Cambridge food and drink guide

Cambridge food and drink guide

by Katie Smith 16 March 2016

Cambridge is no longer famed just for its university, picturesque buildings and avid cyclists – food is fast becoming its star attraction. As the city's culinary scene continues on its upward trajectory, Katie Smith offers a glimpse into Cambridge's foodie ascent.

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Katie is an avid home baker, passionate about using seasonal produce and hedgerow ingredients. As part of the editorial team at Great British Chefs, she pursues her dual loves of food and writing.

Katie is an avid home baker, passionate about using seasonal produce and hedgerow ingredients. As part of the editorial team at Great British Chefs, she pursues her dual loves of food and writing.

Cambridge is a city dominated by beautiful architecture and historic university colleges. It has also always been a market city, where traders have proffered their wares in the central Market Square for centuries. Fast-forward to the modern day and you’ll find the Cambridge food scene in the midst of a revival, with tourists and foodies visiting the city for more than just a relaxing punt along the River Cam.

The Mill Road area could be considered the approximate epicentre of the city’s food revolution, with its renowned and diverse mix of independent restaurants, cafés and delis, with Urban Larder providing the catalyst. Bene’t Street in the city’s centre has developed the nickname ‘meat street’ due to its influx of meat-centric restaurants, with newcomer Bread & Meat sitting alongside the more established Cambridge Chophouse. Just around the corner is Sicilian café Aromi which entices in the lunchtime crowds with its abundance of Italian delicacies. Veering off the well-trodden tourist trail is King Street, where Cantabrigians relax away from the crowds in an assortment of pubs and cafés, such as nearby Stickybeaks. If it is pubs you are after, then Cambridge has it covered with a seemingly endless list of traditional, gastro and craft beer specialists. Indeed, the city pays homage to its thriving pub culture with not one but three annual CAMRA beer festivals.

With so much passion for food and drink permeating every nook and cranny of Cambridge – from Michelin-starred restaurants all the way through to informal street food stalls – this city is not to be missed for those who truly love their food.

It might not look like much from the outside, but Zhonghua is one of Cambridge's best kept secrets
Market Square
Market Square acts as a hub for the city, where you can pick up anything from local fruit and veg to homemade cakes

Casual Eats

Zhonghua Traditional Snacks – Serving delicious homemade dumplings, delicately steamed Chinese buns and big bowls of steaming hot noodles, this small traditional Chinese eatery is quite simply my favourite restaurant in Cambridge. Make sure you try the pungent garlic sauce and super spicy chilli oil!

Polonia Club – You’ll find a different kind of dumpling served in this authentic Polish restaurant as well as an assortment of other delicacies, from bigos to gołąbki – and of course Polish vodka. For those new to Polish cuisine (or racked with indecision) there are several tempting tasting menus.

The Sea Tree – This unique fish bar sells more than just traditional fish and chips. Alongside the classic menu of cod, haddock and plaice you can also choose from salmon, sea bass, mackerel, mussels and even scallops that can be battered, grilled or pan-fried to order – preferably with a side of proper chip shop chips.

Afternoon Tease – As the name suggests this small independent café specialises in cake and all things cake-related. The inviting selection of homemade favourites includes the café’s infamous carrot cake and chocolate Guinness cake. For something more savoury there is also a fantastic range of locally-sourced brunch and lunch options.

Merhaba – This Turkish restaurant on East Road is the place to go to for the city’s tastiest lahmacun and pide. The eatery also offers a mouth-watering selection of hot and cold mezze dishes, traditional Turkish tea and coffee, as well as an affordable three-course set menu.

Dining destinations

Midsummer House – Situated on the edge of beautiful Midsummer Common along the banks of the River Cam, head chef Daniel Clifford has placed seasonality at the heart of his two Michelin-starred menu. Choose from between five-, seven- and ten-course tasting menus accompanied by a tailored selection of wine from the dedicated team of sommeliers.

AlimentumMark Poynton’s seasonal Michelin-starred menu is inspired by modern European cuisine. Slow cooking techniques draw out the exquisite flavours of the food found on the a la carte through to the fixed-price menu.

Cotto – The understated exterior hides a restaurant dedicated to the freshest local ingredients showcased in dishes created utilising the finest classic cooking techniques. Master chef Hans Schweitzer is also a trained chocolatier and offers a delectable range of ‘Hans’-made chocolates for dessert.

The Oak Bistro – Modern British and European cuisine are the focus of this relaxed and intimate bistro looking out towards the towering Catholic Church on the corner of Lensfield Road. There is a pretty walled garden in which to also sample some of the specially selected ports, cognacs, wines and Champagnes.

The Olive Grove – Located on bustling Regent Street, this Mediterranean hideaway offers a small taste of sun-soaked Greece. Mousakka, souvlaki and spanakopita all feature on the menu, as well as a plethora of lesser-known authentic recipes and mezze staples.

