Ramen – specifically tonkotsu ramen – is pretty great. Noodles in a rich broth, usually topped with chashu pork, spring onions, kombu, and a soft-boiled egg. It’s that particular kind of over-architected fast food where you’re taking twenty four hours and as many ingredients to make a pot noodle with delusions of grandeur, and I bloody love it.
As top-tier fancied up junk, I’ve been hoping for years that ramen shops would roll into town and pull Cambridge out from the burger event horizon.
Let me tell you about one of the best things I’ve recently put in my mouth.
Naturally, it contained garlicky butter. But it also contained a few wonderful simple other things, and it was served at the bistro at the Cambridge Cookery School.
I’m not even talking about this sandwich, and it’s a great sandwich.
The bistro boasts “a strong Scandinavian and Italian influence”, as well as the customary local/sustainable/organic/crafted gubbins. While this sounded like fun, it did not prepare me for the Turkish Eggs. But I’ll get to that.
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.
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.
Inder’s Kitchen is – for my money – the best place to eat Indian food in Cambridge. Let’s just get that out of the way.
They’re great. They’ve been going for about five years, and I remember being delighted when they started – it felt fresh to have a more high-end, home cooking inspired take on Indian food available, something to offset the curry house archetype.
Now, I love a classic Anglo-Indian cliche curry, but they’re not exactly magical feats of foregrounding single interesting flavours. Inder’s hits that spot – the food isn’t greasy, it tastes fresh and intricate, and it goes beyond (while sometimes including) the korma/dhansak/vindaloo etc standards.
Despite only doing takeaway, Inder’s has always tried to diversify a bit – they’ve had a food van, tried chilled-to-reheat and frozen, and started making sauces and chutneys. And that’s how I found myself in their industrial unit kitchen, trying their latest venture: a set of curry kits to make at home.
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.
The centre of Cambridge is a miserable place to drink. I’m not going to rant about this, but between soulless chains, student vomit production-lines, and brave attempts that have failed by becoming a restaurant with an unconvincing pub-shaped mask on, there’s basically nowhere to go for a beer. So when the Pint Shop announced they’d be selling around ten craft keg beers, another five or so cask ales, and serving food while giving equal space to drinkers and diners it seemed a bit good to be true.
After having dinner there last week, I can confirm that it is both good and true.
If you want to skip the rest of this review, the tl;dr is: go there and eat the Triple Cooked Ox Cheeks – they are heart-stoppingly delicious.