Osteria Waggon and Horses* is in Milton. As the city grows out to meet it, that’s almost, a bit, if you squint, close enough to say that Cambridge finally has somewhere worth going for Italian food.
Crikey, that’s been a long time coming.
Inside, it’s bright and airy with a little lounge area, and just a few bits of pub poking through. Yes, it says, this is a restaurant, but by all means have a drink – it’s not fussy. That’s the mood. Osteria was friendly, sociable, and delicious.
The menu’s simple, a few things to each course, the way I like it, and front-loaded with a range of little aperitivi to share. You could easily linger over plenty of those and a bottle or two of crisp white on a nice summer evening, before moving on to some pasta. That’s more or less what we did.
Sushi elevates the useful cliché of little things counting for a lot to raison d’être. Perfect little touches are the whole deal. Sticks n Sushi served us pretty damn good sushi, but they delighted us up front with the best edamame beans I’ve eaten. Lightly seasoned, and grilled to bring out the savoury, these were just everything you want from a sushi appetizer, and they set the tone for a meal of quality produce with considered touches.
Sticks n Sushi has been open for a little over a month, but scheduling shenanigans mean I’ve only just managed to get there. While they’re new in Cambridge, they’ve been going for twenty-two years, have twelve branches in Copenhagen, and another four in London. The deal is a slight sushi modernization, yakitori on the side, without recourse to overbearing fusion.
This weekend we were up in Leeds for the Thought Bubble comics festival (podcast here). Even when it isn’t full of enthusiastic nerds Leeds is a fun city. It’s got some storming places to drink beer, a lively (and growing) food scene, and since 2014 it’s had Bundobust.
This is one of the best places I’ve eaten all year.
It’s also – and get this – completely vegetarian. In fact, it’s often vegan. How cool is that? Packed to the gills in Leeds centre, serving eclectic veggie street food and exciting beer that puts some of my Soho favourites to hide-under-a-rock levels of shame.
Reynard is a trickster figure, a Loki-ish fox dude from Medieval picaresque. “Renard” is the French word for fox. Foxes are of course iconically partial to a spot of chicken, and Reys is a rotisserie chicken restaurant that’s gone in hard on the impish vulpine branding. All orange and jaunty furnishings, the chairs have foxtail stripes. That’s certainly cuter than blood and feathers in the henhouse.
They sell roast chicken. It tastes like good roast chicken, and it doesn’t cost too much.
Everything else is just a little peculiar. There’s this slight Korean edge running through the menu that doesn’t quite sit with the Ikea farmhouse ambience, never really explained. The starters are cursory. But the chicken is fine. It just all doesn’t quite make sense.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a hard time deciding which you’re more excited by: modernist architecture or duck confit. Squatting in the middle of Bloomsbury like the ziggurat of some concrete-fancying south american snake god – with more Saturday morning street food market, less blood sacrifice – the Brunswick Centre spoils us for both.
The Brunswick Centre is a ten minute walk from King’s Cross, or right outside Russell Square tube. It’s a brutal/modern delight. It’s got a decent cinema, a big Waitrose, there’s a dedicated gay bookshop down the road, and a genuinely great burger joint opposite. But it hasn’t historically been so hot for food. It’s chain town: Giraffe, Yo Sushi, Carluccio’s, you get the idea.
This doesn’t matter so much because you’re a short walk from the entirety of central fucking London. But sometimes I’m nearby and feeling lazy, and so the Saturday morning food market is a godsend. Sent, specifically, from Brutalist Quetzalcoatl, I’d imagine.
I say “noodle bar” – it serves mostly udon, with a range of soups, sauces, and dressings. Some are hot, some are cold, the specials are nifty, and it’s a good time. We ducked in for lunch, making it barely in time for their 2:45 last orders, and there was still a (very short) queue. That’s encouraging. As was the service – friendly and attentive, and from a gentleman who seemed like he’d be more at home in a Jeffrey Bernard era Soho all-night Italian dive. Splendid.
This is a quick update about poutine. Poutine? Poutine! It’s Canadian! Poutine! Why would you even do that? Poutine! Because it’s fucking delicious. Poutine! Get with the programme.
Growing up in the North of England, I’m no stranger to cheesy chips, or chips and gravy. But it took Quebec to really elevate this to something special. Oh, don’t worry – I’m not getting too misty-eyed. It’s still a big bucket full of grease, starch, and gravy (which is, let’s be honest, grease and starch suspended in water), but it’s definitely one of the tastier junk foods, and it’s only just breaking into the UK market.
Poutine is chips, gravy, and cheese curds. Think a more solid cottage cheese, though ideally we’re looking for something that tastes and squeaks like the awkward offspring of feta and halloumi.
Lagging as it does 2-3 years behind Soho, Cambridge has started to accrete gussied-up burger joints at some speed. I went to two last weekend. I wasn’t even trying to have dinner. It just kind of happened. In fact, you’re probably in one now – slices of structurally-unsound brioche passing through you like crumbly, stylized, cosmic rays.
Here’s a quick look at two new-ish ones. Butch Annie’s, which opened a week or two ago in the dead centre of town, and the latest incarnation of The Alex(andra Arms) out Mill Rd way. Spoilers: they’re both reasonably credible alternatives to Byron.
Ember Yard is the most recent venue (2013) from the Salt Yard Group – a small chain of tapas-inspired charcuterie bars founded by a couple of bored ad execs who thought it might be a laugh to open a restaurant. Now, that doesn’t necessarily end well, and if I’d known in advance, I might not have gone. But I didn’t do my homework.
Instead, I looked at the menu, then spent the rest of the day idly dreaming about Ibéricoham.
That was the right decision, and it wasn’t actually full of assholes, but, well, they list the species of wood used on the charcoal grill, for fuck’s sake. It’s a damn good thing the food tastes amazing.