Cambridge (Came Bridge/ kaym-brij)
Cambridge is just a few miles from Ely and it’s where we spent most of our time when we weren’t travelling around the country. Cambridge is renowned worldwide for its university, which was founded in 1209 and is consistently ranked among the top five universities in the world. A collegiate institution, the university boasts 31 separate colleges and numerous departments and faculties spread across the city. As well as a centre of academic excellence, Cambridge has become a hub for hi-tech industry with many software and bioscience start-up companies growing as spin-offs from the university.
A fine example of late Gothic architecture, King’s College Chapel was started in 1446 by King Henry VI and took over a century to build. It has the largest fan vaulted ceiling in the world and some of the finest medieval stained glass. It is also the venue for the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast live by the BBC on Christmas Eve. If you ever have a chance to hear the sublime Choir of King’s College, you will be enchanted!
There is something for everyone in Cambridge. A range of galleries showcase an impressive range of art, a buzzing theatre and performance scene presents drama, dance and family shows including the annual summer Shakespeare Festival and theatre lovers will delight in the range of performances on offer, from student theatre to touring groups and West End shows at the Arts Theatre.
The Cambridge Arts Picturehouse is one of a collective of cinemas around England that features blockbusters, world cinema, live satellite talks and film education. We saw an original 70mm screening of Pink Floyd’s The Wall here and at their cafe/bar with its laid back atmosphere, we went for massive burgers served on focaccia with sweet potato fries and crisp glasses of Hoegarden.
At the Cambridge Arts Theatre we were psyched to score last minute, second row(!) tickets to Ballet Boyz. The original BalletBoyz, former Royal Ballet dancers Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, spent ten years touring as an inventive male modern ballet duo and now they choreograph a fresh and funky male dance troupe combining classical and contemporary dance techniques. They were amazingly graceful and powerful and left us mesmerized.
After the show we tried Jamie’s Italian, a chain of restaurants from Jamie Oliver. I really liked Jamie’s show and his initiative to curb obesity in the U.S. But sadly, the restaurant was quite disappointing. The space and decor were great. The wait staff, attentive at best, but the food was less than on par. My risotto was delicious, but Michael’s salad was just a few slices of beets and fennel on a plate with absolutely no olive oil or anything. We ordered the fried ravioli and it was bland, but the dipping marinara saved them with its spicy, tomato tang. We also tried the bruschetta which was just fine. Next up was our mains. We had the Sausage Pappardelle and the Tagliatelle Bolognese. Both main dishes were good, under seasoned, but nothing a few dashes of salt did not fix.
The biggest blunder was our ordering so many things to try without realizing they had a zero “doggie bag” policy. It’s not printed anywhere and only disclosed when I asked to take home the pasta I could not finish- more than half my main dish. This was the only place in all of England we encountered that refused to let us take home our uneaten portion. A back and forth email with their customer service stated-
“It is fantastic to hear that you enjoyed most of your experience. I do understand your comments regarding the doggy bag. I wanted to write to you just to clear the air about our policy. We do have to be very careful here because it is a Jamie Restaurant, we have to been seen to cover all bases when it comes to food safety. The last thing we would want is for some one to fall ill from re-heated food that has been taken away from our restaurant (which is easily done if not re-heated to correct temperature).”
-which to me comes off as insulting to their customer’s intelligence. I’d say that 90% of people reheat leftovers in the microwave. And, if on the stove, most people would turn the flame to medium or high, thereby heating the meal properly. In addition, the food was previously cooked, killing bacteria that may have been present. Their response had nothing to do with food freshness or loss of flavor, but everything to do with the fact that people have not learned how to re-heat and would end up poisoning themselves. Not a lot of confidence in their food or their customers. It is a bit insulting.
They finally offered us two main dishes to compensate for our disappointment, which we will take them up on in July when I go back to England. But I am not a fan and we had a far better Italian meal at Carluccios, another chain of Italian restaurants. (Where I can easily take home whatever I don’t finish.)
I’ll let you know how our next meal there goes. Anyways…
For soccer fans, Cambridge boasts their own team, Cambridge United. Their games are much tamer than some of the Premier League games but the crowds are still very supportive- and especially verbal when playing an arch rival team. I witnessed two games and am happy to say that I will be back. Its really fun to cheer them on. Even if they often loose.
There are all kinds of live music venues from internationally acclaimed orchestras and ensembles to touring bands, pub gigs, the world-famous, outdoor, Cambridge Folk Festival at Cherry Hinton Hall in July (which we went to last year and will go again this year!), the ever-popular Cambridge Beer Festival on Jesus Green in May and the family-friendly Big Weekend on Parker’s Piece in July.
We got to see one of my favorite musical artists, Beth Orton, perform at the Cambridge Junction. This three building space hosts many acts and a large portion of their proceeds goes to support artist development through the various programs offered there.
We also got to see the folk rock group Home Service, with their very impressive brass section. The group’s leader, John Tams, is best known for writing the music to the original theater production of War Horse and worked on the film alongside composer John Williams. Earlier the same week, we ventured into London to see the Michael Nyman Band. He is a composer of minimalist music, a pianist, librettist and musicologist, known for the many film scores he wrote during his lengthy collaboration with the filmmaker Peter Greenaway and his multi-platinum soundtrack album to Jane Campion’s The Piano. A tribute to the talent of musicians that performed is that one of the brass players, Andy Findon, actually performed in both concerts!
Before the Home Service concert, we had a fabulous meal at Carluccios. Their zucchini risotto was creamy and flavorful and their Brasato di Manzo, a slow cooked beef stew with Chianti, served with grilled polenta was rich with tomatoes and olives and the meat just melted in your mouth. The bread pudding for dessert was heavenly as was the light and creamy raspberry parfait.
