High notes of Cambridge

Espresso Library in Cambridge

On a recent visit to Cambridge I was struck by two things; the city’s incredible beauty and the abundance of small, cool cafes serving up a variety of vegan, gluten-free fayre to the city’s students. There is something special about university towns. Bicycles are a key mode of transport, there is a distinct lack of chains in comparison to independently run cafes and boutiques and students seem open and willing to embrace healthy ways of eating. We saw green juices and smoothies, gluten-free bread, quinoa salads, sweet potato brownies and organic coffee. The cafes and restaurants were simply decorated, sometimes in converted industrial spaces, and featured knowledgable staff and live music.

Compared to my corner of South West London, with the obligatory Cafe Nero, Costa Coffee, Pizza Express and Cook, Cambridge’s cafe and restaurant culture felt refreshing and forward-looking. Perhaps students should be part of city planning as catering for them must be an art form in itself. By nature is has got to be inexpensive, central, healthy, quirky, cool and generous – most students we saw sat with laptops and were in no rush to leave.

Even if you are not interested in college life or food you can always do punting. Your arms will ache but it is brilliant fun and you’ll see all the beautiful colleges from the river – just don’t fall in! Below are some of the places we went to and loved.

Some of the places we loved…

Hot Numbers Coffee

These two great coffee places – one located in the city centre close to the river and the other in an old brewery that plays host to live acts – buy their green coffee beans directly from traders who source what they consider the most interesting and sustainable and often organically certified coffee directly from the farmers. We tried their filter coffee and organic espresso which were both great. The gluten-free bread we had with breakfast actually looked and tasted like ‘normal’ bread and was toasted to perfection. Other brekkie items were porridge with cinnamon and honey. See their menu here.

The Gwydir St. branch has a full programme of live gigs that are posted on their website and the night we visited, the father/daughter jazz duo (Rachel Johnson) performed a fantastic set. Really worth seeing.

The Old Norfolk Street Bakery

The fantastic gluten-free bread we had at Hot Numbers Coffee was actually courtesy of this little Portuguese bakery tucked away in a residential area. They specialise in a selection of British and Portuguese artisan breads and pastries that are world-famous in Cambridge and have been written about in The Guardian’s top ten budget cafes and restaurants in Cambridge. If you are there, stop by and get a gluten-free loaf  – but go early, when we came to buy they had sold out!

Espresso Library

We came to this quirky, industrial looking cafe for lunch and were really pleasantly surprised. They served a great selection of fruit and veg juices that were simply delicious. My salad was divine and filled with mango, rocket, spinach, asparagus, juicy cherry tomatoes , sweet potato and sesame seeds. The generous slice of Frittata was filled with feta cheese, sweet potato and spinach with a lovely side salad. We walked out feeling light, healthy and virtuous.


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