Gog Magog Farm Shop is known for its cheese selection
Cambridge Wine Merchants stocks the finest wines and spirits

Stocking up

Cambridge General Market – Every Monday through to Saturday this market occupies the prime position in the city’s central Market Square selling kitchen cupboard essentials – fresh fruit and vegetables, free-range eggs, meat, fish, speciality cheeses, olives, homemade cakes, pies and fresh bread – all from local producers. Whilst you peruse the stalls you can even get your bike fixed!

Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop – A short trip out of town will bring you to this award-winning farm shop housing everything from a delicatessen, to a café and a butchers which also boasts hands-on butchery classes. ‘The Shack’ offers a taste of the area’s blossoming street food culture and hosts regular live music and food events. Before you leave make sure to try the legendary Scotch eggs and cheese scones.

The Art of Meat – The owner of this Arbury-based butchers left a career in Molecular Biology to establish the successful butchery business selling traditional and more unusual cuts of meat such as Flat Iron steak. The fresh meat counter offers a continuously changing variety of free-range sausages including the iconic South African Boerwors and spicy Merguez sausage.

Norfolk Street Bakery – Originally established in 1868, this bakery was revived and reopened by Portuguese baker Adilia Frazao in 2005. Located just a short walk from bustling Mill Road, the bakery attracts local foodies with its fantastic selection of British and Portuguese artisan breads and pastries, including dainty scorched Portuguese custard tarts.

Daily Bread Co-Operative – Inconspicuously tucked away within an industrial estate is a whole food shop packed to the rafters with local, ethically-sourced, fair trade and organic products. It is the perfect place to gather supplies – dried fruit, nuts, herbs, spices, pulses, flours, organic fruit and vegetables and, of course, bread – and amply caters for vegetarians, vegans and coeliacs.

Watering holes

The Mill – This pub occupies an enviable position overlooking the River Cam and Mill Pond where enthusiastic would-be punting professionals try their hand at steering the unruly vessels. As a CAMRA award-winning free house you are guaranteed to find a fine selection of local ales, beer and proper cider. On Sunday evenings there is a movie club for classic film fans.

The Cambridge Blue – It is hard to miss the three enormous fridges filled with over 100 bottled craft beers when you first step inside this Gwydir Street pub. The bar itself has a mind-boggling choice of ales, cider, perry and over 80 whiskies. The beer garden backs onto the historic Mill Road cemetery and is the venue for the pub’s numerous food and drink festivals.

Kingston Arms – Cosy backstreet pub set within a line of terraced Victorian houses. In winter a roaring fire warms the punters, while in the summer you can enjoy a pint of award-winning ale in the sunshine at one of the monthly beer festivals. Alongside typical pub grub you can nurse a sore head with the ‘Hangover Breakfast’, or save your pennies with the ‘Recession Options’.

Cambridge Wine Merchants – The independent merchants regularly host tasting events and dinners, with the Bridge Street, Cherry Hinton and Mill Road branches also boasting wine bars. The team sources fine wines, specialist spirits, unique liqueurs, craft beers, fortified and dessert wines primarily from family-owned and independent wineries, distilleries and breweries.

Hot Numbers – A coffee bar, roastery and live music venue all rolled into one. The speciality coffee comes directly from the traders and is medium roasted to retain the distinctive flavour and aroma of each bean. For an education in coffee, try a barista course at the Trumpington Street branch.

The Mill
The Mill is one of Cambridge's best pubs
Cambridge Beer Festival
The Cambridge Beer Festival is the oldest of its kind in the UK
Mill Road Feast
Mill Road Feast happens every three months and offers a wealth of artisan food

Don't miss...

Eat Cambridge – A two-week long spectacular celebrating the city’s thriving independent food and drink scene. The whole city gets swept along in a packed schedule featuring fairs, stalls, street food vans, cookery lessons, a street food night market, food talks and supperclubs.

foodPark – Street food fans are well and truly catered for by a whole host of weekday lunchtime markets and pop-up events held across Cambridge. The regular night markets promote the city’s fantastic street food even further with live music, hot drinks and a carefully curated bar.

Mill Road Feast – Happening every three months within close proximity of Mill Road, this pop-up food market features local and seasonal produce in a dedicated farmers’ market section as well as freshly-prepared food that spans the entire street food spectrum.

Cambridge Beer Festival – This CAMRA beer festival is the oldest of its kind in the UK. The marquees on Jesus Green bustle with drinkers keen to sample the enormous array of national and international beers, ciders and perries, English wine and my favourite – mead. The cheese counter draws the masses with its selection of cheeses, locally-produced bread, pork pies and football-sized Scotch eggs!