known names changing hands; it takes somebody passionate about food to keep up with all of this. So what better than a fellow Foodie showing you Cambridge through the eyes of a Foodie.
As a self confessed foodie, my 2.5 years in the Cape Winelands were without doubt the best years of my life. With such an abundance of good food and wine, it was hard to move to the Northern hemisphere in 2002, where the food culture at the time was very different to the one in Cape Town. Now 10 years later, the British food scene has changed completely. I love the new take on British food using local produce spiced with flavours from all over the world. The biggest change you will find at the ‘locals’. Previously tasteless and soggy pub meals have now turned into delicious Gastro meals. Some of these Gastro Pubs in the UK have excelled so much, that they are now proud owners of Michelin stars!
My love affair with food and travel started at a young age and became more than a hobby. It took me professionally into the world of food, travel and food development. This combined with many years of globetrotting and experiencing different cuisines, I decided to share my love of food and the beautiful City of Cambridge with more people.
With so many Foodie temptations in Cambridge and beyond, it might prove difficult to decide where to go for a warming drink or to give into your sweet rush, sip posh cocktails or indulge in top-notch cuisine. Mapping out the best of Cambridge and British food over the last year, has taken me to some very interesting and unusual places and I’ve found, that even my regular haunts had some very interesting secrets to reveal.
England is famous for it’s well known dark brown brew with a dash of milk complimented with scones and jam. Cambridge wouldn’t be Cambridge if it didn’t have it’s own famous twist to it. According to Stephen Fry, there is nothing better than a cup of tea and a Chelsea bun from Fitzbillies, the stickiest bun in the world! However if you want a countryside alternative The Orchard in Grantchester, where you can sip your cuppa under old apple trees in comfortable loungers. The cuppa with a twist is drifting in a punt along the ancient colleges and Felllows gardens on the river Cam enjoying an afternoon tea.
When you move away from the main shopping area with its many chain coffee shops, you will come across some lovely coffee shops. My favourite one in the centre of town is a little coffee shop tucked away from the hustle and bustle. Make your way to Sidney Street and turn right into Hobson passage, which will take you to Sticky Beaks in Hobson street. They serve delicious home made salads and home bakes. My second favourite is a bit further afield in Gwydir street off Mill Road: Hot Numbers. The only place in Cambridge which roasts its own coffee beans (not on site though). The new kid in town Aromi on the corner of Bene’t Street takes you back to their award-winning cafe in Sicily. Apart from the building itself, everything else has been imported from Sicily. Even the chef! You can expect to indulge into fantastic freshly baked Sicilian pastries with your Sicilian style coffee.
Cambridge is very fortunate to have a good selection of great pubs and local breweries. Unfortunately the breweries aren’t open to the public, but local beers can be sampled at the local pubs and at beer festivals throughout the year. So where to head off to for a good local ale? The Cambridge Brew House brews its own beer on site, in addition it has a good local offering too. One of the pubs with the best selection of local and international beers is the Cambridge Blue in Gwydir Street. If you are keen to find out the low down about the local brews, then you have to visit Bacchanalia in Mill Road. It is a wine shop with the biggest selection of local, national and international beers in Cambridge. Ed or Jim knows their beers very well and you can sample one of their draft beers whilst you’re listening to the fascinating stories about beer.
Shaken or stirred? Who doesn’t like a cocktail? These days it isn’t just about the cocktail, but the view, scene and the crowd. For swanky cocktail away from the tourist traps, there is only one place to go: 196 Mill Road. It’s an intimate place, but on Friday and Saturday nights, you can find big crowds of locals around the bar to get one of Darren’s fine mixes. The Martini is my favourite, served with a twist! On a balmy sunny night you can find me on the roof terrace of the Varsity Hotel on the river Cam watching the sunset over the colleges. Another great spot is on the river Cam at Mill Pond. A must try is here the Cambridge Mojito!
The best of British:
Many years ago, the term ‘Best of British’ would almost have been misplaced, but these days local food is one of the best food you can get in the UK. In Cambridge one of the best examples of innovative British food is at Fitzbillies. They are open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays and their chef, well-known co-author Rosie Sykes co-author of “Kitchen Revolution”, creates every week a different menu with seasonal products. Creative thinking is needed here as it is always a surprise what will be in the box of vegetables, which they receive from the stately home Audley End house in Saffron Walden. You can definitely expect the unexpected here.
Moving away from the Colleges to the area of Cambridge’s roots close to Castle Hill, you will find the Punter on Pound Hill. This small and delightful pub serves delicious Gastro pub food. Fancy rook? Yes, during the game seasons you might spot this on the menu. Our last one used to be my local, the Old Spring. It is not a pub popular with tourists as it is away from the tourist area. However it is just a stones throw away from Midsummer house. Although it is of the tourist track, be aware though. Booking is essential as it can get very busy here as it is very popular at lunchtime with the locals and in the evenings with the rowers. You can expect a daily changing specials menu and good pub food. Their fish and chips, fish pie, steak sandwich and hamburger are on top of the bill.
Spice up your stay.
Bored with the British food and are you looking for something with a kick? For Hong Kong Chinese food it is Yim Wah on the corner of Lensfield road and Regent street. Are you more into Beijing style food, then it’s Seven Days around the corner in Regent street. My favourite Indian restaurant is Prana restaurant, where they serve authentic modern style Indian food. Bedouin in Mill Road, will give you a complete change of scene, where you will be transported into the Sahara desert for the evening sampling Delicious North African cuisine.
For the creme de la creme you have to cross Midsummer Common, where you might have a short encounter with the Red Pole cattle on your way to Midsummer house. Alimentum, on the other side of town is close to the station, a very different feel with sleek lines where you can see the chefs in action. Apart from these two excellent restaurants, there are more fine places to eat in Cambridge and beyond. One of them is Cotto on East Road, just opposite Ruskin University. Hans Schweitzer, the propertier and chef here, is an ex-Michelin star holder himself. As he has been traveling around the globe, his Michelin stars stayed in Cambridge and Germany, but his food is still these days ‘dusted with stars’. To avoid disappointment, we suggest booking early as it is very popular both with locals and tourists.
For the foodie traveler the suggestions above might look a bit ‘boring’ as foodie travelers are always on the look out for excitement and adventure. An underground restaurant is probably what you’re looking for then. These pop-up restaurants or better known as Supper Clubs, seem to be popping up all over Cambridge at the moment. It is an exciting change to the usual offering. Our favourite ones are the Clandistine Gourmet Club, The Cambridge College Supper Club at a secret location at one of the Cambridge Colleges, The First Rule Supper Club, the pop up Supper Club at the coffee shop Sticky Beaks and every first Wednesday of the month Fitzbillies has a pop up restaurant with simple delicious food. If you are lucky enough to be in Cambridge the last Friday of November, you can celebrate the real diversity of Cambridge as local international foodies will be cooking for charity. It is an evening of ‘eating around the world’.
Read Wendy’s guest post on Cambridge Food Tour: You Know You’re a Foodie Traveler When…