Once dubbed Britain’s top ‘clone town’, you only have to take a look at Cambridge’s tantalising selection of cafes and restaurants to see that this is far from the truth – in fact, Cambridge’s food scene is flourishing. Once you know some of the local secrets, you’ll be able to make a beeline for the best coffee, lunch spots and evening tables in town.
Cafes and coffee stops
On Chesterton Road, just north of Midsummer Common, is Stir, a cool neighbourhood café. It’s a lovely, bright place that serves an array of cakes and a few light snacks, with a great space in the corner for parents with children – who are positively welcomed with colouring books and small toys. Further along the road you’ll find Stem + Glory, a vegan café and restaurant. A new express branch that serves lunch and take-away food has opened on King’s Street in the town centre.
Mill Road area
Heading up this eclectic area towards the east of the city is Espresso Library, a cool cycle café that’s also open for dinner Wednesday-Saturday evenings. At the top of Mill Road, CB1 is a good place to stop – full of books and board games, it has a lovely atmosphere, and the coffee is great.
Tom’s Cakes is a café that sells its own home-made cakes and biscuits, with an emphasis on local ingredients and flavours. It also serves paninis, sandwiches and soup, too. The Garden Kitchen is a spin-off from the hugely successful Garden Café at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Primarily takeaway – seating is minimal – food is fresh and there’s a tasty selection of salads, hot food and cakes. Hot Numbers is now a Cambridge favourite. It serves the perfect coffee from a no-fuss, pared down menu, and a tasty selection of cakes. It’s so good that there’s another one, right opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum on Trumpington Street.
Further up Mill Road and over the bridge is the High Tea Club, a cool place to go for tea, brunch, dim sum or cocktails. Nearby is the Black Cat Café, which is a good place for breakfast – try the specials at the weekend, which include eggs benedict with treacle-cured bacon and lemon hollandaise. Café Blue Sage is also a locals’ favourite.
It’s a lovely, bright place that serves an array of cakes and a few light snacks, with a great space in the corner for parents with children – who are positively welcomed with colouring books and small toys
Relevant Records, at the far end of Mill Road, has a coffee shop on one floor and a vinyl emporium in the basement – a treasure trove for vinyl lovers. The Urban Larder is a well-loved, cosy coffee shop that serves great coffee and theme days such as Doughnut Thursday. Right at the end of Mill Road is The Edge café, which – as well as serving good food and award-winning coffee – supports people who are recovering from substance abuse.
Around King’s Street
Towards town, on King’s Street, you’ll find The Urban Shed, which serves tasty sandwiches in little cardboard boxes, along with delicious cakes and coffee in a funky space with retro furniture. Look out for the airline chairs! Nearby is The Locker, a new family-run café with home-made cakes, pottery and art, while Stem + Glory Express serves fast vegan food and takeaways.
Marketplace and around
In the centre, King’s Parade and the streets nearby have a variety of places to eat and drink. At the Tourist Information Centre right by the market square, you’ll find The Green Coffee Company – it also has a few seats outside by the market. If that’s full and you don’t mind standing, try Caffé Mobile, a small van on the marketplace. Round the corner on Bene’t Street you’ll find Aromi, a delightful Sicilian café where you can watch chefs make the most amazing pizzas and flat breads through the window while you wait. Tight on space due to both its size and its popularity – so popular it has opened a second café just doors away – it also offers take-away, as well as delicious home-made gelato and cakes. Nearby is Bread and Meat, serving chunky and delicious roasted meat sandwiches, as well as vegetarian options.
Round the corner on Bene’t Street you’ll find a delightful Sicilian café where you can watch chefs make the most amazing pizzas and flat breads through the window while you wait
Fresh and varied
Founded by food writer and restaurateur, Bill Sewell, Michaelhouse Café on Trinity Street (opposite Gonville and Caius college) is known for its fresh and varied menu such as quiches, soups, salads and hot meals.
