It’s world famous for its university, but the picturesque city of Cambridge is also home to some truly excellent breakfast and brunch spots. Local chef Adam Wilkinson shares where to find Cambridge’s best brunches, and what makes the city’s food scene so unique.
With its cobbled streets and elegant architecture, Cambridge is a small city that’s best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Given its rich history of academia and innovation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that artistic, independent cafés reign supreme in Cambridge.
Chef Adam Wilkinson, who works at the popular roastery Hot Numbers, explains: “There’s been an explosion in brunch venues in the past few years. People seem to be enjoying casual dining a lot more now.” In his opinion, the perfect brunch is “interesting, without going over the top.” With that in mind, here’s the lowdown on the best breakfast and brunch spots in Cambridge, England.
Hot Numbers was a pioneer of the specialty coffee scene in Cambridge, and it’s universally beloved across the city, from decades-long residents to students. What makes the brunch menu stand out, says Adam, is “traditional meats and interesting plating.” Indeed, with dishes like Ras El Hanout lamb shoulder and grilled sea bass on offer from 7am onwards, it’s safe to say that Hot Numbers isn’t your typical breakfast spot. You won’t find anything from the freezer here, either. “Every product we sell has touched our hands,” explains Adam, “and we responsibly source the best ingredients we can.” It’s not just the food that makes Hot Numbers stand out, though; they also host live jazz every Friday and Sunday and provide a space for local creatives to showcase their art.
“Fitzbillies is a Cambridge institution,” says Adam. Their café has stood proudly on Trumpington Street since 1920, although it briefly closed its doors in 2011. Elements of the café’s original Art Nouveau style remain, although it’s received a chic, modern facelift since reopening. “They’ll always be famous for their Chelsea buns,” Adam says, but from 8am to 4pm they also serve up an indulgent breakfast alongside their show-stopping range of cakes. The American-style pancakes drizzled in the legendary Chelsea bun sauce are a particular standout.
There’s something quintessentially Cantabrigian about the Old Bicycle Shop, perhaps because Cambridge has always been a cyclist’s city. The restaurant occupies the former premises of Howes Cycles, where Charles Darwin is said to have once bought a bicycle. Times have changed, but the restaurant retains a cosy, traditional feel and much of the decor is cleverly made from old bicycle parts. “The brunch options are always quite interesting,” says Adam. “Similar to us, they use fresh ingredients and nothing out of the freezer.” Try the sweet potato pancakes with coconut yoghurt for a fresh twist on a brunch classic.
The Locker is another popular breakfast spot that’s taken the place of a former Cambridge institution, replacing the student favourite Clown’s café. “They’ve done really well,” explains Adam. “Sometimes people tend to fight against a new business that’s opened in a previous business’ spot, but people have welcomed it with open arms. The staff are friendly, the food’s good and they deliver what they say they will.” It’s quality over quantity when it comes to breakfast options; there are fewer than ten choices available, but it’s so well-executed that it really doesn’t matter.
Located in an idyllic spot on the Cambridge quayside, The Punt Yard is just as popular for its beautiful river views as its delicious food. During the week, its focus is solely on pizza, but at weekends, brunch is the order of the day. “A good brunch should be interesting without being over the top,” says Adam, a criteria that’s perfectly met by the Punt Yard’s quirky breakfast pizzas, especially the Aussie Vegan with smashed avocado and barbecue sauce. Best of all, it can be washed down with bottomless prosecco or bloody marys between 10am-2pm.
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Scott’s All Day Cafe is a sister venue of the legendary Fitzbillies that’s fast becoming popular in its own right. “They’re quite new,” says Adam. “They serve all-day brunch and sourdough pizzas in the evening.” Scott’s is nestled along Mill Road, which is arguably Cambridge’s most diverse and artistic street with an array of independent cafés and international cuisines. Not only is the food hearty and delicious, it’s presented with artistic perfection.
Breakfast at Benets is a sugary, indulgent affair. The café occupies a narrow townhouse directly opposite King’s College chapel, arguably Cambridge’s most iconic building. It’s beloved for its decadent crêpes and waffles, as well as its range of artisanal gelato ice cream. Benets is also one of the more eco-friendly choices for breakfast in the city; it has all but eliminated single-use plastic, and all takeaway packaging is recyclable or biodegradable. Best of all, it’s dog-friendly, so if you’d like to spend some time with your furry friend (or make some new ones), Benets is the place to be.
Espresso Library is a haven where Cambridge’s chicest and hippest can enjoy locally roasted specialty coffee alongside an organic, plant-based breakfast. Light and airy with bare-brick walls and bicycles hanging from the ceiling, Espresso Library is one of those cafés that seems to have been created just for Instagram. However, in this case the aesthetically plated food is every bit as good as it looks. True to its name, this breakfast spot is perfect for work or study. “Fine dining is more of a special occasion whereas it’s within people’s grasp to go to a brunch location a few times a week, enjoy it and get some work done,” says Adam.