Local guides

Where to eat in Cambridge: Exquisite fine dining and late night gelato in the city
Published 26 May 2022

Cambridge, small as it is, isn’t without good restaurants. Fame has likely helped. But a prestigious institution does not guarantee food worth eating, and even if the pubs are old and crooked in their charm, elsewhere dining rooms well dressed, there are duds aplenty in the city, just as there are in Oxford. And so let us be guided. Local Alex Rushmer, the owner of the restaurant Vanderlyle, offers his expertise.

Although our beautiful city has long been famed more for degrees than dining, the last ten years have witnessed a welcome shift, with a heady array of incredible food businesses setting up amidst the spires and colleges.

To the east of the city, Mill Road retains its historically fiercely independent spirit and for anyone visiting the city by train it makes for the perfect route into town. My own restaurant, Vanderlyle, focuses entirely on plants, and so seafood aficionados should head to Fin Boys, a recent arrival which serves impeccably sourced fish from an open kitchen.

Credit: Vanderlyle

Also newly opened is Fancett’s, a French bistro with a regularly changing menu that displays a deep knowledge of classical technique in a delightfully romantic setting. More established - marking their 25th birthday this year - is Al Casbah, whose charcoal grill tempts diners to a seat in the open frontage. Options for a casual lunch abound too: handmade xiao long bao from Noodles+, traditional Korean comfort food at Bibimbap, or sourdough pizzas, scorched to perfection in a proper pizza oven at Scott’s.

Pre-dinner cocktails at 196 are a must, especially if you can score an outside table. Failing that, the six-shot negroni at Maurizio’s is a potent alternative and a great way to start an evening. If cobwebs need to be blown away the following morning, get coffee from Hot Numbers (who have their own roastery in a village just outside of Cambridge); Rubiaceae, which boasts an artisanal experience; or Modigliani’s, home to a traditional Italian cappuccino that must be paired with a pistachio ‘bomba’.

Credit: Tiffin Truck

Heading into the centre across Parker’s Piece offers the chance to marvel at the grand facade of the University Arms Hotel, home to Parker’s Tavern. It is headed by chef Tristan Welch and offers a menu of British classics. And don’t miss Tiffin Truck while you make your way into the city: the crispy kale chaat is a local legend.

Even after 20 years, Daniel Clifford’s exquisite Midsummer House remains a globally recognised temple to fine dining and shows no sign of resting on its laurels. Close by in Chesterton, Restaurant 22 is the perfect canvas for Sam Carter’s beautiful and precise cooking with service overseen with genuine warmth by his wife Alex. Further upstream you’ll find Garden House, a new venture led by former Perilla chef, Adam Wood, whose open-fire cooking of local produce is an extremely welcome addition to the Cambridge scene.

Credit: Jack's Gelato / Instagram

In the centre of the city you’ll find a plethora of food stalls in the central market, all well worth exploring, and round the corner the local favourite Steak & Honour serve the city’s best burgers (‘One for Ella, double patty’ is the connoisseur’s choice) from their home on Wheeler Street. Just a few doors down, Bread & Meat’s robust porchetta sandwiches should probably be ordered with a side of poutine. If you’re in the mood for something of a more Italian persuasion, Aromi’s Roman style pizzas can be bought by the slice and devoured on the move. For dessert, head up the road to Jack’s Gelato, where a dizzying array of flavours are available late into the night.

Just a couple of minutes from the market is Green Street, an oft-missed cobbled thoroughfare that runs between Sidney Street and Trinity Street. Gin fans should book an interactive cocktail making session at The Cambridge Gin Lab from the world-renowned Cambridge Distillery and, once an appetite has been built up, head to Mercado Central for a selection of Galician and Basque-inspired dishes.

Flam-kuche. Credit: Amelie

Over in The Grafton Centre’s food court you’ll find Catalina Uribe and Nelson Rodrigues’ La Latina Bustaurante, bringing the bold flavours of Colombia to the streets of Cambridge: tostones, arepas and empanadas are all available in a range of flavours, with plenty of vegan options as well. While you’re there, swing by Amelie to sample the traditional Alsatian answer to pizza: flam-kuche.

If the weather is kind, a lunch on a punt is probably the best way to see the most historic parts of the city. Take traditional Chelsea buns from Fitzbillies, a selection of charcuterie and cheese from The Cambridge Cheese Company and a box of handmade chocolates from Hill Street for a peerless picnic. All this should be washed down with a couple of pints of local brewers Calverley’s finest.

Amidst all this you should, of course, take a few snaps of King’s College Chapel or Trinity Great Court – but with so much eating to do, you might not even have the time.