Discover why Cambridge is a foodie's paradise with a bustling indie scene, fine dining restaurants, street food bites and everything in between.
April 1st, 2023
Breakfasts, brunches and a hot cup of Joe
Fitzbillies is a Cambridge institution. With two sites in the city to manage the demand of both locals and tourists, there is an old worldly charm to this cafe. Think traditional wooden frames surrounding gilded glazing, towers of macaroons and celebration cakes and warm lighting casting a golden glow on coffee slurpers and chelsea bun consumers. You can’t really visit Cambridge without a stop here whether it’s for a sit down breakfast or a bun on the run. The cafe is famous for its sticky chelsea buns that are proudly displayed in a glass counter, each one shoe horned out with what looks to be a special tool designed especially to navigate thick syrup and pillowy dough. As well as the glorious sticky buns, a full brunch menu i serves up the usual suspects - Full English, Eggs Benny and house specials such as the Full Fitzbillies (the best bits the bakery and kitchen has to offer) and the utterly decadent Chelsea Bun French Toast.
Novi is an all day eating and cocktailing kind of affair. I stopped in here for a nightcap on my first evening in Cambridge and noted how good the brunch menu looked so it was huzzahs all round when I found out I would indeed be eating it and boy oh boy were the huzzahs justified. Listen up dear reader, I do not say this lightly - these were the best Turkish Eggs I have ever experienced. And that is coming from someone who has been known to drive an hour and a half to Hackney just for the Mere St Market edition. Perfectly poached eggs perched on a bed of creamy labneh, doused in fiery nduja and crowned with fresh herbs and served with Stir Bakery sourdough for mopping - this is the breakfast to end all breakfasts. If the eggs aren’t a bit of you (not sure why they wouldn’t be but each to their own) they have a hefty menu to cater for all diners and showcasing local producers such as a Rennet and Rind cheese toastie, tofu wieners served with herby potatoes and avocado and a whole variety of loaded buckwheat waffles. The interiors are very ‘grammable’, modern clean lines, brushed brass bar tops, velvet seating and quite uniquely, a scent of a yoga studio which if someone had described to me I would have thought most off putting but in actuality, it means you can’t be anything other than zen on entering the space. Top rate coffee, the best eggs and I left feeling super relaxed - win win for me.
Bould Brothers = ding ding ding jackpot! Have I just found the best coffee shop in Cambridge and perhaps East Anglia? I think so. I don’t think brothers Max and Alex will take umbrage at me saying, these guys are coffee nerds and then some, but with their mastermind style knowledge of all things caffeine and bean related comes this absolute blinder of an establishment. Their ethos is that size really does matter. With smaller cups than you find in most coffee shops, the best coffee they can source and a more generous pour (a Bould Brothers coffee sees between 14g and 20g of coffee per drink compared to an average 7g found in other high street shops) organic, quality milk coupled with a minimum of six month intensive barista training, these guys ain’t messing about. With this level of skill and let's face it, obsession, they could run the risk of dancing with pretension. I have been huffed at in many a coffee shop for not knowing my pour overs from my immersions but Bould Brothers is quite the opposite, welcomed with warm smiles and a clear desire to share knowledge about their craft, this place is truly special and I could not recommend it highly enough.
Hot Numbers is not just a specialty coffee shop but also a roastery, roasting their own beans off site in nearby Royston, that’s how you know you’re getting the good stuff. Simon Fraser runs it and says that he is all about making great drinks, having great discussions, all whilst sharing a morning coffee and on entering the Trumpington St shop (there is a second site on Gwyndr St), his ethos is palpable. Whilst the aforementioned Boulders felt slow paced, almost Balinese in its laid backness (not a bad thing), Hot Numbers feels hustly, you order quickly, you put the world to rights efficiently and you move on with your day, again, not a bad thing - just a different interpretation and I love that - two offerings that could so easily copy cat each other have such different identities, and with that, I implore you to try both because the coffee is sensational.
Lunch and street eats.
The Pint Shop does what it says on the tin. It serves a lot of pints. Alas, I am not a pint drinker so I can’t comment much here other than to say the menu looked very impressive and should I have had my pint guzzling partner with me, he would have been very happy with the 23 craft beers that are on rotation.
I tend not to heavily research restaurants before I review them as I don’t want to be swayed by others, I like to go into places with no expectations and let the menu and the food do the talking. All I knew about The Pint Shop is that it allegedly serves the best scotch egg in Cambridgeshire (I was told this by the concierge at our hotel) and I guessed it was going to be a menu of proper British pub classics. I wasn’t completely wrong but all those classics we see so often are elevated in clever and subtle ways. Pork scratchings with jalapeno ketchup? Yes please. Sourdough with confit garlic and beef fat butter - insert drooling emoji here. Of course we had the Classic Scotch Egg with Chipotle ketchup, very good but what I couldn’t get enough of was the flatbreads served with house pickles and red pepper and feta dip. I could quite honestly have bathed in that sweet, spicy dip. For mains, we shared the chicken shawarma kebab (any other day I would have devoured the house burger or dry aged steak but knowing how much food still lay ahead, I was being tactical). Homemade flatbreads cooked over coals, juicy succulent chicken dressed in mint yoghurt and chilli sauce, a scattering of fresh herbs and chillis - this dish was so fresh and light, it became one of the highlights of the trip. Knowing we had another four restaurants to visit that afternoon, my friend and I agreed we were here for research purposes and just to try the food, we didn’t have to eat every last morsel. Fast forward thirty minutes to us ripping pieces of flatbread and scooping up every last crumb on the plate, not even a dill frond was safe - it was that good. And so, sated and swollen we rolled to our next venue.
