Recently, Cambridge Food Tour invited Roots and Toots to attend one of its weekend tours, Taste Cambridge. Tipped as the “hottest lunch date in Cambridge,” the plan was to spend a full day eating my way around this historic university city to discover various local producers, independent eateries and the best-kept secrets hidden from the tourist trail. What an awful sounding idea, said no food blogger ever.
We explored Cambridge through the eyes of our tour guide Camilla – a foodie and food writer and photographer who knew her stuff. Camilla guided us around Cambridge to uncover various local gems and much of what we tried was tucked away in quiet alleyways or a short walk from the hustle and bustle. Altogether, we tried around 15 different tastes from delicatessens, street food vendors, restaurants, bakeries, pubs and a microbrewery.
What do you need to bring?
An empty belly and a pair of these:
What to expect
Although Cambridge Food tour offers a plethora of pre-arranged food events as well as private bespoke tours, we took part in Taste Cambridge which is a 4.5-hour (4 miles) walking tour which costs £49.50 per person.
Expect to go off the beaten track and experience the city as locals do, gaining knowledge about the latest food discoveries, the finest local produce and all the hot places to eat in town.
The itinerary is constantly evolving as and when Cambridge Food Tour discovers the newest foodie delight or producer on the scene. My experience of the tour will give you an overall indication of the Taste Cambridge tour, but depending on when you do the tour, there will perhaps be a few adjustments to the itinerary.
Cambridge Food Tour has been listed by Trip Advisor as “one of the best tours in the world” so I had high hopes indeed.
First stop was Fitzbillies. This place is a bit of an institution. Not long ago, when the University upped the rent to dizzy heights, Stephen Fry started a Twitter campaign to help support this legendary independent. And I’m so glad he did. Although it’s been refurbished many times since, the pale blue-tiled interior is reminiscent of its glory days. Legendary for its Chelsea Bun and its secret sticky syrup sauce which apparently can preserve the bun for up to 8 weeks. We sampled a freshly baked gewy bun not long out of the oven. I’ll admit I’m not usually a fan of current buns. Until now.
Run by a Sicilian-only team, there are queues, which span halfway down the street every weekend and some weekdays too. Everything sells out, every single day. However, being guests of the tour, some platters had been pre-arranged and were ready for us on arrival.
We tried the bococcini – a special rice and wheat flour sourdough base which is very light and full of flavour – stuffed with a thick slice of roasted aubergine, a dollop of fresh thick tomato sauce and a sprig of fresh basil. Molto delizioso!
The hazelnut and chocolate tartlet was also very delicious and the pistachio tartlets were even better. The pastry was light, creamy and baked to a perfectly consistent hue of buttery yellow.
Camilla claimed that this was the best falafel she has ever tasted and she’s travelled around many falafel-loving regions in Europe. A big claim indeed. She was of course on the money. The coating was so crispy and actually a bit nutty in flavour, without having an overcooked flavour. Really impressive. Equally, the homemade hummus was smooth, contained the right hint of garlic and tahini and had that addictive quality that leaves you thinking, I’ll just have one last dip.
When we were told we were making a fudge stop, I was only mildly interested. And then this happened.
It felt as though I had my first true experience of gourmet fudge – better than any top restaurant would serve. Made with cream, instead of butter as used by its Cornish relatives which makes for a crumblier fudge, this silky smooth version was undeniably creamific. Can I get away with that? We tasted the dark chocolate and sea salt and the Eaton Mess. My friend Laura had to hold onto my ankles to stop me from diving into the vat of fudge. Fudgetopia.
Can an actual cheese deli be a piece of art? This one can. What a beautiful and pristine deli. It felt as though we had time travelled back to 1890. Oh boy what a place. In addition to selling a humongous range of cheeses, The Cambridge Cheese Company also stocks a number of fresh and dried specialist ingredients.
At this food stop we were offered big chunks of its famous Pork and Pickle Pie and a lovely wedge of goats’ Gouda – nutty and creamy and very delicious paired with the local apple juice we tried which had bite and complemented our “mini ploughman’s”.
