We look past the charity shops and Hot Numbers Instagram content to uncover Mill Road’s best culinary gems.
It is well known that Mill Road is Cambridge’s answer to an alternative cultural hub that reaches beyond the chain restaurants and homogeneously beige colour palette of most college meals. No tourist would intentionally venture this far out the centre for the shabby charity shop aesthetic and hardly any gown-clad formal-goers are to be seen colonising the pavements. For some, Mill Road’s appeal lies within the relative calm and 20 minute walk that separates it from the – let’s face it – occasionally monotonous atmosphere of Central Cambridge. Its array of international supermarkets and truly diverse restaurant scene instead offers a refreshing relief from the norm and opens up a fantastic chance to experience authentic gastronomy from a wide range of cultures. With this article in mind I have ventured up and down the road picking out the best it has to offer so you don’t have to wander quite so aimlessly in the cold in search of a culinary escape.
Starting with my personal favourite, this cosy Jordanian restaurant serves up the city’s best Middle Eastern food. Daily specials such as lamb kofta on top of its à la carte menu are sure to please even the fussiest of eaters. An easy way to go about sharing some of the best dishes is to order a Mixed Mezze for £10 (which happily feeds two) and throw in a couple of extra starters – I recommend the Labneh with honey and nuts – all mopped up with some fresh pita. Of course, it would be inconceivable to finish the meal without tasting the fantastic selection of baklava and a poky cup of Jordanian coffee. Bear in mind that the restaurant closes at 6pm on Monday-Thursday and we would recommend booking on the weekend since it is well-loved among locals for reasons that become immediately apparent.
An article on Mill Road wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Noodles Plus. Praised by critics far more knowledgeable than myself and loved by regulars who queue at the door on the daily, Noodles Plus rakes in the masses with its authentic, comforting and no-frills Chinese dishes. Its main source of fandom takes the form of the Xiao long bao, traditional handmade dumplings filled with a light, well balanced broth. It must be mentioned that one of the reasons for the queue is the fact that customers are crammed into a steamy, 10-seater space which often obliges them to share a table with total strangers. But then again, most Cambridge students need a bit of a boost in the social skills department, so this might not be a bad thing.
After eating here for the first time I succumbed to a second visit within four days. This tiny restaurant offers variations of the eponymous traditional Korean dish that typically consists of lightly cooked vegetables, egg, broth, and any extras you desire (kimchi is a personal favourite) that you throw together in a sizzling bowl at the table immediately before eating. The portions are large and more than satisfying; I can recommend the traditional vegetarian Bibimbap or, if you’re looking for a bit more spice, the tuna kimchi went down a storm. Once again, reservation is 100% advised as the four main tables get snatched up very quickly. Bibimbap range from £12-£15.
Perhaps better known thanks to its quirky aesthetic – think ceilings and walls draped in Algerian carpets – family-run Bedouin is perhaps the only place in Cambridge to try North African cuisine and has long been a firm favourite among students and locals alike (I’ve been here for four years so I feel I can say this). Go for the aubergine dishes (the starter and main are among some of the best vegan/vegetarian options) or tuck into a hearty tagine but be warned that they are not for the faint hearted – you will need several hours of vegging to digest afterwards. To get even better bang for your buck try out the Early Bird menu that gets you 2 courses for £15.95 or 3 for £18.95 (Sunday Evenings, Monday to Friday 12-3pm & 5-6.30pm).
Relevant Record Café
Break with the tradition of Mill Road brunch escapades and head to this cosy café right at the end of the road where pints are almost reasonably priced again. Featuring an expansive brunch selection – my personal favourite is the sweet potato rosti that is packed full of sesame seeds and topped with avocado and poached eggs (plus extra halloumi, naturally) – and tasty coffee, most of the customers are fully-fledged Cambridge locals who recognise its charm. Downstairs you can find an impressive record shop that runs numerous events throughout the week. If you book ahead, you’ll be seated downstairs amidst the records and the retro décor if that’s your sort of thing. Brunches are within the region of £4-£8 and portions are plentiful.
Though I haven’t had personal experience of eating here due to its impressive popularity and my lack of organisation – March dates booked up within ten minutes of becoming available – I have vowed to eat here before my graduation this year after hearing an endless stream of rave reviews. The inconspicuous-looking restaurant was recently opened by MasterChef finalist chef Alex Rushmer and serves sustainable and ethically sourced dishes that change each day according to the available local produce. Watch this space (she says hopefully).
N.B. No less important are Mill Road’s selection of charming cafes – Urban Larder, Black Cat Café and Dom’s Café, to name a few – but sadly there isn’t space to cover them all. These are all great options if you’re looking for a small, comfortable café in which to plonk yourself for several hours as you work through the next essay. All offer a nice selection of toasties and salads and good coffee that is sure to hit the spot.