Places to Eat: Bread & Meat, Cambridge

Here in Cambridge, I’ve just reached the end of a year studying for an MPhil. Over the course of that year, or nine months to be more precise, I’ve often found myself pottering around the city centre after my classes or library trips. Invariably, this has nearly always been towards lunch time. As a result, I’ve become rather well acquainted with a variety of places to grab a quick bite before heading back to work in College.

Waking up on Saturday morning, neither Alec nor I seemed to possess a bad head from my College’s May Ball the night before. This was partially because we had both decided in advance that we wanted to head down to the riverside to watch the last day of May Bumps, before heading off to another event later that evening.

After waking up late, we left my somewhat deserted college (most people had stayed until the Ball ended at 5 am) shortly after 11 am for a wander around the city centre. After dashing into a few stores in search of emergency Black Tie provisions, brunch time hunger set in. My stomach was very much attuned to the idea of a bacon sandwich, but usual brunch venues had just stopped serving breakfasts.

We ended up meandering onto Benet Street, as a result of my mishearing his suggestion that we go to ‘The Regal’ (the local Weatherspoons, which practically serves Breakfast 24/7). I thought he’d said ‘The Eagle’, and duly led him onto Benet Street – completely the wrong direction for Weatherspoons.

For those unaware of the geography of Cambridge, Benet Street is a side street that runs off King’s Parade, where King’s College, the No.1 city tourist destination, is located. King’s Parade is easily the busiest street in Cambridge. Aside for a few hours in the late evenings, it is consistently packed with day trippers waving cameras and jostling to join a walking tour or to get into King’s College Chapel. Benet Street thus serves as a popular cut-through to the city centre, although it is famous in its own right. The Eagle Pub – where I thought Alec wanted to head because of an interest in science that’s much greater than my own – is close to the old site of the Cavendish Laboratory. This is where James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA on 28th February 1953. Upon making this discovery, Crick had dashed over to the Eagle to announce that he and Watson had found ‘the secret to life’. The Eagle also has a very interesting RAF bar at the back, which is covered in graffiti and stickers left by Airmen during the Second World War. Consequently, the Eagle is regularly used as a stop on walking tours and Benet Street receives a lot of cut-through and tourist traffic.

Almost certainly, the everyday bustle of the street led me to overlook Bread & Meat as a lunch destination. Only as I walked slowly along the road with Alec, dodging tourists where necessary and paying close attention to offering of the numerous food establishments, did I notice Bread & Meat. I can honestly say that, before that day, I had no idea it existed. It is such a shame, given how much I enjoyed it, that it’s only come to my attention just as I’m preparing to move away from Cambridge but this is almost certainly a good thing for my ever-increasing waistline!

The chalkboard sign located outside Bread & Meat was the first thing to catch our eye. Mainly because I walked straight into it (I am naturally very clumsy).

My poor hearing was fortuitous in this instance. After disentangling me from the sign – quickly identifying the painted words ‘Roast Meat’ in the process – we stepped up to read the kraft paper menu that was posted in the front window. Bread & Meat’s menu is oriented around three sandwiches, each made using freshly baked homestyle ciabatta and filled with succulent roasted meats.

The first on the menu is ‘Porchetta’, is described as containing ‘overnight roast middle of outdoor reared pork (from Essex) rolled with garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage & white pepper, served with fresh salsa verde’.

Secondly, there is ‘Topside’ which contains cold cuts of topside beef with rocket, tomato and garlic aioli. For an extra £1, you can ask for the topside to be switched out in favour of salt beef.

The last sandwich is ‘Honey Soy Chicken’ with ‘garlic, honey, soy and fresh ginger marinated chicken thighs served with homemade sriracha mayo & pickled mooli’. Each of these sandwiches cost £7. There is also a Roast Vegetable ciabatta option available for £5.50, and a Breakfast Ciabatta is available until 11.30 am. While they aren’t the cheapest, you certainly get what you pay for.

(At this point, I should state that I’ve tried all three of them. Not in one sitting, you understand, but on three consecutive visits that I felt I should undertake in the interests of constructing a fair review. Don’t believe that? Well, okay, I admit I’m a bit of a pig and got a bit dazzled by finding such a good thing…)

On the occasion I first visited, we both opted for the ‘Porchetta’. As we were heading to a three-course meal that evening, neither of us ordered any sides. Those available, however, included hand cut potato wedges, roasted vegetables and a unique slaw made with lime, chilli and coriander. Together with a cup of tea and Diet Coke, our brunch cost around £17 for two. As I say, not the most affordable of lunches/brunches but the taste and overall food quality justifies the cost.The Porchetta proved to be an excellent choice and was topped off (at Alec’s request) with some truly delicious pieces of perfectly crunchy crackling. The salsa verde blew us both away: Alec swore that it was spicy, whereas I argued that it was simply a strong contrast taste. After googling the typical ingredients for salsa verde, we conceded that it was simply a strong salty taste that provided an illusion of heat when paired with the Roast Pork.

The fresh ciabatta really set this flavour pairing off, and was certainly one of the best examples I’ve ever tasted: a crisp crust, a delightful spongy crumb and a subtle undertone of Olive oil. From experience, I know that ciabatta is hard to get right; it can be too dry or too soggy and it is difficult to get the correct airy texture inside a roll or loaf. I’d love to know what Bread & Meat’s secret is to making such perfect ciabatta bread.

Top Left: Honey Soy Chicken | Top Right: Hand cut potato wedges with garlic and rosemary | Bottom Left: Porchetta | Bottom Right: Topside

After my initial visit on Saturday, I went back to Bread & Meat on Sunday with a rather exhausted and semi-hungover Simon. This time, he had the Porchetta (on my recommendation) and I opted for the Topside. Out of the three sandwich offerings, the Topside is the only one that is served cold but this seems to be a wise choice. The thick and succulent slices of prime beef are full of flavour and the cold cuts ensure that the ciabatta does not become soggy. The aioli wasn’t particularly strong, but it ensured that the beef wasn’t overwhelmed by garlic. One was able to taste the balance of the  tomato and rocket, which all-in-all made for another excellent sandwich. Once again, neither of us had sides

When I went back to Bread & Meat for a third time earlier this week, this time on my own, I was resolved to finish sampling all three of the main sandwiches and to also sample one of the sides. After selecting the Honey Soy Chicken ciabatta, I also went for a portion of the hand cut potato wedges. Sadly, this visit was to be the most disappointing of the three. The chicken thigh meat didn’t seem to have taken on much flavour. Although it was clear from the skin that it had been marinaded, I couldn’t really taste any of it and the main taste came from the sriracha mayo.

By the same token, the wedges were also a minor disappointment. They were quite cold and slightly soggy by the time they arrived alongside my sandwich. I suspect that due to the high volume of lunchtime customers, the wedges had been cooked in advance and kept warm for easy service. Nonetheless, they were still nice and I finished my portion with ease. The same cannot be said for the Honey Soy Chicken ciabatta, of which I only ate half.

These small issues aside, I strongly recommend Bread & Meat to those looking for a high-quality lunch in Cambridge. For those who are too busy to sit in, they offer a ‘to go’ service, and this seemed to be popular while I was eating in.

You can find the full menu at breadandmeat.co.uk

Bread & Meat is located at:  4 Benet Street, Cambridge, CB2 3QN