Picture, if you will, two weary travellers. Wandering aimlessly under the baking sun; their skin is pink, their limbs are heavy and their nerves a slightly frayed due to encroaching hunger that is unstated by the raspberries they had for breakfast in the car. Lost, they have been wandering Cambridge for hours, buffeted by the inordinate amount of school groups (curious, on a Saturday) and tourists who are rampaging the streets. There is also the gradual realisation the perhaps visiting a city where each attraction is hidden by large, unerring wooden doors bearing unapologetic slogans like “No Visitors, Only Students” or “£13 per person for entry” was possibly not the best choice of destination when their pockets are a little tighter than normal.
Eventually, after trudging past cafes, restaurants and eateries packed to the gills; after pressing their noses sadly against the windows and eyeing piled high plates of food on their way to other people; after being so dehydrated that they had resorted to threatening to spit in each other’s mouths to provide any kind of moisture, a metaphorical light appears on the horizon. Coming to a stop outside an unassuming dark green shop front to gently berate each other for having let it get to this stage, one gestures to the darkened doorway with only a slight hint of exasperation and says “what about here then?”
Up a step, they are greeted by a smart young lady in a starched white shirt behind an imposing lectern housing a computer screen. She stands just to the right of a sizable wooden door with an artful stained glass window and to her left hangs a rather dramatic deep red velvet curtain. She smiles candidly at our heroes before asking softly “reservation?”
“Err, table for two?” Is the somewhat querulous response. She narrows her eyes just a fraction and looks down at her computer screen. From somewhere behind her appears another lady, this one with added blazer, who whispers something quietly in her ear. It is here, dear reader, that our weary wanderers began to get the sneaking suspicion they had stumbled on something a little beyond their usual fare. Indeed, the internal warning sirens were sounding and a couple of sharp glances were shared between them as another lady appears off the street, pushes her way through and flippantly remarks over her shoulder to the door woman and friend as she slips through the door that she was there to meet people. The sliver of restaurant viewable for the brief second it took her to get through afford a mere flash of finery and the impression of chandeliers.
Suddenly the burgundy curtain swishes aside and a third lady appears; this one wearing a smart red dress and fancy heels. She smiles and inclines her head, before slipping behind the lectern, palming some menus and shepherding our duo through the door.
On the other side, they are met with a sight to behold. What they had originally expected to be a single room with a couple of tables turns out to be the size of a banquet hall and positively dripping with opulence. Beautifully tiled floors in dark blues and mustard yellows sit below dark wooden tables and walls artistically crammed with photos and paintings. Waiters and waitresses in full regalia (waistcoats and ties) move quietly and swiftly round with huge trays balanced precariously, and burly men in suits circle silently, smiling beautifully at guests.
The pair huddle together and hurry to follow their guide, nearly tripping each other as they stare, open mouthed at the two bars that could have stolen from a 1935 gin joint, resplendent with crystal glasses, mirrored fittings and bottle displays that could have easily doubled as a potions store. After what seems like an inordinate amount of time, they are invited to take a seat at a sweetly tucked away corner table. They fall somewhat chaotically onto the plush couches and take the proffered menus with only slightly trembling hands.
“Any water?” Asks the hostess. Our wanderers share panicked looks at being asked a question so promptly without any chance of preparation and after a moment of hesitation nod frantically.
“Still or Sparkling?” Is the next query which results in yet more overwrought looks, before the safer option of still is plumped for. Finally left to their own devices for the first time, our champions take a moment to properly absorb their surroundings; the salt and pepper shakers that appear to be made from gold and the casually placed wine bucket at every available corner before bursting into stifled giggles and muttered suggestions that they are definitely not posh enough to be where they are. They both suddenly hush when their server returns with a glass bottle of water that she carefully pours into the prepared glasses. As she walks away, there’s a flurry of panicked whispering regarding potential costs of bottled water vs dehydration. Turning to the menus, they hold hands tightly under the table in preparation of expenses. The mains cause a conjoined wince, and the wine list is discarded immediately, but the sandwiches are perused with interest.
By the time a new waiter appears; a swarthy man with curly dark hair and an intense unblinking stare, our duo are prepared to order. A pair of peach and elderflower lemonades are first, followed by an order for eggs benedict and a truffled chicken sandwich.
Here, dear reader, we must take a side bar to discuss the hereforto unknown wonders of truffled chicken. Initially unsure, I (for yes, the heroes you’ve shared this journey with your friendly neighbourhood Ebear and TMM) chose it under supervision and boy, was I rewarded. Two rounds of fried bread, chunks of perfectly tender and ridiculously tasty chicken, salad dressed in some kind of delightful dressing and pre salted chunky chips. The food of the gods.
By the time the meals arrive, our wanderers have settled enough to enjoy their environment and appreciate how it is to live like one of the rich and famous. Surrounded by fancy people with laughs like braying horses and neck scarves galore, they tuck into their food with relish.
Sadly, small but unapologetic signs declared “No Photography Allowed”, but worry not. It did not stop our intrepid heroes who gladly broke the rules to take a sneaky photo of this super fancy knife with a silver fly on the handle (though it’s clear a life of covert observation is not on the cards considering how blurry this is).
Due to high hunger levels and a small yet undeniable fear someone was going to realise that our couple were 100% not posh enough to be there and kick them out, the plates were clean within a rather small timeframe. Due to unfortunately unexpected circumstances and somewhat limited funds, there was no time for desserts (though the delightful looking Rum Baba with Chantilly Cream was noted and will be enjoyed again in the future). However, before dropping the cash and hightailing it out of there as fast as their £10 Primark pumps would carry them, both our explorers braved the crowds of Cambridgites to visit the facilities.
Typically, I have to admit, I barely visit toilets in the outside world, because I have the bladder of a camel and a definite fear of being kidnapped. This time though, it was definitely worth the risk, if only for the apparent million mile walk (I still have no idea how this place actually fitted behind such a demure shop front) lined with beautiful botanical drawings. The full size wall mural of a tropical bird was much appreciated too (I tried to take a photo of this too, but was scuppered when someone suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs to stare at me judgingly).
The obligatory toilet selfie – it smelt freaking amazing in there.
Soon though our heroes emerged, blinking and slightly shell shocked, into the bright sunshine. Bellies full, pockets significantly lighter and lives enriched, they strode hand in hand, off towards the horizon.