After a tough two years, there’s a glut of new businesses rejuvenating the Cambridge food scene in 2022. Here are the most exciting, from classic pub grub to sourdough delicacies
Words by Nicola Foley
It’s always nice to see a building that’s been boarded up for a while – in this case the former Cambridge Building Society on St Andrew’s Street – reinvigorated and reopened. And that’s especially true when the end result is as impressive as the Cambridge Tap: a shiny new two-storey super-pub from McMullen’s Brewery. With such a prominent city-centre location, people have been eagerly following the progress of this refurbishment – with many wondering what would be revealed when it eventually opened its doors at the end of 2021.
“We are a traditional pub in the heart of the city,” sums up Harry Tann, the general manager. “We serve gourmet burgers and cocktails, and think we’ll become famous for our beer! Cooking will be chef Callum, who is a real superstar,” adds Harry. “He’s travelled up from Cornwall to put his stamp on the Cambridge food scene.”
Epic burgers, dirty fries and lip-smacking wings
Callum will be whipping up epic burgers, dirty fries, lip-smacking wings and small plates, plus pub favourites such as fish and chips. On the drinks menu, there’s cocktails galore, along with a vast range of craft beer.
Lights, camera, action
he Green Room, a stylish new cafe and restaurant on Sawston High Street, might seem like it’s appeared, fully formed, from nowhere. But in actual fact, this ambitious project has been many years in the making. The building (a former supermarket) was bought by Somersault in 2016, and has served as a base for the video production agency since – but owner Colin always knew that the space had potential beyond its original purpose. The idea for a cafe crystallised in his mind during the pandemic, in part as a means for Somersault to give something back to the local community.
“I had a bit more time on my hands to stop and think about the future of the building and the space overall, and the cogs started turning,” he explains. “I really like Sawston. It’s such a lovely town, and we’ve got to know lots of people – from the parish councillors, to the residents, to other shop owners – and I felt a bit of responsibility. We’ve got one of the biggest premises on the high street, and it could do more for Sawston and its community. I thought, maybe we could have a go at building something here? Let’s make it the kind of place that our team would like to come and hang out, grab a coffee and a bite to eat.”
The building refurbishment has been a huge undertaking – not helped by supply chain issues and pandemic-related complications – but the hard work and vision has clearly paid off. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Sawston has seen nothing like this place before.
Food-wise, there’s an all-day menu, which ranges from brunches in the morning, to elegant small plates and cocktails at night. “We’ve taken classic dishes and made them more interesting,” says head chef Chris. “For instance, we’ve got eggs benedict, but with buttermilk waffles. And instead of ham, we’re using salt beef, which gives it an update.
“The burger has had really good feedback so far, as has the Green Room salad – which is seasonal and uses really nice produce,” he adds. “We’re working with some great suppliers like Hodmedod’s, who give us these lovely split peas, and chilli and lime fava beans. We’re using Chapel & Swan for smoked fish and Grain Culture milk buns, too.”
Evenings bring a tapas-style offering, with dishes like burrata with black olive tapenade, patatas bravas and cod brandade – alongside cocktails including raspberry and elderflower bellinis.
The vision is to host a series of ‘Live from The Green Room’ shows
Looking ahead, Colin is keen for The Green Room to offer a programme of events – ultimately creating a crossover between restaurant and video agency. “Hopefully, there will be lots of food-based things happening,” he enthuses. “The kitchen has been designed not just as an open kitchen – so people can see what’s happening when they’re dining – but also with four metres of open space at the front for demonstrations. We hope to do events with suppliers where you can see the chefs at work, talking through their preparation and the provenance of the ingredients. We’ve got the capability to design and deliver live events – the vision is to host a series of ‘Live from The Green Room’ shows, with spectators in the building, but also an audience that we’re broadcasting to – with a kind of Saturday Kitchen vibe.”
Watch this space!
