Review: Hunt & Darton, a café which tells you how to flirt

Nisha Emich 14 May 2014

As summer finally looks to have arrived, I find myself sat in a small café on Bridge Street watching a friend sprawled across a coffee table, mock smoking a vegetarian sausage, and having watercress chucked at her.

As part of its two-year tour of the country, Hunt & Darton, a café that describes itself as “a social and artistic hub where engagement, spontaneity, and performance meet great food and drink”, has popped up in Cambridge for a month in association with the Eat Cambridge festival. Tentatively walking in on my own, I was cheerily greeted by a man dressed entirely in pineapple prints (right up to the miniature pineapple perched on top of his head), and shown to a table. Feeling a little disoriented by the choice of attire, and a little hung-over if we’re being honest, I eagerly reached forward to grab the card on the table in hopes of finding something fatty and full of carbs to ease my grumbling stomach. However, instead of a selection of food the menu presented a list of café do’s and don’ts. “DO NOT discuss other customers (or if you must be quiet and discreet).” “DO NOT flirt (unless you’ve been making eye-contact for some time).” There were also a few choice suggestions under “How to Play with Your Food” (Battenberg Battlement was a highlight).

It became rapidly clear to me that this was not your ordinary café, and as soon as I located the actual menu, this started to feel like a very good thing. The chalkboard list – looming above a counter laden with scones, crumpets, bakewell tarts, piles of wagon wheels, and a glorious pineapple upside-down cake – boasted treats such as coco pops, bacon butties, and smashed avocado on toast. I decided on an innocuous cup of tea and the café’s renowned roast dinner sandwich – a masterpiece of such absurdity I won’t even try to describe the homely, mothering feelings it conjured up in me. Three (THREE!!!) slices of white bread, slathered in cranberry sauce, overflowing with warm chicken, roasted parsnips, carrots, and the true star of the show: stuffing. The next time you’re missing home, craving a Sunday roast, or simply feeling down do yourself a favour and try it for yourself.

Now, though the food was delicious, it was the café’s three-course performance menu that really brightened my day. Much like any other set menu, you select an appetizer, a main and a dessert (would you like the ‘Aeroplane’, ‘Delia Dance’, or ‘I am the Buffet’?). As in some particularly classy establishments, your meal is wheeled out to you on a silver trolley. However, in most establishments your ‘meal’ isn’t a singing, dancing duo that stands on tables and flings salad all over the place. It was bizarre, playful and just verging on the edge of too much second hand embarrassment to handle – enough to keep you rooted to your seat in slight horror, but laughing so hard that you might rupture a spleen.

In a term full of late night library sessions, excessive whining, and unhealthy eating habits (usually in the form of chugging a red bull at 4AM and devouring the entire contents of the vending machine) Cambridge students could really do with a bit of mindless silliness and a decent meal. Hunt & Darton provide just that; it gave me something to smile about, an hour of pointedly not thinking about impending exam dates, and at a fiver for a massive sandwich, it’s hardly breaking the bank. Go on, skip the tearoom, settle down with a cup of coffee and order yourself some ‘Thoughts’ and ‘Laughs’ off the menu – the library will still be there tomorrow, I promise.