Whether you’re looking for an English afternoon tea or a light lunch, Harriets Café Tearooms on Green Street offers a traditional experience. With waiting staff dressed in 1940s-style uniforms and a piano waiting to be played (anyone can have a go when the pianist isn’t there), it’s a great place to enjoy sandwiches, tea and miniature cakes.
Just off King’s Parade down a small alleyway you’ll find the Rainbow Café, a vegetarian outfit that specialises in freshly-made vegan and gluten-free dishes. Nearby, on St Edmund’s Passage, is Indigo Coffee House, a seemingly tiny café serving fresh coffee, cakes and light meals, but it does have a small seating area upstairs and little tables outside. It’s a great refuge from the hustle and bustle of town, and just a side-step from King’s College.
Just a few steps further down King’s Parade on Trumpington Street, Fitzbillies bakery is famous for its sticky Chelsea buns – they’re so popular that they’re available by mail order. The café, re-opened by food writer Tim Hayward and his wife Alison, serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and afternoon tea. There’s also a Fitzbillies on Bridge Street at the other end of town, so you’re covered whichever way you walk in.
Just off King’s Parade down a small alleyway you’ll find a vegetarian cafe that specialises in freshly-made vegan and gluten-free dishes
Around the corner, tucked away down Botolph Street, you’ll find Espresso Lane, a tiny yet hugely popular coffee stop, while Trockel, Ulmann & Freunde on Pembroke Street is another hidden gem. Just by the Round Church is Bould Brothers, a small café serving the best coffee they can source. Further on down Bridge Street is Bridge, a small café serving sandwiches and salads.
The Arts Picturehouse on Regent Street is technically a cinema, though it has a good café that sells coffee and snacks, as well as a licence in case you want to take a drink into the cinema. You don’t have to come to watch a film, either – it’s open to anyone.
Savino’s, just up the road and opposite the bus station on Emmanuel Street, reputedly serves Cambridge’s best coffee. It’s a Sicilian venture that evokes the sights and sounds of a Sicilian café, with its Italian newspapers and gregarious staff. Meanwhile, the new, impressive Soboro Bakery on Petty Cury serves up a selection of Japanese and Korean bakery products and has a great lunch choice.
Around the Grafton Centre
Charlie’s Coffee Company on Burleigh Street, near the Grafton Centre, not only serves great coffee but a huge range of pizzas, hand-thrown and cooked in their own pizza oven. It also does events such as movie nights. Nearby is another Aromi, which again serves amazing pizzas and gelato, and further down Burleigh Street is Signorelli’s Deli, a gem of an Italian café/deli that’s well worth a visit. It also hosts events such as wine tasting and live music.
Just by the Round Church is Bould Brothers, a small café serving the best coffee they can source. Further on down Bridge Street is Bridge, a small café serving sandwiches and salads
In Ely, Peacocks Tearoom by the river is a favourite spot for locals and tourists alike. With beautiful views as well as a good menu and fantastic selection of tea and cakes, it’s well worth making a pit-stop here. And if you’re vising the cathedral, stop by at the Refectory Café inside for a great selection of cakes and light meals.
You’ll be rather spoiled for choice when it comes to eating out in Cambridge in the evening. Alongside plenty of regular restaurants, which offer a good selection of cheap eats and more adventurous dining, there are lots of auspicious independent restaurants offering fine fayre.
With its classic British dishes and real ales, the meat-heavy St John’s Chophouse on Northampton Street – owned by the Cambscuisine group, a trio of Cambridge foodies – is a Cambridge favourite. Sausages are made on-site, while some menu items – such as the pulled goat scrumpets – sound truly eccentric. Its sister restaurant, the Cambridge Chop House – with its fine views of King’s College – has a similar menu.
Smokeworks is also run by the same trio – you can find this on Free School Lane, a stone’s throw from the famous Eagle pub – while a new one has popped up by near the station. Emulating everything BBQ and Tennessee, this place both looks and tastes the part.
