Best Places to Eat and Drink in Cambridge
Eating and drinking
Cambridge has become a hotbed for coffee shops and eateries, serving a reliable, if not always inspired standard of food.
Start your day by taking in a Pembroke Brunch (you might need to get friendly with one of the students for this!). If you are feeling hard up (but not so hard up!), buy some Whittard’s Coffee so you can make your own quality brew, and a famously sticky Chelsea Bun from Fitzbillies (original location in Trumpington Street, new branch in Bridge Street) – if you become addicted they do mail order!
You might then fancy a fish and chip lunch. Enjoy one on the two-hour cruise on the Riverboat Georgina up to Baits Bite Lock and back, and continue for a nice walk (or punt) in the other direction, along the river to Grantchester, where afternoon tea and scones await you in the historic Orchard Tea Garden (see Literary Cambridge).
In the evening, if your parents are footing the bill, this is an ideal time for them to treat you to Midsummer House, the 2 Michelin star restaurant. Otherwise talk a student into taking you for their college Formal Hall.
More generally, a challenger for best cafe in town is Hot Numbers – a popular spot to work in (!) or meet a friend (make sure to specify which site, as there is one on Gwydir Street, the other on Trumpington Street). Norfolk Street Bakery is getting something of a reputation for the quality of the cakes, also with two branches in town. The Fitzwilliam Museum café is a good meeting point, with an intellectual feel to it, although it is often quite busy. Kettle’s Yard and the University Library also have cafes worth taking a cake in if you happen to be in the area.
Restaurants known for their settings include panoramic Six Brasserie on the top floor of The Varsity Hotel, riverside La Mimosa in Thompson’s Lane and Millworks by the Mill Pond on Newnham Road, with a working water wheel.
Some of the other well-known upmarket restaurants include:
● The Varsity and Trinity bistros, known for generous fish dishes – try the melt-in-the-mouth braised octopus or sea bass (Varsity is also known as the place Rajiv Gandhi met his future wife Sonia, who was waitressing there),
● Restaurant Twenty-Two, on Chesterton Road,
● The Ivy Cambridge Brasserie, a spin-off from the Covent Garden original,
● The Tamburlaine Hotel, recently renamed as Clayton Hotel Cambridge, in the redeveloped railway station area,
● Cotto, relaunched in The Gonville Hotel on Parker’s Piece with its signature chocolate desserts,
● Parker’s Tavern, in the refurbished University Arms Hotel on Parker’s Piece (try it’s tandoori quail),
● Vanderlyle on Mill Road with Masterchef finalist Alex Rushmer serving up locally sourced food you’d hardly know was predominantly vegetarian.
A classy vegan restaurant that appeals to non-vegetarians is Stem and Glory on King’s Street. If you can’t forgo the meat, the Pint Shop gastropub (in the former home of EM Forster, opposite the Arts Theatre) is for you – try its scotch egg, with the bonus of craft beer or artisan gins. Close by, The Senate is a good-quality Mediterranean bistro at medium prices. The Oak Bistro on Lensfield Road is another good option, with a nice alfresco dining area, or the Galleria beside Magdalene Bridge, which also does a tasty range of cocktails. The Old Bicycle Shop, living up to its name, is a great vegetarian restaurant on Regent Street, while slightly further out of town on the same street is The Emperor, a South American tapas bar with live Latin music and dancing.
Students’ long-time favourite for a kebab or burger is Gardenia (known affectionately as ‘Gardis’) in Rose Crescent. Other ‘cheap’ takeaway food can be bought from the generic ‘The Van’ in the Market Square, although there are now a swarm of food trucks plying their trade around Cambridge, many serving delicious up-market burgers and other cuisines – Steak and Honour started out as a food truck, freshly cooking juicy, thick and meaty burgers, earning it such a good reputation that you can now visit it in a central restaurant by the Corn Exchange – or if you want the authentic experience download its own app to track down one of its fleet of vans!
Other recommended food trucks, often findable by Twitter or through foodparkcam.com, are:
● Chai Walla (Indian – fab samosas, usually outside Metrobank on St Andrew’s St)
● Al Chile (Mexican – gooey quesadillas, often near the station or follow them on Instagram)
● Fired Up (authentic wood-smoked pizza on the move!)
