Warning. This post is basically food p*rn.
A month or so ago, Tara & I locked her children under the stairs and caught a train to Cambridge from King’s Cross for a sneaky awayday to Cambridge, to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum (both of us), the re-opened Fitzbillies restaurant (both), and John Lewis’ bra department (Tara).
First, I need to apologise & make disclosure. In general, there is little I disapprove of more than people whipping out giant SLRs with penis extension lenses and getting all snap happy over their lunch in a crowded restaurant. It’s extremely irritating.
But I did risk a single snatched SLR photo before I hid my camera under the table (as opposed to a quick cameraphone snap) of my first course at Fitzbillies for several reasons. A) I knew I wouldn’t get thrown out by an irate restaurateur because Alison Wright & Tim Hayward, Fitzbillies’ new owners are friends: I commissioned Tim’s food writing back in the day before he moved to glory on The Guardian‘s food pages, Al is Miss P’s (owner of godson Edward) sister, and I lived in the Hayward/Wright basement, the erstwhile hobbit hole, when I moved back from New York last year. This was a Very Good place to live, as Al is a demon baker and when she was testing Chelsea Bun recipes for Fitzbillies before they moved to Cambridge, I was a grateful recipient.
Reason B) is that Fitzbillies restaurant section is a lovely buzzy room where everyone is intent on both food and conversation so I thought I would risk no one noticing. (The tables are just perfectly placed so that you aren’t cheek by jowl, but neither are you adrift in a lonely room.)
Reason C) was because my mushrooms on toast were so damn good, they deserved a food p*rn photograph so I could drool over them at a later date.
It is enormously pleasing when you eat in a friend’s restaurant and it is Good. (Because I’m a terrible, terrible liar.) Our meal at Fitzbillies did come with a huge weight of expectation on its shoulders. Not only from me, knowing Tim & Al’s joint passion for excellent, proper English food, but because is it an institution in Cambridge, known for its Chelsea Buns of legend and for its
The restaurant cooking is now done by Rosie Sykes, who shares the owners’ passion for immaculately sourced, seasonal & regional ingredients that speak to the heritage of English food without being twee, folksy or ersatz. What they have together produced is a menu of complete simplicity that changes weekly and incites drool upon reading.
If plates such Wild Garlic Soup, Wild Garlic Fritters, or Grilled Mackerel with New Season Asparagus, Caper & Lemon Relish, or Rhubarb & Custard Tart appeal, then get to Fitzbillies as quick as your legs will trot. I also give them huge credit for always having vegetarian offerings that are thoughtful, delicious and deserve a place on the menu in their own right, not just as a tedious obligatory option. (The baked cheese with herbs on our visit disappeared down my gullet snip, snap smart.)
The good thing about eating in a university town is that at 2pm the entire room empties as if bodysnatched by aliens, so Tara and I, child-free, work-shy and profoundly greedy, stretched out and ordered Chelsea Buns. (The original Chelsea Bun baker was re-hired upon the re-opening.) And then I thought f**k it, I’ll break my rule again and just take a couple of snaps of these delectable choux pastry things that I had to order, (just to check they were okay), as there’s no one here to see.
*vows to return soon – without SLR camera, I promise*
51-52 Trumpington St, Cambridge CB2 1RG. http://www.fitzbillies.com/