Nanna Mexico is a small, unassuming indie Mexican in the center of town. For those of you who aren’t too familiar with my work, I know Mexican food and I really know tacos. The bar was high and the excitement was real. On entering, I felt a little deflated, metal containers of ingredients sitting on the counter made me think this was going to be more of a ‘Tortilla / Chipotle grab a burrito at the train station’ vibe than that of the taqueria I was hoping for. Never one to walk away from a taco, I ordered a plate of carnitas, purposefully declining all the gubbins - guac / pico / lettuce etc as I wanted to really taste the meat. I very much appreciated the added layer of cheese on the tortilla and thrown on the hot plate to give a melted layer of goodness between the corn taco shell and the pulled pork. The filling itself was good, it wasn’t the best taco I have ever had but it certainly wasn’t the worst. The plates come as three so again, we agreed to try one and save room for the more food that was coming our way. Fifteen minutes later and not much left on the plate other than the drip of meat juices. Belts now fully removed, not just loosened. Nanna Mexico is great for a quick bite on the move.
Bread and Meat is another Cambridge institution and one I have been wanting to try for an eternity. It is known for doing two things very well… bread and meat, otherwise known as gourmet sandwiches.
The concept is simple, choose from Porchetta, Philly Cheese Steak, British beef or Honey Soy Chicken and choose what medium you would like it delivered and devour. And I mean DEVOUR. Again, trying to be restrained and having lost my belt to the cause already, I went for a side portion of poutine, mumbling that now familiar line ‘just a taste’, cue me cheese pulling, gravy drinking, chip inhaling like a human that hadn’t eaten for the best part of a year. As seems to be a theme with everywhere we were eating, the staff were welcoming and full of smiles, not even an eye roll when I started contorting my body to get the right shot of that cheese pull. I will absolutely be returning here to experience the full meal.
Across the road to Aromi, a Sicilian pizzeria and bakery and another place that had been on my ‘Cambridge list’ for a while.
We were nearing the end of the afternoon portion of our eating and were well and truly tapping out, knowing we had a fine dining experience ahead of us that evening, we agreed we would have a glass of Sicilian wine and a cannoli before heading back for a much-needed nap. Turns out, for reasons I never did work out, you have to order savoury food to be able to order wine and we really needed the wine, so here we are, not quite done yet with our carb loading, ‘two spinach arancini please’ I murmured through shortness of breath that only comes when the stomach literally runs out of space.
Aromi is clearly the place to be for post-lecture / pre-theatre snacks - there was a real buzz which felt very Sicilian. The arancini was a little disappointing, with no real flavour or ‘wow’ to it but perhaps this was my body throwing in the towel because I have heard others speak very highly of it. I can confirm the cannoli and wine were delightful.
The Terrace at The Gonville hosted us for our last evening in Cambridge and lucky for us it did as it was also where we were staying and meant we could roll easily from room to table.
The two rosette restaurant prides itself on its fine dining menu and after a day of tacos, kebabs and fries, I was ready for my perfectly plated petit portions.
Starting with a dainty amuse bouche of chicken liver parfait tartlet, I breathed a happy sigh, nothing brings me more joy than kicking off an evening with a perfect mouthful. Is chicken liver parfait pushing the realms of culinary innovation? No. Was it absolutely delicious? Yes. As my Mother says, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. And so, tartlet gobbled, on to the homemade sourdough with garlic butter, again - a classic, like a refined dough ball from the place Prince Andrew frequents.
Considering I don’t really like mushrooms, I can’t tell you why I was so drawn to the starter of a wild mushroom tart but drawn I was. An oaty, crumbly pastry shell encasing mushroom ragu with a sticky onion marmalade, mushroom powder, shaved mushrooms, mushroom jus - it was a mushroom sensation, a total umami hit of flavour and then some. Honestly, I thought chef must have peaked at this point but I was wrong.
Out came the mains of an exdairy ribeye served with shortrib and pomme puree and it was sensational. I am thrilled when I see an ex dairy cow on themenu and it makes me so happy more and more restaurants are utilising it, the steak was cooked to perfection, the short rib was sticky and moorish, the pomme puree was smooth and silky - it was, the perfect plate.
Alas, deserts fell a tiny bit short. My friend's souffle did not rise to the occasion - literally - and my rhubarb and custard tart was lacking sharpness to cut through the sweet, but this in no way diminished the meal. It was just a bad day in the pastry section, or perhaps the universe telling us to stop being such glutinous swines. I left that restaurant very happy and I only hope it continues to grow in popularity.
Where we stayed.
Centrally located with views overlooking Parker’s Piece, The Gonville is a great option to base yourself for those looking to explore the city. An easy walk from the train station, onsite parking and close proximity to all the aforementioned eateries plus the usual suspects of things to do in Cambridge - punting, evensong, walking around the colleges etc. The 93 rooms are simple and functional plus a large on-site bar and terrace means you have the perfect place to sip a coffee or cocktail before heading out on exploration.
The thing that truly sets The Gonville apart is the knowledgeable and intuitive staff who go above and beyond to make your stay memorable. And of course, no stay at The Gonville would be complete without a tour in the hotel’s 1951 Bentley R type and it’s chauffeur Zane whose knowledge and enthusiasm for Cambridge and the surrounding areas is infectious. Guests can book a tour, free of charge when booking a stay at the hotel and can expect to visit surrounding villages.
Cambridge really is rooting itself on the foodie map and only seems to be bedding those roots down even further as more and more fantastic eateries are popping up, stars are being handed out and the food elite are flocking to the city.
MasterChef quarter finalist, food and travel writer and mental health muser Hannah Gregory is always on a quest for her next adventure. Happiest with a glass full of wine, a belly full of food and sun on her skin, she is constantly on the hunt for food led travel destinations.