Famous Buns at Fitzbillies
Pubs and restaurants often steal the limelight in Muddy reviews, but sometimes you need to know the best place for a coffee and a bun and a good old goss with your mates. Then Fitzbillies, and its legendary buns, could hit the spot. I’ve been putting off visiting this café as sweet dough covered in a sticky currant and cinnamon mixture, finished off with a sugar syrup glaze just doesn’t do it for me (*cough*). The truth is that, as it’s off the main drag, I’m always dashing in the other direction; I’ve been trying to get here to headplant in the cake section for ages.
Located at the Kings Parade end of Trumpington Street, Fitzbillies, with its distinctive art nouveau exterior has been making and selling sticky buns since 1921 so it’s fair to say they’ve nailed it. Entering the café is through the traditional cake shop at the front of the building where all kinds of gorgeous sugary confections wink at you through the glass counter. All the cakes are made on the premises, as are the stunning three-tier creations that are on display.
With such a traditional frontage I was intrigued as to what to expect but Fitzbillies successfully blends the old with the new. The snug café, at the back of the building, has a contemporary with cool turquoise butcher’s tiles at the counter and indusrial style lighting, though the wooden walls, square tiled floor and bistro chairs hint at more mainstream charms.
The secret is clearly out – it was rammed at midday with a mixture of shoppers, students and the inevitable visitors to Cambridge, although it’s mercifully managed to escape an overtly touristy vibe. Expect to wait if you’re gunning for a lunchtime table. During busy times it’s buzzy and noisy, so no worry if the kids are playing up – an epic tantrum would struggle to be heard. Highchairs are available for babies but there’s no obvious space for prams.
The menu is a mixture of sweet and savory. An extensive all-day breakfast menu clearly proves popular and with pies, salads, soups and a special fish of the day option, there is something for everyone. The day I visited the specials included: cock-a-leekie soup (£8.50), roast poisson salad, duck confit potatoes cakes and halibut with seasonal vegetables (all £12.50). I was interested in sampling the breakfast menu and pumped for a delicious ‘Shakshuka’ – a Middle Eastern egg dish with a spicy sauce of tomatoes, onions and peppers served with sourdough toast (£8.50).
Enough of the healthy stuff – I couldn’t wait to jump into the lusciously sticky Chelsea bun. I’m no master baker but this was naughtily goooooooood! I could taste the cinnamon and citrus flavours and it was so gooey that a fork was essential to scrape up the scrummy syrupy sauce. A big thumbs up from me.
Fitzbillies is a perfectly situated for a browse round the Fitzwilliam Museum and if you’re feeling the need to walk off those buns head out of the shop and down Mill Lane, virtually opposite. This will quickly take you to Coe Fen and Sheep’s Green, the meadowland that follows the River Cam towards the Granta Meadows where you can let the kids off the reins, or sit on a park bench and let life quietly pass you by.
Due to Fitzbillies’ success the owners have opened a second café in Bridge Street, near Magdalene Bridge, at the other end of the city. Nestled amongst the specialist shops, bars and restaurants scattered around the quayside area; it has a much smaller seating area so is better geared for grab-and-go coffee and cakes.
If you manage to grab half an hour from your power shopping take a detour to Trumpington Street and indulge in a Chelsea bun and a coffee fix – and don’t forget those plus sized trousers on the way back.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: friends looking for a place to meet for a coffee or light bight away from the main city drag. Great for kids and close to the Fitzwilliam Museum and the River Cam for those up for a walk. Renowned for its all day breakfasts and delicious cakes if the diet has gone out of the window.
Not for: Those who like certainty – it’s busy at lunchtimes and there are no reservations taken. For those with little people, there’s hardly any parking space for prams. The cakes are a temptation so if you’re still being good this Jan, pop it in the diary for next month.
££: Mid-range I’d say for a central city café. Breakfasts start from £5.50, cakes £3-4.50, open sandwiches and light bites £7.50 -9 and the lunch menu £11.50-13.
Fitzbillies is open Mon-Fri 8.30- 6.00pm, Sat 9.00- 7.00pm and Sun 10.00- 6.00pm. Fitzbillies 51 – 52 Trumpington St, Cambridge CB2 1RG. Tel:01223 352500 fitzbillies.com