Author/publisher of the marvelous food quarterly Fire & Knives and all round good guy Tim Hayward has fled the metropolis with his family for the calmer waters of Cambridge and re-launched the swiftly renovated city icon (est. 1922) Fitzbillies café and cake shop, preserving the elegant Art Nouveau façade, much to the relief of one Stephen Fry, who’s been tweeting his concern over its continuance.
Tim’s wife (and keen amateur baker) Alison Wright says they’ve had quite a lot of correspondence, electronically and otherwise from the old guard voicing fears about the future of the Fitzbillies Chelsea Bun, fondant frogs and chocolate mice; she’s happy to report they remain on the shelves. In fact nothing’s been taken away but a lot’s been added. There’s a cool café at one end with oak floors and exposed brickwork (discovered, complete with original wooden lintels after an over-enthusiastic whack with a lump hammer) furnished with one long table, so if you’re not keen on sharing your space, get over yourself. When we called in the other day stylish students tapping on iPads sat hugger-mugger with yummy mummies and gnarly profs sipping espressos.
In an airy dining area behind the shop with the kitchen in view, seasoned chef Rosie Sykes, who’s worked with some of the best (Shaun Hill, Alastair Little) moves hither and thither in a completely unruffled fashion producing plate after plate of good looking food. The menu borrows lightly from Fergus Henderson’s St John – uncomplicated, pared down and honest. Welsh rarebit it just that – no leaves, no chutney, just the beauteous thing on a plate (to the bafflement of one meticulously coiffured customer clearly expecting garnish). Crab pate, pickled cucumber, toast is a lesson in less is more, the pate fresh as a daisy, deep in flavour and nicely seasoned. Nutty, chunky bread is lightly toasted; it’s a triumph. Sausage roll with fruit ketchup catches my eye (as does 1938 beef pattie) but the duck ham, apple & geranium jelly wins. The jelly is delicately perfumed and proves a perfect adjunct to the preserved duck. There’s nothing on the lunch menu over nine quid, most things are around a fiver – phenomenal value.
And the Chelsea buns? Huge, sticky, mega-sweet and completely addictive. Calm down Stephen. Twitter ye not. All’s well on Trumpington Street.