Top 10 budget restaurants and cafes in Cambridge

{ Posted on by }
Categories : Travel news

Norfolk Street Bakery

You have to be confident in your bread – supremely confident in the quality of all your ingredients, in fact – to serve a sandwich as simple as Serrano ham and plum tomatoes on brown bread, dressed only with olive oil. This new Portuguese-owned artisan bakery is rightly bullish. Each element of that sandwich sang with flavour, the daisy-fresh bread, particularly, packing a real rustic punch. Beyond A1 sandwiches (say, piri-piri chicken and seasonal field greens; slow-roast pork loin and apple sauce), its range includes all manner of meringues, doughnuts, tarts and possibly the finest pastel de nata this side of Lisbon (?1.50). Often clumsily reinterpreted, here these were the real deal: the cinnamon-spiked custard rich and creamy, the pastry paper-thin but perfectly crisp.
• Sandwiches ?3.50. 89 Norfolk Street, 01223 660163,

This 13-pump real ale hotspot (a boozer of vintage charm, all hop-strewn bar, painted Anaglypta ceiling and beery bric-a-brac), has a sound rep for its food and a keen sense of economic realities. Alongside its main menu, it runs a short populist recession carte (eg. omelette and salad, bolognese, ham, egg and chips, all dishes, ?4.99) and always has one recession pint on, priced at around ?1.90 to ?2.30. A sample bowl of cottage pie was a solid bit of simple home-cooking. The beef had been patiently slow-cooked with plenty of tomato and onion, the smooth mash had a nice, lightly cheesy crust, and a side of accurately cooked, buttery vegetables suggests that the kitchen takes real pride in the small detail of its output. A pint of Thornbridge's Jaipur (?3.90) was in superb, almost fierily, hoppy form. Many of the dishes on the Kingston's main menu (sausage'n'mash, ploughman's) also come in at just under ?10.
• Recession dishes, ?4.99, mains ?7.95-?13.25. 33 Kingston Street, 01223 319414,

Cambridge coffee geeks get their kicks at either Hot Numbers (students, Vampire Weekend on the stereo) or Massaro's (professionals, vocal jazz). Hot Numbers (Unit 6, Dales Brewery, Gwydir Street, 01223 359966,, which roasts its own beans and offers all the latest pour-over filter and siphon third-wave coffee serves, just edged it cup-for-cup. A silky flat white was excellent, full of chocolate and caramel flavours, but capped by a quietly bitter edge. However, Massaro's food, a limited but high-quality selection of homemade cookies, cakes and gourmet organic sourdough sandwiches, makes it, overall, the superior lunch destination. "Not just a sandwich", claims an A-board by the door, illogically. But you will get the point when you taste Massaro's Isle of Mull cheddar with roasted tomatoes and green tomato chutney, or its roasted Gloucester Old Spot with its apricot and ginger relish. Hot Numbers, for its part, does breakfast items, surprisingly good grilled panini (?4.80) and carries cute cakes from several local bakeries, including Fitzbillies, see below.
• Coffee from ?1.80, sandwiches ?4.80. 85 Regent Street, 01223 314230, @newmassaros

Cambridge isn't short of Chinese restaurants, but connoisseurs swear by this tiny all-day space – a spartan cafe, its atmosphere lifted by its jolly, female staff – which specialises in freshly handmade northern Chinese street snacks: bite-size wonton "dumplings", filled baozi buns (think: steamed savoury doughnuts) and noodle dishes. The food is bright-eyed and long on big flavours. A dozen juicy, lightly-wrapped wonton (?5.50), were an all-singing, all-dancing pork, spring onion and ginger extravaganza. Although, beware that garlic dipping sauce. It kicks with cough-inducing intensity. Adventurous eaters could have a lot of fun with the specials menu, which ranged, on this visit, from five-spice fried pigs' ears, via "exotic plum drink", to homemade red bean ice-cream.
• Buns ?1.20-?1.50, dishes ?5-?6.50. 13 Norfolk Street, 01223 354573,

Part of a small regional restaurant group (Cambscuisine; big on local sourcing and beefy modern British cooking), the St John's site dates to the 17th century, but you would barely know it. The building has been given a typical, not unpleasant, "gastropub" gussy: all bare floorboards, artificially aged heraldic wallpaper and red leather bench seating. At lunch and between 6-7pm, you can eat one course off the set menu for ?8. My plate of stuffed venison heart (subtly flavoured, livery texture) with slick mash, vibrant winter greens, good sweet-sharp braised red cabbage and a well-judged port sauce – not overly reduced, but with a distinct fruity tang – passed muster. As did a half of gravity-dispensed Nethergate IPA (?1.55, fresh, spicily hoppy, in a mid-strength 3.8% sort of way). Although, in a restaurant that raves about its love of real ales, only having one of four barrels on was a letdown. Other set mains might, typically, include sausage'n'mash, roast duck leg or vegetable hotpot.
• Set menu, one course ?8, two courses ?11. 21-24 Northampton Street, 01223 353110,

