Fitzbillies

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; only a matter of weeks ago he 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.

Fitzbillies, 51-52 Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RG T: 01223 352 500 www.fitzbillies.com

Perky Peacock

One of our favourite coffee stops is the Perky Peacock housed in the enchanting little postern house beneath York’s Lendal Bridge (just by York Rowing Club). We’re not the only ones. Call in at 9 a.m. and it could be the Aviva works canteen where everyone knows one another and Nicola Peacock knows just how everyone likes their coffee.

Today she was serving ‘the world’s best’ coffee as nominated by the dull sounding (with an even duller website) Beverage Standards Association who’ve just held their awards ceremony. Yes, I know every industry is awash with awards but I’m assured that this one does count.

The Attic coffee shop in King’s Square (more on that another day) won for Best Espresso in the UK, while Perky Peacock can offer that Best Coffee in the World. For connoisseurs like Nicola, that’s  a blend of 70% Guatamalan El Bosque and 30% El Salvador La Illusion. Nicola can wax lyrical about grapefruit tones and the like, but for me it was just a damn good coffee, strong, flavoursome and without bitterness. Served in a china cup, seated on a leather sofa with a copy of the Independent while the Ouse drifts by beneath us. Bliss.

If you haven’t been for a while, the Perky Peacock’s had a bit of an upgrade since we last reported. Double glazing makes it cosy warm for winter, the furniture got comfier. There’s an ever expanding  choice of soups, sandwiches, cakes and biscuits made by her talented mum Pat, a brilliant baker known as Pastry Pat (she’d walk it in the Great British Bake-Off). We resisted her divine looking cherry cake today but were rather proud to hear she’d recently made Squidbeak’s (sorry Dan Lepard’s) Tamarind Date Cake. Told you  it was good.

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