A day trip to Cambridge with an easy train ride from King’s Cross is ordinarily an occasion for marvelling at its beautiful architecture, wombling along the River Cam, and or chugging down the same on a punt, listening to increasingly spurious “facts” about the city from the guides. But it should also be an occasion for very, very good eating.
This is a food city as serious any other, which means that yes, there are tourist traps aplenty. But with a little discernment, careful research, and a willingness to leave the very pretty and very historic centre, bounty awaits.
This guide names a pick for every possible occasion, as well as a couple of alternatives, to accommodate where visitors might find themselves staying as well as preferences for product or vibe. Dig in — and please don’t fall off a punt.
9 a.m. — Coffee at Rubiaceae / Dom’s Coffee
Sorry to be mysterious, but this cafe on Mill Road is the kind of place that is only spoilt by detailed reviews. Just know: it’s well-placed for a walk in from the station; serves the best cups in the city; and offers a singular kind of hospitality that only a kind enthusiast can. Closed Sundays.
Mill Road CB1 2AW
Hot Numbers, Dales Brewery, 5-6 Gwydir Street CB1 2LJ
The Espresso Library, 210 East Road, Petersfield CB1 1BG
Bould Brothers, 16 Round Church Street CB5 8AD
10:15 a.m. — Breakfast at Fitzbillies
In a city of institutions, history, and prestige, there needs to be a visit to one of culinary renown. That place is Fitzbillies, and to get even more granular, that food is the Chelsea bun. Salvaged from ruin by Alice Wright, Tim Hayward, and head baker Gill Abbs in 2011, its syrupy folds of dough, punctuated by currants, are unmissable — and if wanting something more substantial, the fried breakfasts are solid too.
51-52 Trumpington Street CB2 1RG
Aromi, 1 Bene’t Street CB2 3QN. Order the pistachio croissant.
Indigo Coffee House, 8 St Edward’s Passage CB2 3PJ. Go for a bagel.
12:15 p.m. — Lunch at Zhonghua Traditional Snacks
Dumplings, soup. This is the duo at Zhonghua, where the jiaozi come by the dozen, steamed or fried (when they transmute into guotie), and wontons bob like buoys in hot and sour soup. There are noodles, there are decent char siu bao, and there is refreshment from cucumber salad, but it’s the dumplings diners come for.
13 Norfolk Street CB1 2LD
Pint Shop, 10 Peas Hill CB2 3PN. Reliably meaty pub dishes and a beer matrix.
Steak and Honour, 4 Wheeler Street CB2 3QB. Outstanding burgers.
Yippee Noodles, 7-9 King Street CB1 1LH. What would happen if Wagamama suddenly decided to care.
2 p.m. — Dessert at Jack’s Gelato
With two ice cream shops and a roving bicycle, it’s nearly impossible to miss out on Jack’s - and missing out is not the thing to do. The daily flavour menus rotate between classic (vanilla) and outrageous (Japanese whisky; caramelised white chocolate), and the Bene’t Street shop opens into the evening until 11 p.m. for a Cambridge passeggiata. It’s the best shout for something sweet.
3:30 p.m. — A pint, literally anywhere
If there’s one thing Cambridge does really well, it’s
academia pubs. There are hundreds, lots of them are very good, and picking one is a fool’s errand, so:
For the day-trip experience, at a beautiful country pub after a meandering walk.
The Red Lion, 33 High Street, Grantchester CB3 9NF
For the beer nerds, with an enviable selection of Belgians in an enthusiast’s paradise.
The Elm Tree, 16A Orchard Street CB1 1JT
For the local brews, and a tap room vibe with a less traditionalist bent.
Calverley’s Taproom, 23A Hooper Street CB1 2NZ
5:30 p.m. — Dumplings round two (or one) at Noodles Plus
Jiaozi were the move at Zhonghua; at Noodles Plus, the move isn’t noodles at all: it’s xiao long bao. Serenely pleated by a master of his craft, they could be the prelude to some hand-pulled noodles ... Or just a single snack for the greedy.
24A Mill Road, Petersfield CB1 2AD
7 p.m. — Dinner at Vanderlyle
Reservations are very much required for Alex Rushmer’s stunning follow-up to the Hole in the Wall — they go live the first Tuesday of every month. Rushmer is a strong, compassionate voice for evolving hospitality culture for the better, and his restaurant is a signal of that intention: elegantly bountiful dishes focussed on fruits and vegetables, a sort of East Anglian analogue to Jeremy Fox’s ideas. Singular, sublime, not to be missed.
38 Mill Road, Petersfield CB1 2AD
Midsummer House, Midsummer Common CB4 1HA. Michelin-starred dining in all its finery, but with some genuinely excellent execution.
Parker’s Tavern, 42-52 Regent Street CB2 1AD. Quality, classic, comfortable.
1+1 Rougamo, 84 Regent Street CB2 1DP. Excellent Xi’an cookery.
9:30 p.m. — A pint at one of the pubs you didn’t go to earlier.
10 p.m. — Another one.
12 a.m. onwards —
Rumour has it a mythical place called “Gardie’s” exists, in which night owls, clubbed-out students, and readers of this guide can commune over souvla and possibly end up with their photo on its walls. If this place did truly exist, it would be found on Rose Crescent, but no-one can say for sure.
9 a.m. — Coffee or Milanese hot chocolate at Savino’s
As thick as oil, whether sweet or bitter, the hot chocolate and espresso at this wonderful cafe is the perfect reminder of how, for all third wave coffee’s excellence, sometimes Italians really do do it better. There’s no better place to say arriverderci to Cambridge.
3 Emmanuel Street CB1 1NE