Then we explored several of Cambridge’s pubs, of which there are many! Like any college town, the pubs are generally inexpensive with good food, good beer and humble decor.
The Cambridge Blue – Off the tourist track in the popular Mill Road area of the city, the Blue is popular with beer lovers and students and is by common consent one of the best pubs in Cambridge. Good food and a massive selection of draft and bottled beers from around the UK, Belgium, the rest of Europe and indeed the rest of the world.
The Kingston Arms – Like the Blue, the Kingston is another neighbourhood pub in the Mill Road area. Ever popular, it boasts a vast array of real ales, quality wines and great food and runs its own mini beer festivals on a regular basis. With very simple furnishings, free newspapers and wi-fi access it all adds to the homey feel and is a great place to spend an afternoon.
The Eagle– One the oldest inns in Cambridge, dating back to the 14th century. A traditional experience with real ales and home cooked food, the Eagle is where Watson and Crick famously announced to the world that they had discovered “the secret of life” (DNA). The famous RAF ceiling boasts signatures of pilots from all over the world who returned from the Second World War and signed their names on the ceiling using only cigarette lighters, candle smoke and lipstick. They also serve up a mighty fine Fish & Chips with mushy peas!
Not a pub, but another good place for great burgers and beer is GBK– Gourmet Burger Kitchen. Their burgers are huge and come in many different variations. My favorite became The Wellington, with grilled mushrooms, horseradish sauce, rocket & mayo followed by The Don with a brioche bun, bacon, aioli, blue cheese, American cheese, onion jam, rocket & mustard mayo. Their chicken sandwiches are also very good- reminiscent of Thanksgiving another favorite was the Panko crusted chicken with Camembert, cranberry sauce, salad, mayo & relish.
We stopped in to The Cambridge Wine Merchants on Mill Road one evening to see what kinds of wine they sold and we met Lyndsey, the Director of Retail Sales (@LyndseyCWM). She invited us to a tasting they were having that night in their downstairs tasting room. We showed up around nine and had a blast. We tried three different wines and really enjoyed the witty commentary given by her and the store’s manager, Matt. We had such a good time, met other patrons that were there and engaged in lively conversations about Spain and the characteristics of the wines we were drinking. We missed their next tasting, but this summer, it is at the top of our list to revisit them.
One of the most luscious meals we had was at Sala Thong, Cambridge’s longest-established Thai restaurant. This very modest restaurant has the very best Gang Massaman Nua, a Massamen beef curry with potatoes, peanuts and coconut milk. It has a variety of textures and flavors; spicy, creamy, meaty and crunchy. It was a taste explosion in every bite! I loved it so much that we actually went back later in my trip so I could have it again. Their Tom Kha Gai soup with large pieces of chicken, lemongrass and Thai herbs was quite fragrant and bright. Such simple dishes, yet so complex in flavor. This is sure to be one place we order in from a lot!
Another favorite spot was Cocum, which features Kerala (Southern Indian) cuisine. It served us the mother of all biryanis! Inspired from traditional recipes from the Malabar coast of Kerala, our chicken briyani, a massive mound of rice in a sauce of onion, ginger, tomato, coriander, mint leaves, cashew nuts and various spices including cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and bay leaves was served with a side of pickle and raitha. This single dish could have served four patrons easily! The cooking vessel they used was deceiving in size and when unmolded, it revealed a mammoth amount of food!
Here, I was introduced to dosas, a crepe like pancake made from rice and black gram lentils and lightly fried to form a crispy shell that was stuffed with a masala of potato, onion and ginger.
Of course, we also ordered several of our favorite side dishes to enjoy too, from vegetable samosas, saag paneer and chana masala to aloo gobi and peswari naan. As usual, we had enough left over to have another feast at home the next day.
My last night in Cambridge, we went to one of my friends favorite restaurants, Loch Fyne. The Cambridge branch of this chain named for the Scottish loch where it sources its oysters and mussels is in a former pub opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum on historic Trumpington Street. Oysters, risotto, halibut, gilt-head bream are just a few of the items on offer here. They have a large selection of fresh fish to choose from that you can have cooked your way- pan fried, steamed or grilled and served with one of three toppings. I chose a grilled Halibut filet with the slow roasted tomato and chilli pesto. It came with two sides, one of which was pan-fried samphire in garlic butter. I have never had nor heard of samphire before. It’s a sea vegetable that grows abundantly on shorelines, in marshy shallows and on salty mudflats. It resembles a thin long string of asparagus, a vibrant green, slightly crunchy stalk that tastes a bit salty. This vegetable, dashed with a squeeze of lemon juice was probably my favorite part of the meal.
There were many other places we popped into while out and about. Marks and Spencer department store was great for an afternoon of shopping as was the Cambridge Cheese Company where you can pick up a variety of cheeses and locally sourced products including Cambridge Chilli Farm chilli sauce, chutneys, jams and relishes, local ales and ciders and seasonally foraged mushrooms.
Be sure to take a break from all that shopping and head into Patisserie Valerie for a coffee and one of their divine pastries and cakes. The chocolate mousse cake will satisfy anyone’s chocolate craving!
There really is so much to do in Cambridge. I was only able to scratch the surface this time. But I am heading back this June for several weeks and I am really looking forward to experiencing several of the museums and some more outdoor activities…like going punting on the River Cam, enjoying a picnic in the park, taking a walking tour of the city and exploring further afield from the seat of a bicycle following the excellent network of cycle paths in and around the city.
Next up is our visit to Norwich and the North Norfolk Coast and the most divine mussels I have ever had!