Written in the Stars
After sitting empty for around nine years, one of Cambridge’s oldest pubs has been brought back to life with a fresh look. The Seven Stars on Newmarket Road, a Grade II listed building, has been thoroughly modernised inside, and is ready to begin its next chapter as an Indian gastropub. On the hobs is head chef Kathirvelan, who comes with bags of experience and a huge reputation. He’s designed a menu of traditional dishes that use seasonal produce, with meats cooked on a claypot grill, classic curries, and specialities like lobster tail tossed in shallots, garlic and turmeric. There’s also range of meatless and vegan dishes to enjoy.
Ready to Indulge?
At-home dining kits surged in popularity during the pandemic – and riding that wave in style has been chef Andy Bowler, whose CV includes stints at eateries including Pétrus, Roganic, and Fera at Claridge’s. When lockdown forced restaurants to close, Andy was determined to seize the opportunity and keep progressing his career. He was a semi-finalist in the Craft Guild of Chefs’ National Chef of the Year competition, and also began working on a new dining concept to let him bring Michelin-level cooking to people’s homes, via some cleverly designed meal kits. Indulge, which now delivers across the UK – including to Cambridge – was born. The kits combine Andy’s love of modern British cooking with classic French techniques, all components arriving prepped and cooked. All you need to do is follow the instructions and photos provided to heat the meal up, then plate up like a pro!
Regarding the launch, Andy said: “Meal kits are a new era of dining. Takeaways have always been popular, but meal kits offer something extra for those real foodies who want fine dining and high-quality ingredients, but don’t live near a great restaurant! The new delivery catchment will bring top cuisine to the doorstep of anyone in the UK – we are hugely excited about this expansion.”
When the pandemic hit, food-loving friends Nikos and Sukh hatched a plan to launch a Greek food spot for Cambridge. Nikos, an experienced chef, had found himself out of work; and Sukh, an optometrist, was volunteering at an emergency clinic in Bar Hill. The duo decided their best bet was to occupy a kitchen at a well-established pub, serving takeaways during lockdown – an idea which turned out to be a master stroke. Within a week of beginning their enquiries, they had three offers for different kitchens. And within ten days of accepting an offer (at Mill Road’s Royal Standard), Tzatziki – named after a dog the pair met in Thessaloniki – was born. Five months later, they opened a second site in London.
Taste the food and it’s easy to see why it was an instant hit. Menu favourites include traditional souvlaki – made with overnight roasted pork and three different mustards, nestled in chewy pitta – chunky Greek sausages, tangy spanakopita and honey-drizzled feta pies.
Nikos and Sukh’s latest chapter is the launch of Gorilla & Lamb
The latest chapter in Nikos and Sukh’s journey has been the launch of Gorilla & Lamb, a pop-up serving American-style burgers at another local institution, the Cambridge Blue on Gwydir Street. Choices here include the signature ‘smash burger’ (with jungle pickles, two beef patties, American cheese and all-important secret sauce), buttermilk fried chicken, and ‘gorilla fries’ loaded with parmesan, pickles, pork scraps and fresh herbs.
The pair explain: “With Gorilla & Lamb, we have focused on pulling together produce from local businesses, using high-class ingredients: meat from Malloy’s, doughnuts from Prestige Donuts and ice cream made just for us from Maynard’s. And there’s fresh produce from Hilary’s on Mill Road – this creates quality you can taste.
“Our plans for 2022 are to refine and redesign what we have created so far. Maybe take Gorilla & Lamb to the Thames, or venture into other cuisines to give more of an offering to Cambridge!”
We can’t wait to see what’s next from this dynamic duo!
Swooping to success
Founded right here in Cambridgeshire, Cranes Drinks has enjoyed the kind of sweeping success most start-ups dream of, building a loyal local following, then rolling out its products at supermarkets nationwide. It’s run by telegenic twins Ben and Dan Ritsema, who launched the first of their range of natural fruit ciders back in 2012, having already spent a few years honing the recipe. A cranberry cider, it quickly won fans – not just for the fruity flavour, but for its virtuously low-sugar content, small calorie count and abundant natural ingredients. Before long, new flavours were added to the line, as well as spirits, and the drinks took the supermarkets by storm – becoming available in Morrisons, Co-op and Ocado.