You’ll be rather spoiled for choice when it comes to eating out in Cambridge in the evening. Alongside plenty of regular restaurants, which offer a good selection of cheap eats and more adventurous dining, there are lots of auspicious independent restaurants offering fine fayre
Nearby, Wheeler Street and Bene’t Street by the Corn Exchange is fast becoming the food quarter of the city (or Meat Street, as it has become known locally). As well as a number of good chain eateries including Honest Burgers, Sticks ‘n’ Sushi, Argentinian steakhouse Cau, Jamie’s, Zizzi and Vietnamese street food Pho, there’s some great independents, too. Steak and Honour started out as a mobile gourmet burger van, but now has premises next to the Corn Exchange.
The Senate, opposite Great St Mary’s Church and right near King’s College, not only offers fantastic views, but also a Mediterranean menu from morning through to evening. Meanwhile, Trinity – just a few steps away down Trinity Street – is a new venture that serves elegant food in great surroundings.
Situated in the thriving riverside area of town (by Magdalene Bridge), The River Bar offers a fine selection of steaks and burgers, along with some fish dishes. Nearby is The Punt Yard, a funky retro eatery serving craft beer and artisan pizzas. Thaikhun is a Thai restaurant authentically decorated inside, which serves great street food. Thanh Binh is a family-run Vietnamese place opposite Magdalene College, which operates a bring-your-own-alcohol policy. Food is spicy, fragrant and there’s plenty of variety, too.
The Senate, opposite Great St Mary’s Church and right near King’s College, not only offers fantastic views, but also a Mediterranean menu from morning through to evening
dArry’s on King Street is both a restaurant and wine bar with a good range of wines – and it has a great cocktail bar roof terrace called the Liquor Loft. It also offers a private dining room for up to 20 people. An unassuming building on the banks of the river, Restaurant 22 is a ‘home-from-home’ affair, with its intimate dining rooms and seasonal menu. Regarded as something of a local secret, this cosy restaurant aims high.
Prepare for a sensory overload on Mill Road, where the choice of cuisine ranges from Indian, Chinese and Korean to Turkish and Greek. Bedouin is a North African restaurant with the interior décor of a tent, and serves delicious dishes such as tagines, couscous and marinated meats. Vegetarians are well-catered for, too. Lagona boasts Lebanese cuisine, and has some fantastic mezze and pastries.
Al Casbah serves Algerian cuisine – try the house special, couscous royale, or the vegetarian kafta – while Bibimbap House, despite the simple décor, provides a veritable Korean feast of noodles and, of course, bibimbap.
Back out by the south of the river, the Rice Boat is a fantastic Keralan restaurant with authentic dishes cooked with fragrant herbs and spices, with plenty of delicious offerings for vegetarians and fish-eaters. Nearby, MillWorks is a historic Cambridge watermill re-energised into an eclectic modern brasserie. Think vibrant, punchy flavours with elements of smoke from the charcoal grill. You can still see the working water wheel still turning inside.
dArry’s on King Street is both a restaurant and wine bar with a good range of wines – and it has a great cocktail bar roof terrace called the Liquor Loft. It also offers a private dining room for up to 20 people
Just south of the city centre in Cherry Hinton is Cofifteen. It serves freshly-made food to order (no microwaves here) and includes dishes such as tacos, sandwiches and brunch salads. It also hosts events such as yoga classes and art exhibitions.
The Old Fire Engine House, just west of the cathedral in Ely, offers a cosy dining experience with a traditional British farmhouse menu. What’s more, second helpings are regularly offered to hungry diners. In the village of Bottisham, six miles from Cambridge, Ristorante Il Piccolo Mondo is something of a hidden gem. Serving authentic Italian food with a fine dining twist, the restaurant is a perfect place to spend an evening, with its warm ambience and friendly hosts.
