Gerla is a fellow food & travel blogger, and she is very serious about it, spending a large part of the year travelling the world and sampling food. While we did our Cambridge Food Tour she was exploring the local cuisine in Croatia (check out her profile here).
(c) All photos Berkeley Square Barbarian, except feature photo (c) Cambridge Food Tour
Starting off with a Chelsea Bun
Our group of 12 (3 below the maximum group size of 15), including our knowledgeable and friendly guide Karen, met outside of Cambridge’s most famous bakery, Fitzbillies, at 11:30am. After a quick welcome and introduction we already got our first bite: sweet, soft, sticky bits of a Chelsea bun (it’s what Fitzbillies is best known for). Then we were on our way, gaining some ground on this 4- to 4.5h, 6.5km tour of some of Cambridge’s culinary highlights and hidden gems.
Roast Swans, Chronophages, and Tipple-Loving Geniuses
We liked that Karen didn’t limit her tour to food, but had interesting stories to tell about many other things, such as various sculptures, Cambridge’s oldest church, some of the colleges, their often weird traditions (including serving roast swans at swan balls), the history of this beautiful university town and its citizens such as Snowy Farr.
After a brief stop in front of Rosalind, the famous one-million-pound, solid gold Corpus Clock and Chronophage, and a discussion about the pros and cons of spending so much money on a clock that has a moving grasshopper sitting on its top, we walked the few metres over to Cambridge’s most famous pub, The Eagle. As food-fanatics who also like their occasional tipple, it was refreshing and reassuring to hear that two Nobel Prize winning geniuses like Francis Crick and James Watson – despite their amazing intellectual stardom – were also fond of a civilised drink on the odd occasion (which seems to have been every single day of adult life in their case).
Fine Falafel and Sumptuous Sicilian Sourdough
Continuing our tour, we were impressed how flexible Karen was, when there was a long queue outside Aromi, a Sicilian pizza place. We simply reshuffled our schedule and went to check out the stalls at the market first.
There was a little bit of time to eyeball some of the goodies on offer at the other stands, but soon we reached our next destination: The King of Wraps, whose owner and assistant were already waiting for us with big smiles. The falafel we were given was out of this world. Neither Ms B nor I are usually big on Middle Eastern food, but it’s impossible not to fall in love with these little, soft, tasty balls.
When everyone had finished their snack and after a pleasant chat with the owner, we made our way back to Aromi, where the queue had now gone down to just five parties in front of us. Five minutes later we were tucking our teeth into some of the most gorgeous pizza we ever had (and like nearly every human being we’re aware of, we are very big on pizza!). It was not your usual Italian variety, round-shaped and extremely flat, but instead square-shaped and with a thick base. We learned how the sourdough goes through an unusually long, 48h yeast fermentation process, leading to this texture. (We were bought in from bite #1 and actually returned later that day to one of the other two Aromi restaurants in town – or elsewhere – to get another fill.)
Cheese and Chilli
From Aromi we strolled to the Cambridge Cheese Company, where the friendly staff were serving different varieties of cheese (including Bavarian mountain cheese, which happens to be one of my favourite cheeses; my Mom always buys a kilo or so when Ms B and I visit her and Dad, just to make sure that the son is happy; my parents strangely find the taste too strong for their liking, so don’t normally stock it).
The owner told us about his fascinating life, travelling the world in order to find the best cheese. We discussed a few of the more unusual varieties they have on offer, from food-lover to food-lover, so to say. The store also sells fine cuts of cold meat and other meat products, as well as one of the largest assortments of hot chilli sauces, most of which labelled with their firing power in Scoville scale units.
Dutch-Style Houses and Hacks with Hick-ups
From there we walked past picturesque rows of so-called Dutch-Style Houses (houses which got to be known as ‘Dutch-Style’ not because they are typically Dutch, but because a Dutch immigrant once built a house with a massive roof in Suffolk, starting this tradition), The Free Press, which is a Cambridge institution Ms B and I had been to on one of our previous trips to town. The establishment started out as a printing press, but after printing only a single edition of its newspaper, the owners decided that they’re more into drinking than into printing. So they called it a day and converted the building into a pub with plenty of outdoor seating. Another one of Gerla’s food tours stops there for the scotch eggs they’re known for.
