Nick gets an early look at what will surely be a Cambridge dining destination, Parker’s Tavern at the University Arms Hotel
Which is apt as the project in question is the refurbishment of the University Arms hotel in Cambridge overlooking Parker’s Piece. Parker’s Piece was the birthplace of the rules of Association Football in 1848, which were pinned to the trees surrounding Parker’s Piece by university students.
It’s the oldest hotel in the City, (it was the first in Cambridge to get loos and electricity) and opened in 1834 but in the 1960s was largely demolished and replaced by newer buildings. In 2014 De Vere Hotels began work on a’new’ University Arms under Melford Capital Partners LLP.
All these things are told to me in one of the Portakabins that currently surround what is still largely a shell, only the wonderful CGIs reveal the grand plans afoot. Especially for the dining
Ã¢â‚¬Å“A place to be convivial, to share and enjoy food,’ says Tristan Welch passing me a Scotch Egg as we sit out on Parker’s Piece having a bit of a picnic of some rather tasty dishes he prepared earlier.
I haven’t seen him since last eating at Launceston Place where he was Head Chef back in the early 2000s, but he’s back now in his hometown of Cambridge with a brief to deliver an outstanding eating experience in the new hotel.
Parker’s Tavern will be his restaurant – a stand-alone destination restaurant and bar with its own grand entrance serving as he says’good, honest, locally sourced food Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a delicious taste of Cambridge’
The aim is to make it a beautiful, flamboyant and idiosyncratic restaurant for all day dining. Everything served will have British origins and will be rooted back to Cambridge and East Anglian producers.
We cross the Piece to where the hotel is barely visible under its surrounding scaffolding and, after a lot of tomfoolery with Health & Safety, and kitted out in hard hats and hi-viz vests, we enter the space where his restaurant will be.’It’s going to be picking up on college themes,’ Tristan says gleefully, surveying the empty room that smells strongly of plasterboard and cement.
‘Wooden floors and banquette seating, as it is in the college refectories.’ We look again at the CGI, it looks lovely and they have already begun installing the wood panelling and putting back the original stained glass windows. Tristan has been involved in creating the dining side of things right from the start, an opportunity few chefs get.
Next door is what will be The Library, the original fireplace was taken out while the room was rebuilt and has just been put back in and covered with a dust sheet so we peek underneath. It’s a glorious monster,’Gas fired?’ I ask tentatively.’No, no,nooo,’ says Tristan in shock at the very idea,’wood-fired, can you imagine the lovely smell when it’s going? There’s nothing like it.’
Ã¢â‚¬ËœThere will be up to 110 covers in the restaurant and 61 in the bar and the food menu will consist of a selection of new modern classics, complimented by a seasonally changing menu’, he tells me with infectious enthusiasm.
We hang up the hard hats and, grabbing a bottle of Champagne that escaped being drunk at lunch, we get a punt, propelled by a keen young student, to go up the Cam a bit and then home again. Tourists gawp at us, possibly confusing Oxford and Cambridge and Brideshead, although neither of us has a teddy bear.
The rain comes down but it doesn’t dampen Tristan’s spirits, which are infectious. He says I should come back in 2018 when it’s all done and I certainly shall, it’s going to be one heck of a hotel and the food should be fantastic.