The Willow Tree in Bourn is an eclectic ‘boudoir’ restaurant, with a vibrant and diverse seasonal menu set in a cosy yet enchanting bar/restaurant. Live jazz in the evenings and events such as a ‘night circus’ with three-course meal, mind reader and magician are part of the regular themed evenings.
Proper pub food
When it comes to pub grub, Cambridge knows a thing or two. Aside from the many ‘pubs that serve food’, there’s a generous handful of gastro pubs, all of which are worthy of a mention.
It serves freshly-made food to order (no microwaves here) and includes dishes such as tacos, sandwiches and brunch salads. It also hosts events such as yoga classes and art exhibitions
The Punter at the bottom of Pound Hill serves delicious lunches and evening meals. It also has a barn across the courtyard to eat in that’s lovely in the summer with its twinkly lights, especially when the main pub’s full. The Old Spring on Chesterton Road is also a local favourite, with open fires and real ales, plus a tasty yet not overly-complicated menu. Heading towards the centre, the Cambridge Brew House has its own micro-brewery serving best bitter and hoppy pale ales, as well as other craft beers. Food is tasty, with a selection of sharing platters presented on large wooden boards (they smoke their own meat, fish and cheese), or menu picks such as wholesome pies and slow-braised lamb.
Right in the centre, surrounded by a number of other restaurants on Wheeler Street, is The Pint Shop. This old-style bar and restaurant has been inspired by the beer houses of the 1830s, when beer was allowed to be sold pretty much anywhere. It also serves an impressive range of gins – around 54 at the last count. Food is equally impressive, with starters such as gin-cured seat trout; Spit Roast Beer Brined Chicken for mains, and Pint Shop Fancies for dessert.
Just west of Ely, The Anchor at Sutton Gault is a superb inn serving tasty, hearty meals. On the banks of river deep in the Fens, the rural location adds to its charm – try walking off your lunch with a riverside walk. The Three Horseshoes in Madingley, a small village just outside Cambridge, offers far more than pub grub. Named ‘Cambridgeshire Dining Pub of the Year’ in the 2018 Good Pub Guide, it boasts a fine range of cuisine as well as a cosy ambience.
The Cock at Hemingford Grey, run by the Cambs Cuisine trio who own some great eateries in Cambridge, is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area, as is The Blue Lion in Hardwick. Meanwhile, The Pheasant at Keyston (12 miles west of Huntingdon) – a picturesque, thatched, traditional inn – serves a wide range of delightful dishes on a menu that changes daily.
Food is tasty, with a selection of sharing platters presented on large wooden boards (they smoke their own meat, fish and cheese), or menu picks such as wholesome pies and slow-braised lamb
If you’re looking for a special treat, Cambridge has a number of restaurants that are perfect for a special occasion. Midsummer House – boasting two Michelin stars – on Midsummer Common is led by head chef Daniel Clifford, known for his classical French technique and innovative dishes. For a blow-out, go for the eight-course tasting menu, or you can opt for the five-course menu if you’re feeling less flush.
Alimentum on Hills Rd serves modern European dishes, led by chef patron Mark Poynton. It caters for a variety of budgets, from an affordable two-course menu to a seven-course ‘Taste of Alimentum’. Just to the northern edge of the city on Huntingdon Road, Hotel Felix with its Graffiti restaurant offers a decent dining experience for any occasion. Whether you just want to pop in for a drink in the beautiful gardens or stay for a sit-down meal in this beautiful Victorian villa, the menu is varied, fresh and vibrant.
The Poet’s House in Ely offers a charming and indulgent dining experience. A hotel as well as a restaurant, the building was once three separate Grade 2-listed properties built in the early 1900s. Serving excellent cocktails and imaginative food in plush surroundings, it’s definitely one to watch.
In Huntingdon, The Brampton Mill is a delight to visit, situated right on the river and serving a great variety of good food. The Old Bridge Hotel is a classy 18th-century townhouse that serves delicious food from a progressive and varied menu. As well as outstanding food, there’s the remains of a Norman motte and bailey structure, once Huntingdon Castle, next door.
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