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.
Midsummer House is widely held to be the best restaurant in Cambridge. Given it’s also one of only nineteen restaurants in the UK with two Michelin stars, I was prepared to be impressed. Then again, given it has a reputation for service that’s snooty to the point of open class war, I was prepared to be impressed through a veil of gentle fury.
Happily, the food was flat-out excellent, and the only thing that made me feel not really wealthy enough to be welcome was the wine list. I’ll get to that later, because although it didn’t remotely marr the meal it’s a serious problem for the overall quality of the experience.
No, the service was pitch-perfect, and the food while not exactly subtle was probably the best I’ve eaten. The TL;DR version is that it’s absolutely worth going, and it helps to have a slightly sweet tooth.
I’ve been eating out quite a bit lately, it seems. The latest place on this list is the new(ish)ly opened Cau on Bene’t Street. This being Cambridge, yes, it’s a chain. But it is at least a small one.
If their shtick weren’t obvious from the name, the grass and sky motif hits it home. This is all about the beef. Their specialty is large sharing steaks in exciting sauces, culminating in an 18oz rib-eye, marinated in chimichurri sauce and slow-grilled.
Sadly, none of us felt up to tackling one of those, so this review doesn’t really get to the soul of the place. This is doubly sad, because the rest was enjoyable if unremarkable, and I’m worried I’m not doing it justice. I’ll need to recruit some heavy-duty carnivores and return in force.
Cambridge is not a great place to have dinner. There are plenty of places to eat, sure, and a burgeoning selection of really good places to buy fresh produce if you’re cooking. But the actual choice of restaurants is poor, and heavy on chains.
Byron is a chain. But it’s a small one, and it isn’t photofit Italian, so it’s worth a mention.
The menu is pretty simple, as you’d expect from a business trading heavily on the idea of doing only one thing and doing it well. “Proper hamburgers” is the shtick, and the selection offers little else. Pick a burger, add some extras or choose a pre-set combo, add sides, and enjoy with an excellent selection of craft beer. It works.