Cambridge Cafés


“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” – T.S. Eliot.
I’m about to move out of Cambridge. The thing I’m going to miss the most is the cafés. I’ve looked around Brighton a bit, and I’m still hopeful but I haven’t yet found anything quite like the best cafés in Cambridge. So here I bid a fond farewell.

Le Gros Frank

Just on the end of Station road and still the best place anywhere near the station. Used to be my favourite, without doubt it had the best croissant. About a year, maybe 18 months ago they installed a new counter which drastically shrunk the number of tables upstairs. I think this might be more convenient for the lunch trade, but it kind of killed the atmosphere in there for me and I haven’t been back much since.

Coeur de France

Seems to have been taken over by a Chinese Restaurant, but curiously still sort of remains a French café during the day. Good straight French coffee, not so hot on the espresso. Decent croissant. An interesting crowd of lecturers from the nearby APU first thing in a morning (when I was normally there) and other assorted Cambridge professionals.

Clowns

Grungy. Whacky pictures of clowns on the walls (surprise, surprise). Quite often filled with teenagers. The grunginess seems to attract the nutters. Powerful coffee. All of the food seems a bit unappetising. I’ve only ever had the courage to order a toastie.

Starbucks/Borders

I know you’re not supposed to, but I quite like this. At the times when I’m likely to be there (Saturday, Sunday afternoons) it’s packed, but it tends to be a good mix of couples with babies, students and a smattering of Cambridge eccentrics. The sandwiches are inedible. The muffins are OK. I don’t like their espresso but their tall coffee of the day which is the best coffee I can find on the menu - is strong enough to stop you blinking for a week. All the other Starbucks in Cambridge feel like the anteroom to a public toilet.

Café Nero

Moderately horrid, it tends to be staffed by idiots who don’t clean up properly and can’t make a hot espresso. Food is furiously expensive and crap. Clientele is over-made up forty-something ladies who lunch.

CB1

It must be a short walk of a few hundred yards from CB1 to the reality checkpoint on Parker’s Piece, still most of the people slumped on its armchairs and sofas, or hunched over a game of chess or playing go never seem to have made it anywhere near reality. CB1 is probably the reason I came to Cambridge in the first place. How were you going to keep me down on the farm (actually, down in Farnborough) once I realised there were such things as combined second-hand bookshops and cafés? When I first frequented it, it didn't even have an espresso machine.

Second hand books, decent espresso and the weirdest, whacked-out, laid-back ambience in the whole of Cambridge. Especially on a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes the “character” to human ratio gets a bit high but, most of the time there are some other normal types dotted amongst the go players and the myopic bag ladies.

CB2

Great for surreptitious afternoon meetings. Waiter/waitress service, which is as it always should be. Stonking espresso and it goes on all night even past when the pubs close.

Savino’s

Saving the best for last. This is the Platonic form of a café: just the business. In the mornings when I habitually went there, there was always a constant flow of Cambridge types, sultry sexy female undergraduates, tweed jacketed lecturers with their coterie of PhD students, shop girls from Robert Sale, unfeasibly fashionably dressed Italians who run the shops on King Street. The best espresso in town without a doubt. Served in proper thick, Illy espresso cups. Awesome. The food's good as well. Many a time I've burnt myself on the chocolate croissant, despite stern warnings that they'd just come out of the oven.

I love it most when it's really busy and you can perch on the barstools down the side wall and watch the rest of the café in the mirror.f

And it's open late. Alert, alert, Costa, Nero, Starbucks! This is what a café should be like! You dummies! Gaw! I wish I was there now. The short walk across Christ's pieces to Savino's on a spring morning is just heaven.

Friendly service from people who didn’t need to watch Raging Bull, they were just born like that (apparently the people from Savino’s and the Sopranos are from the same town back in the “old country”).