A hive of making and baking activity, this upmarket, somewhat vanilla city-centre cafe is popular with office workers and Cambridge's new mums. It is renowned for its cakes – mincemeat and oat strudel slice, hunks of rocky road, butterscotch layer cake – which are as pretty as the proverbial baking cookery book picture. A slice of chocolate cola cake, however (?3, the icing's cola zing modest), was a little bland. Bad choice? Perhaps. Much better were two salads: chickpea, butternut squash and feta; and mangetout and petit pois, dressed with orange zest and toasted hazelnuts. Elsewhere, the lunch menu might include beef bourguignon, smoked mackerel and pea frittata, a puy lentil lasagne or a leeks and cream cheese salmon en croute. Pair one of those with a salad and Stickybeaks won't work out cheap, exactly. But if you value conscientious cooking, you certainly won't feel short changed.
• Snacks ?1.50-?4.50, lunch dishes with salad around ?6.50-?7.50. 42 Hobson Street, 01223 359397,

This "alternative fish bar" has picked up a raft of awards since it opened in 2008. Sustainability and, to a degree, local sourcing (for instance, its Cumberland sausage comes from the Mill Road butcher, Northrop's) are the order of the day. Its menu also roves far beyond the chippy staples to take in battered, grilled or pan-fried mackerel and rainbow trout, as well as specials such as hot-smoked salmon with new potatoes or a whole Whitby crab thermidor, chips and salad (?10.95). Judging from this visit, good as it is, I wouldn't quite rank the Sea Tree among the very best of Britain's new wave chip shops. My cod (served with its gelatinous skin-on, a bizarre practice in my book) wasn't cooked to order as advertised, and, consequently, in patches, the otherwise delicate, crisp batter was going ever so slightly soggy inside. Normally, it wouldn't have warranted comment, but, at this level, you're looking for perfection. That quibble aside, the fish was sweet and fresh; a homemade tartare sauce sharp and chunky; the chips proper chip shop chips. That is, thick-cut, buttery-soft within and boasting a sticky, caramelised crunch and chew without. Those glassy, shattering, triple-cooked chips you get in restaurants may be a technical masterpiece, but they don't work in a fish supper. If not quite revelatory, then, the Sea Tree is clearly a cut-above.
• Fish and chips, from ?5.55. 13-14 The Broadway, Mill Road, 01223 414349,

If you are determined to swerve "clone town" Cambridge, this bright, friendly pan-Asian canteen makes a tasty alternative to Wagamama. The mains split between zippy stir fries, rice dishes and noodle soups (ramen, hot'n'sour etc.). Also, keep an eye out for the week's bargain specials, such as spicy minced pork and chicken cooked with aubergines, courgettes and tofu over rice (?6.90). Stir-fries are often sweet, greasy and gloopy, but, here, the signature Yippee noodles taste fresh and well-balanced. The house sauce is understated, a restrained base framework of BBQ flavours. That lets the other elements: hints of flash-fried wok char, still crunchy veg, a generous helping of prawns, spicy roast pork and chicken, shine through. On a cold day, it was a robustly satisfying plate of food.
• Mains ?7.60-?11.80. 7-9 King Street, 01223 518111,

This bakery-cafe is justly famous for its plump, syrupy Chelsea buns – great sticky, Danish-like swirls of dried fruit, cinnamon and joy. When Fitzbillies came under threat of closure, last year, it seemed as if said buns were toast, but food writer (and sometime Guardian contributor), Tim Hayward and his wife, Alison Wright, stepped in and Fitzbillies was saved. The duo have retained Fitzbillies best bits (vintage 1922 frontage, those buns), while adding a counter-service corner coffee bar, expanding the cake range and modernising its table-service cafe. The emphasis at lunch (weekend evenings Fitzbillies serves a more ambitious menu) is on rugged, fuss-free, British seasonal snacking. Think St John simplicity, only with jazzier aquamarine wall tiles. You will find things such as egg and bacon pie, confit duck and flagelot soup, potted venison with crab apple and rosehip jelly, chalked-up on the boards. An individual Jerusalem artichoke, sage and Lincolnshire Poacher tart, served with a salad of hen potatoes and roasted red onions in a caper and herb dressing – not a huge portion – looked a little lost on its big white plate, but the flavours were true, the execution crisp. This quality is clearly not lost on visitors and locals. On a Thursday lunch time, Fitzbillies was packed out. Two waiting staff, both remarkably affable under the circumstances, were only just keeping this whirlwind in check. Pause momentarily, put your cutlery down, and you may well find one of them trying to whip your plate away. It could be more relaxing but, then, the food would probably be more expensive. You pay your money, you make your choice.
• Bakery goods, ?1.80-?3, lunch dishes ?5.30-?7.90. 51-52 Trumpington Street, 01223 352500,

This colourful little deli-cafe is an artisan Aladdin's cave, the shelves laden with everything from handmade greetings cards to local Hot Numbers' coffee. Whether you're eating in or shopping for Cam Valley Orchards' apple juice, Radmore Farm bacon, food-wise the Larder is all about local sourcing from within a 50-mile radius. The daytime menu takes in sandwiches, quiches, Pavitt's Pies, stews and flavoursome rustic soups. Those soups can be served in loaves baked by Cambridge's sharpest craft baker, Loaf For Life. Bread "bowls" might sound a bit 1970s, but that brilliantly lactic bread is timelessly delicious.
• Sandwiches from ?3.65, meals from ?4.95. No 9 The Broadway, Mill Road, 01223 212462,

• Rail travel between Leicester and Cambridge was provided by Cross Country Trains ( For more local tourism information, see

Related posts

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.