Exploring Mill Road and Tapas Lunch at Tu Casa
After some 3km walk we arrived at the main stop for proper lunch: the Spanish tapas restaurant Tu Casa, far away from the tourists and the hustle and bustle of the city centre in a street called Mill Road. In this road, we were told in passing, there are plenty of other places of interest for foodies, including Tom’s Cakes (which is so good that Karen, our guide, once applied for a job there, just to be closer to the cakes) and a small Italian delicatessen whose name I can’t remember. (When Ms B and I were walking back to the town centre along the road in the opposite direction later that day, we also found a place called Spice Gate close to Tu Casa, on the same side, which is the only place we know in the UK that sells ground caraway, a Bavarian staple spice I cannot survive more than a few days without.)
Our hosts at Tu Casa made us feel welcome right away. We could pick red or white wine, beer, or soft drinks, and shortly thereafter, the tapas arrived in quick sequence. I lived in Spain for nine months and like to think I know my Spanish food. I can be quite picky, but these flavour explosions bombed their way into my heart without any resistance from my side.
The garlic gambas’ texture was extraordinarily firm, nearly like grapefruits, the chorizo bechamel croquetas outright delicious, the two different types of jamon (high-quality Serrano and exquisite Iberico) a revelation, the albondigas melted on your tongue, and the patatas bravas were just right and came with lovely dips.
After a fair bit of walking and standing, it was nice to sit down and relax. Our group turned out to be an interesting mix of people. Seated opposite us was a young Australian Cambridge law professor, who inquired about Ms B’s legal education and nodded in approval when hearing about Sydney University. He was joined by his chatty parents from Perth, who had just arrived the previous day. It turned out that it was his Mom’s birthday, so after we did the obligatory “For she’s a jolly good fellow..” cake arrived. I’m not into sweets, but the cake found Ms B’s approval, and she’s usually quite difficult.
Murderous Men, Great Grisettes, Corrupt Train Drivers, and Beer Floods
There was still time for our hosts to tell us more about the food they had just served us, before we were back on our way to the final destination of the tour: Calverley’s Brewery.
We were greeted by the two brothers Calverley, who own and run the place. Being a stubborn, silly Bavarian, I can count the times I tried English hop juice on the fingers of one hand, even though I’ve lived here for more than twelve years (and I’m actually officially an Englishman now, naturalised three years ago).
What can I say, the light, bright Grisette, that kicked off our small tasting session, blew my shoes off. So crisp, refreshing, light, and pleasant, with plenty of grapefruit flavours! However, it turned out that the second and final brand of beer was going to be my favourite: a 6.66% Porter. Slightly reminiscent of Guinness, but not as heavy and creamy, and with more air in it.
While we were enjoying our beer, the two brothers provided us with a brief history of the beers we were drinking and of the Calverley family. Porter, back in the 19th Century usually of 7 to 9% strength, was the world’s most popular beer for decades, until the laws changed, making it less profitable and 70% gin far cheaper in comparison. There was also a change in tastes. People started to favour crisp, bright beer.
We learned about the London Beer Flood of 1814, which killed 8 people. About how the brewing business was largely about bribing train drivers at times (in order to get the beer deliveries prioritised). One of the stories about the family ends with an axe and several dead bodies. Our hosts helpfully explaining “…and this is where the saying ‘never deny a Calverley their drink’ comes from”).
We’ll be back as paying customers for more Cambridge Food Tours soon. 5 out of 5 in our book.
Looking for adventure? Check out our posts about skydiving, our rides on a helicopter, a jetski, two very fast rubber boats (on the Thames and near the North Pole), an amphibian Vietnam War vehicle, a hot air balloon, and a Jetlev.