Despite their success, the pair are quick to acknowledge that getting products into huge stores like this is no picnic. That’s part of the reasoning behind their most recent venture, The Swoop. A retail taproom in the city centre, it specialises in drinks made by other local brands. In fact, The Swoop will exclusively sell products produced within a 50-mile radius of the shop’s Green Street location, hosting tasting events and other experiences with suppliers.
“It can be tough when you’re starting out,” says Dan. “New stockists need proof that you are able to sell at a retail level, so we wanted to offer local suppliers the opportunity to highlight this to bigger stockists. At the same time, it’s an amazing opportunity for them to reach new customers.”
“There’s nothing sadder than an empty storefront, so we wanted to bring something quite different to the high street,” adds Ben. “We are really excited about the launch of The Swoop, and can’t wait to hear what you all think of our latest adventure. We hope we will see you there!”
Back with a bang
Destined to be the most-hyped Cambridge opening – or should we say reopening – of 2022, is The Tivoli. This iconic Chesterton Road building has a long and storied past, originally opening as a cinema in the 1920s. The era it was born in explains the striking art deco design, though sadly this was somewhat damaged by a fire in 2015 – at which time the building was serving as a Wetherspoon pub. Fast-forward to 2021, and The Tivoli is about to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes, revealing a remarkable restoration and new direction.
At the helm is City Pub Co – also responsible for local faves like The Petersfield and The Waterman – and the new concept is a “unique social experience with nods to the building’s cinematic and brewing past”. What does that mean? It means a screening room, street food stalls, indoor golf, a shuffleboard basement, multiple bars and – the cherry on top – a roof terrace with views over Jesus Green. We’re counting down the days until spring!
Yori branches out with a new Cambridge site
With a fleet of highly successful London venues under its belt, Yori has recently unveiled its first branch outside of the capital. And, excitingly, it can be found right here in Cambridge.
Situated on St Andrew’s Street, Yori is the brainchild of entrepreneur Jong Soon Kim, whose ventures include everything from upmarket nail salons to casual cafes. With Yori (which has outposts in Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden, alongside some other prestigious London neighbourhoods), the big idea is to bring people an authentic taste of fine Korean food, with an emphasis on barbecue dishes.
The menu offers a broad range of mouth-watering recipes, ranging from sizzling strips of marinated pork bulgogi, to kimchi pancakes topped with clams and shrimp. There’s also Korean-style fried chicken, fluffy steamed bao and all manner of noodles, soups and stews.
“Cambridge is very symbolic for us, as it’s our first Yori outside of London,” says Jong Soon Kim.
“We have eight Yoris in London at the moment, and will be expanding further in the new year. In fact, we’ve got three more restaurants coming!”
A glazed expression
Crosstown chose Cambridge as the location for its very first shop outside of London, opening its doors on Bridge Street towards the end of 2021. It’s fair to say that we’ve welcomed the cult doughnut brand with open arms. The team knew they were on to a good thing after trialling a Crosstown delivery hub here, which was such a smash hit that they quickly took the plunge and opened a bricks-and-mortar premises. As well as freshly baked doughnuts, it sells cookies, small-batch ice cream and speciality coffee. And as always with Crosstown, the imaginative combos and ever-changing menu are all part of the fun. Atop the signature sourdough base, you might get spiced apple with miso caramel, a cranberry and matcha combo, or perhaps a classic vanilla glaze – whatever you choose, you won’t regret popping in.
“The response in Cambridge has been amazing,” says Crosstown co-founder Adam Wills. “Our goal was to bring something exciting to the city, and do our best to be a positive addition. On the first day, we had queues leading up Bridge Street for hours, full of people coming to try one of our sourdough doughnuts!
“On the cards for 2022, we’ve got plans for some exciting flavours, celebrating special calendar days and the best seasonal ingredients,” he adds. “This includes our full range of doughnuts, cookies and ice cream! Also – though we can’t say too much yet – we’re hoping to open some new locations and bring Crosstown to many more people up and down the country.”
Discover more of Cambridge’s excellent eateries in our Vegan Eats article.