All images: Charlotte Griffiths
Charlotte Griffiths showcases the best places to stop for a warming soup treat
The early months of a new year are filled with grand plans for living well while also counting pennies after a lavish winter season – and for many of us, this means a return to cost and health-conscious lunches of soul-warming soup. But this is a joyful reunion because soup is – quite simply – a splendid substance.
As food writer and Cambridge resident Bee Wilson says: “Soup can nurture and nourish you like nothing else… it’s health food and comfort in a single bowl.”
So with this in mind, we’ve sought out five of the most delicious soups our city offers – just in case you don’t want to spend your entire Sunday blitzing vegetables to make your own.
1. Cambridge Farmer's Outlet, Lensfield Road
On the “busiest junction in Cambridge” you’ll find this little gem, tucked into a wonky beam-fronted building that’s about as close to the road as is possible, but which has still somehow managed to line the pavement with cheery pots of cyclamen or pesticide-free bouquets for passing travellers heading station-ward. Along with produce from farmers throughout the area (including bread from Cob’s Bakery and game from Radwinter) you’ll find a single pot of soup bubbling happily away on the counter – a cup of which with a roll is just £1.
Which is fairly astonishing, when you consider it’s made fresh every day using the same seasonal vegetables that the store sells. Worth the two-metre detour from the well-trodden path between the city centre and the station, the Farmers’ Outlet is open every day between 8am and 6pm – and the soup is available until it’s gone.
2. Noodles Plus
Two soups in one: if you’re a fan of noodley goodness (and who isn’t?) then you really do need to get yourself to Noodles Plus on the city end of Mill Road. In winter months the huge, condensation-covered windows conceal the interiors and give a mysterious air to the eatery, but venture in and your curiosity will be rewarded with freshly-made noodles, dumplings and steamed buns which take some beating.
Soup aficionados should start their feast with Noodle Plus’s legendary xiao long bao, aka ‘soup dumplings’, which are perhaps the most superb of all wintery lunches – but their eating takes a certain amount of ceremony to avoid covering your chin in scalding soup. If you’re not au fait (and apparently I hadn’t got it right either) then the staff are more than happy to give technique pointers.
If you prefer a bowl-based soup experience, the noodle-based broths served up here are all exceptionally tasty and will leave you just as satiated. Either way: you must go.
3. The Queen's Head, Newton
No round-up of Cambridge soups would be complete without this pub’s legendary liquid offering. Nestled in the village of Newton since 1729, many believe this unique place represents the very pinnacle of pubs: small, but sprawling; festooned with curious taxidermy and in-joke engravings; and – most importantly – warm and welcoming.
The food offering is limited, yet most of what you could hope to encounter in a country pub is here. There are sandwiches. There is toast – with dripping. And there is, famously, a brown soup, which changes flavour and shade every day, ranging from Dark Brown through to Greenish.
At the bar you can find an elderly laminated colour chart to help you judge which soup you’ve been lucky enough to encounter: I tried Light to Yellowish Brown, which did indeed have “exotic ingredients” (spotted a few mushrooms) and “intriguing seasoning” as the chart promised. No specific ingredients are mentioned on the chart, save for the possibility that the Greenish Soup may contain peas.
It should hopefully be pretty obvious that none of the shades are suitable for vegetarians. But if you’re not that way inclined, and enjoy a little mystery with your lunch, the Queen’s Head’s soup is not to be missed.
4. Michaelhouse Cafe
This spot is quite definitely a Cambridge institution. Set almost as close to the heart of the city as it gets, the bustling cafe serves up simple but extremely delicious home-made food from a menu which changes daily, but which always guarantees a full spread of sandwiches, coffees, cakes and – most crucially, for this piece – soup in some form.
On the day we dropped by the soup was a rich tomato and basil, which was piping hot, comforting and tasted of summer – very welcome indeed on a cold, wintery afternoon. The soup was served with an olive oil bread roll, but I couldn’t resist adding a cheese scone to the order – which turned out to be almost as good as the much-missed Thursday-only cheese scones at Afternoon Tease. Almost.
As an extra bonus, after 3pm the cafe’s lunch counter food halves in price, which makes the soup crazily affordable – but as this isn’t a particularly well-kept secret you may have to get in line. It’s definitely worth it though. Grab your bowl and head up the spiral stairs to nestle into one of the loft’s secret sofas, where you can enjoy a quiet lunch with the vaulted ceilings of the Michaelhouse Centre for company, before heading out into the hustle and bustle of Trinity Street. Restorative for both body and mind.
5. Lulu's, Cambridge market
If you’ve not visited Cambridge’s weekday market for a while, you may find yourself happily surprised by the bustling food scene which has sprung up in the southernmost stalls over the past few years, serving up a veritable panoply of portable feasts to either enjoy on the hoof or al desko.
A huge variety of cuisines and tastes are now catered for – so it was always faintly surprising that no one had cottoned onto soup’s suitability for stall-based sales.
Enter Lulu, AKA Lucy, who only started her market stall towards the end of 2017, but who is already making waves.
She serves up three different soups every day, all of which are suitable for vegetarians (and can be made vegan-friendly), and her recipes follow the seasons: visit in the winter months to enjoy soul-warming creations such as broccoli and horseradish, spiced carrot or a particularly delicious vegetarian minestrone.
When we dropped by the lentil dhal with cavolo nero was selling fast – these golden bowlfuls were topped with cooling yoghurt raita and strewn with fried onions. A hunk of Lulu’s homemade soda bread was a crumbly, flavourful counterpart to the earthy lentils, and was perfectly sized for a quick lunch while perched on the old fountain at the heart of the market.