We stopped here for some delicious sharing platters for our official lunch stop. D’arrys opened about 12 years ago and are one of the only restaurants in the UK, who serve wine from D’Arrenburg in Australia. The name derives from this. The Liquor lounge recently opened after refurbishing the previous brewery.
We had a very moreish flat bread with goats’ cheese, rich tomato sauce and fresh herbs. There was also a Toulouse sausages and octopus stew for the meat eaters and honey and sesame chicken wings.
For me, the highlight was the homemade Pimms, made on site using a fruit cup mixture which takes around two weeks to make. It’s made by soaking raspberries, strawberries, citrus fruit and mint in white vermouth, red vermouth, gin and vodka. This hit the spot on a warm afternoon.
A Portuguese bakery off the beaten track. This was well worth the 20-minute walk outside of the centre and winding through the beautiful back streets of Cambridge.
We tried the salt cod cake – the cod is cooked using a traditional and slow cooking process and then turned into a light and flowery potato cod croquette. Full of rich flavour without any strong fish overtones. Absolute heaven.
The pastel del nate – or Portuguese custard tart – was by far the best I’ve ever tried. The pastry was soft yet flaky, the filling firm yet creamy and the caramalised topping gave this sweet the edge. I bought an extra four to take home with me, one was consumed on the train.
This hidden gem is tucked away not too far from the Norfolk Street Bakery, just outside of town and at the end of a beautiful residential street. It’s one of the smallest breweries you’ll ever find yet bursting with personality and pride.
This craft brewery opens on Saturdays only between 11-4pm for you to sample its beers. With convivial wooden benches and a simple interior, it’s the perfect meeting place for friends. Outside is one of Cambridge’s twelve famous gourmet street vendors. This one was selling gourmet hot dogs and fries with dipping sauces. We tried three different beers: Pale (4.9%), Amber (4.7%) and Brown (5%). Each delicious in their own way and especially refreshing on a hot summer’s day.
They are an extremely sustainably-aware brewery and they use a special barrow-bike to transport beer waste to a local allotment and other businesses who find the yeasty waste gives their produce an unmistakable rich flavour.
We ended with possibly my favourite stop of the tour. Six Ice Cream is not an ordinary ice cream parlour. They churn different flavours every single day. I tried the chocolate and a large helping of Rosemary Salted Caramel topped with homemade butter cookie. Fragrant rosemary with undertones of caramel – exactly what I was hoping for, more rosemary than caramel.
The owner of Cambridge Tours, who of course knows the owners well, actually donated a bag of her very own home grown rosemary to make this particular ice cream recipe. The parlour also have one client who also brings in foraged herbs such as water mint. They receive some free gelato of course in return.
The things I loved most about this tour:
I’ve lived in East Anglia for much of my life and I’ve visited Cambridge many times before, it’s always been a place we’ve visited at the weekends. However, I saw Cambridge through a completely different lens. I felt as though I was making an exciting foodie discovery and new connection at every stop.
The tour makes a wonderful day trip from Norwich. The great thing was, it was less than an hour by train for me (and equidistant from London) – so close, yet it felt as though I had ventured to another land.
This tour is so much fun. It’s a great way to spend a birthday, some time with a few friends, a hen do or even if you just feel like doing something on your own. It works for every kind of occasion and every type of dynamic. That’s the beauty of a tour I guess. And because it’s a FOOD tour, it’s much more sociable than your average tour.
I loved the freedom of roaming the streets with our guide who was extremely knowledgeable yet simultaneously inconspicuous. It didn’t feel like we were part of a traditional tour but that we were taken under the wing of a foodie who was sharing all her guarded secrets with us.
Although we had an idea, not knowing exactly where you were headed to next or what you would try exactly was actually a very exciting experience. The anticipation added to the enjoyment even more.
Thank you again to Gerla and Camilla for having us, you were both the perfect hosts – we both really enjoyed floating around the side streets tasting Cambridge with you.