Looking to feed your mind and body for a day, then head for the university town of Cambridge. With the picturesque River Cam flowing through it, this east of England city offers visitors world-class museums and galleries alongside welcoming restaurants, pubs and cafes.
But how to make the most of a quick visit?
If you’re only there for a short time and looking to discover the thriving food scene, perhaps you could contact Gerla de Boer at Cambridge Food Tours (www.cambridgefoodtour.com) who leads foodie tours and shares her top tips online … “sip a crisp glass of white wine at the Chop House on Kings Parade watching the sunset change the colours of Kings College or walk to nearby Grantchester village on Sunday lunchtime and have lunch at the Greenman pub”.
However, should you find yourself in the city over the next few weeks, do take time out to visit the world-class Fitzwilliam Museum, on Trumpington Street (www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk). It’s here you’ll find a fascinating travelling exhibition about David Poston, avant-garde jeweller, political activist, photographer, author, engineer and inventor. This travelling display showcases his jewellery and selected interests spanning a career of four decades with a selection of exuberant and thought-provoking pieces.
But it’s as an inventor and engineer that David’s life crosses into food production through his work across central Africa teaching black-smithing skills to subsistence farmers. David’s tool-making work is referenced in this exhibition, and notably through two fascinating charts (see Honey chart, below) detailing how farmers can efficiently plant, grow, nurture, market and sell honey and rice, two important crops across the continent.
Through his teaching of welding and black-smithing, David has passed on the benefits and skills of self-reliance that have became common practice across the Africa and beyond, developing farmers’ practical skills and commercial ability to well beyond simple subsistence levels.
His charts have a cultural and artistic resonance in addition to showing how farmers are empowered through accessing support of international finance and non-governmental support.
David’s display can be found in the Fitzwilliam’s European Pottery Gallery (room 27) and runs until Sunday, 13 September.
And, like all nice museums and galleries, the Fitzwilliam has an ace cafe attached!
So, my three foodie tips for spending a day in Cambridge are …
The Eagle pub on Benet Street in the heart of the city serves good, consistent pub grub with sausages and mash a typical highlight. But the Eagle is best known in an historical context. It’s the place where Nobel Prize winning scientists Crick and Watson revealed their discovery of DNA, the so-called ‘secret to life’, and home to the locally famous award-winning ‘Sausage and Mash’ consisting of Cambridgeshire Dingly Dell sausages on a bed of mash, topped with crispy onions and homemade gravy (www.eagle-cambridge.co.uk).
Fitzbillies is a cafe with a popular bakery serving its famous sticky cinnamon and honey flavoured Chelsea buns. Sited opposite Pembroke College, Fitizbillies is a short hop from the fabulous Fitzwilliam Museum. The cafe lies under a gorgeous painted vintage sign surrounded by a beautiful, traditional wooden facade and boasts a homely, comfortable atmosphere inside. Best to book to ensure you get a table if you’re after brunch or to sample their Porter’s Pie or a Fitzbillies ‘Afternoon Tea’. Owned by Alison Wright and her food writer husband Tim Hayward, the cafe was famously rescued from closure in 2011, and remains a local institution and a must visit (www.fitzbillies.com).
However, if a meaty feast is on your agenda, then pay a visit to St John’s Chop House on Northampton Street or its sister restaurant the Cambridge Chop House on a King’s Parade and overlooking the remarkable Kings Chapel to taste traditional classic dishes. Changing menus every three months gives a seasonal flavour to the menu, complemented by the occasional plating of squirrel and rook. The ‘Grazing Plate’ is designed for sharing and includes Cured & Smoked Beef Brisket, Haslet Fritters, Roll Mop Herring Soldiers, Crackling, Haggis Fritters, Ham Hock, and Corn Fed Chicken Terrine with Pickles. The range of this dish is a signal to the owners ambition of serving such a variety of food, albeit at a slightly higher price than the Fitzbillies and The Eagle (www.cambscuisine.com)
Looking for more reasons to visits? Then the organisers at the annual Food Festival (www.eat-cambridge.co.uk) have pencilled-in May 2016 as the month for the next event. This year’s festival had demos from butchers, cocktails dens, street food popups and food styling workshops.
With its colleges, museums and eateries, a day in Cambridge is never wasted.