Restaurant review: Carpenter's Arms

We enjoy a feast of comfort food and craft beer at this recently revamped Victoria Road eatery 

A cookie-cutter clone of its sister gastro-boozer, the Salisbury Arms, the Carpenters Arms is different in a couple of ways: a slightly lower ceiling and a somewhat larger garden. Basically: if you like the Salisbury, then you’ll like the Carpenters – and as so many of us do seem to enjoy the group’s splendid pizzas, excellent beers and budget-friendly deals for eats, then another branch of the same in our city is definitely no bad thing.

Powered by Bedford-based brewery Charles Wells, the Pizza, Pots & Pints concept has proven extremely popular and the concept has spread to six eateries between here and Oxford, with the group hoping to have twenty in the stable by 2020.

Promising “freshly-made, wood-fired artisan pizzas, warming terracotta pots of comfort food and fresh Bedfordshire-brewed beer”, the group’s distinctively eclectic take on interior and exterior design has, of course, been fully implemented at the Carpenters, giving this long-standing pub a new lease of life as a food-focused hang-out.

We sat near the bar and its array of Charles Wells beers, within sight of the wood-fired pizza oven at the heart of the eatery. You’d be hard-pushed to spot any differences between the menu at the Carpenters’ and the one at the Salisbury, which meant ordering was swift – both of us were familiar (perhaps a little too much!) with the menu down the hill, and knew the dishes we’d get excited about: the Armin pizza with goat’s cheese, sweet onion chutney and rocket, plus a macaroni cheese with extra bacon from the Pots side of the menu.

The Carpenters’ team managed to tempt us into adding a second Pot to our order: dry-rubbed barbecue pork ribs, served with Boston beans and cornbread, all washed down with refreshing pints of Charlie Wells Dry Hopped Lager and Triple Hop IPA.

The food arrived, and was – well – exactly as you’d hope: chewy-crusted pizza with tangy-yet-clean goat’s cheese and savoury-sweet chutney for balance; unctuously oozy macaroni cheese studded throughout with salty morsels of bacon; and deliciously meaty, spiced ribs that’d delight any committed carnivore. It’s not a place for small appetites – but then, as I keep reiterating, if you’ve been to the sister pubs, you’d already know to turn up with an empty tum.

Despite all the similarities, the Carpenters was still able to surprise: “I didn’t actually know they did desserts,” admitted my dining companion, “which is probably a good thing, considering how often I’m at the Salisbury.” We chose a brownie to share, which after a single mouthful we agreed was one of the finest we’d had in the city. Topped with a sphere of melting vanilla ice cream and drizzled with salted caramel, it was that perfect combination of chewy on the inside and crunchy on the outside which is once tried, never forgotten. Highly recommended – assuming you’ve not filled up on pots or pizzas already.

“It's not a place for small appetites”

We chatted with the staff throughout our meal and there was a real feeling of excitement in the air, as if their pace of life was about to accelerate at any moment. When we visited, the local student population was due back imminently, and from my own days living up the hill I know all too well that there’s a dearth of dining options in that particular suburb of our city.

As the refurb was only completed in April this year, the majority of the uphill students only had a couple of months to discover this stellar eatery so close to home before disappearing for the summer: now they’re back, it surely won’t be long before it’s as packed as its sister pub. We’re lucky to have the Salisbury: we’re even luckier to have been graced with a second pub in the same stable – so make sure you go and back up Charles Wells’ belief that the people of Cambridge deserve two opportunities to tuck into delicious pizzas, pots and pints.