● Jalan Jalan (South East Asian – great Viet fries)
● Guerrilla Kitchen (‘radical’ steamed buns (bao), visits the Science Park)
● Rossi Strasse (Swiss potato rosti)
● The Wandering Yak (flavoursome Middle Eastern vegetarian)
● Taste of Cambridge (a permanent fixture for falafel and wraps on Market Street)
For those seeking sit-down international cuisine, there are lots of Indian restaurants, with some of the best being Taj Tandoori Cherry Hinton Road, Atithi on Mill Road, Rajbelash on Hills Road and Navadhanya on Newmarket Road. There are plenty of Chinese restaurants but not so many long-established ones, some of the best being Yim Wah Express on Lensfield Road, Seven Days on Regent Street, Shanghai Family next to the Grafton Centre, the swanky Orchid on Newmarket Road and the cheap Noodles Plus on Mill Road.
Mill Road is a multicultural centre in Cambridge and its eateries include Bedouin and Al Kasbah which serve Algerian food; Café Blue Sage for Mediterranean and Turkish breakfasts and lunch; 196 for Turkish meze; Tu Casa for Galician tapas; Bibimbap for Korean options; the Ohayo sushi bar; and for Italian food try Tradizioni.
Savino’s in Emmanuel Street and La Margherita in Bridge Street are other good Italian options, and Aromi cooks artisan Sicilian pizza. Amelie, in the Grafton Centre, specialises in flammkuchen (thinner than pizza, doughier than bruschetta), Efes on King Street is an old-favourite for Turkish, and Africfood in Trinity Street serves up decent fast Algerian food at good prices. The award-winning Olive Grove on Regent Street offers Greek delicacies and exquisite (-ly pricey) sushi abounds at Sticks’n’Sushi on Wheeler Street. The Cricketers (close to Parker’s Piece) and The Wrestlers (Newmarket Road) have made names for themselves for their Thai food.
Jack’s Gelato (which started off on a tricycle, but is now established in a central, Bene’t Street venue) serves freshly made ice cream, with odd flavours such as goat’s milk and wild honey. Food trucks can also satisfy your sweet tooth: Cambridge Crepes on Sidney Street or track down Choux Stopper or Churros Bar if they’re in town.
Turning attention to evening drinks, there is still a plethora of pubs in Cambridge, although the numbers are dropping. Even though every college has a student bar (usually with student prices), there are still plenty of students out on the town Friday and Saturday nights, and pub crawls appear to be as popular as ever.
The King Street Run started in the 1950s, arising from a disagreement among students about how much beer they could drink, when there were a dozen pubs on King Street. At one point it got formalized into a pub crawl, having a pint in each of seven pubs before a final one back at the first one, all without a break for the loo. There are only five pubs nowadays, but some people still complete the tradition, starting at the small St Radegund, followed by The King Street Run, The Champion of the Thames, The Cambridge Brew House and d’Arry’s Liquor Loft.
In the centre of town The Eagle is a good choice, pleasing history buffs with its 17th-century building and WWII RAF bar complete with airmen’s graffiti, and the more sciency types as it was here that the structure of DNA was announced, and they have their own DNA IPA. Other good choices are The Mill and The Anchor (for their prime riverside locations) and The Punter for food, near the Museum of Cambridge.
For other pubs serving a great range of real ale as well as good food, The Clarendon Arms and The Free Press are reached by heading for the Grafton Centre, while close to Mill Road are The Cambridge Blue, The Petersfield and The Geldart, which has live music.
Outside of the centre, Hotel Felix has its award-winning Graffiti restaurant and Grantchester has some great pubs as you’d expect, with The Red Lion, Blue Ball Inn and The Rupert Brooke all being known for food and drink. Further afield, four really classic pubs are The Chequers, a 16th century coaching inn in Fowlmere, The Three Horseshoes in Madingley, The Three Tuns in Great Abington, and The Cock at Hemingford Grey, awarded the 2019 Pub of the Year title in the Good Pub Guide.
Trendy bars in town include Regent Street’s Novi (great cakes and pastries too if you’re there before they run out) and Chesterton Road’s THIRSTY, a bottle-shop-cum-bar that attracts some of the best afore-mentioned food trucks each evening to go with its wine, spirits and craft beer. It’s been so successful that it has opened a sandwich diner called – not HUNGRY but EAT. THIRSTY also runs immensely popular pop-up biergartens around town on summer weekends and has a THIRSTY bus for mobile events. Other drinks trucks to track down are The Gin Van(s) (check Instagram) and The Juice Box, for fresh, non-alcoholic juices and smoothies (check Twitter).
If you want to do-it-yourself, then check out the Cambridge Cheese Company in All Saint’s Passage opposite Trinity or Limoncello delicatessen in Mill Road. Out of town, Burwash Manor and the Gog Farm Shop have tasty delis and butcheries. The Cambridge Cooking School runs cookery classes and the Cambridge Wine Academy runs wine courses.
– Christopher Jagger ‘King’s College, Alumni’