The Cambridge Bar has always felt more burger-bar-like than pub-like
Like the River Thames between Mortlake and Putney, Edinburgh’s Young Street also sees Oxford competing with Cambridge. Unlike the annual boat race however, the two pubs in question here have stood yards apart every day for many years. And maybe “competing” is the wrong word as the similarities between Rebus’s favourite Oxford Bar and the younger, more modern Cambridge Bar are few and far between.
First up, ask anyone in Edinburgh about the Cambridge Bar and you’ll hear one word fired back at you: burgers. In a way, this fame has always made me wary of the place. Not because I don’t like burgers but more because they were so successful with their burgers that I regarded it as a burger restaurant rather than a pub. Lots of tables that are reserved is the sign of a restaurant not a pub so I’d avoid meeting people there for that reason alone. It therefore came as a bit of a surprise when an acquaintance suggesting meeting there to watch some Champions League football recently.
When someone suggests watching football in Edinburgh, it’ll normally be somewhere like Bert’s Bar or the Cask & Barrel so I was sceptical about the whole Cambridge thing. I needn’t have been. Plenty space, decent beer of the Barney’s variety and a number of TVs meant it felt far more pubby than I remembered. It was a busy night and I did notice that for those standing, they were offering “one-handed” food which I thought was a nice touch.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I was back at the Cambridge Bar. This time it was for a catch up with former colleagues. First there, as usual, I entered a very quiet bar and was immediately set upon so as to establish whether I was there to eat or just drink. I was unsure at this point so elected to order a pint while I waited for people to arrive. It was the Northern Light from the Orkney Brewery that caught my eye though I was slightly baffled to be charged £3.75 for it when the huge blackboard at the end of the bar stated it was £3.60. I later overheard a member of bar staff saying that this was the first day of new price rises. I picked the wrong day to not give up drinking.
As people assembled, thoughts turned to food and that meant a burger of course. And here is my main beef (if you’ll pardon the pun) with the Cambridge and my second price-related observation. Chips do not come as standard with a burger. They cost extra. And a reasonable amount extra at that. Choosing a simple cheeseburger for £7.95, I was then asked if I wanted chips with that. Of course I did: burger and chips. Who has one without the other? It would be like Ant with no Dec; thunder without lightning; or a 1980s DJ and no whiff of a sexual abuse scandal – some things just have to go together. It costs an extra £2.50 to complete the set in the Cambridge Bar though, taking my meal through the £10 barrier. To be honest, if I knew it was going to be a tenner, I wouldn’t have any complaint, it’s just doing it this way seems a bit mean.
These gripes aside, I found the staff in the Cambridge Bar particularly friendly and the food when it arrived was hearty and tasty – you do get great chips for your £2.50. It’s a decent pub that still seems to be pulling people in despite the fact that so many other city pubs are offering “gourmet” burgers these days so the Cambridge is doing well despite the arguable loss of its USP. Internally, it’s very pleasant with a good mixture of tables for dining and low couches for watching the Edinburgh New Town go by on a sunny evening. It’s definitely more pubby than I perhaps have given it credit for in the past, hence my more frequent visits to the quieter Oxford along the road.
The Cambridge Bar is back on my radar. I’m sure I’ll get over the chips thing – I can hardly claim not to know any more. They’re offering a solid, city centre pub with decent beer and good food. Their recipe for success has been the same for some time now and I don’t expect them to change it any time soon.
The Cambridge Bar is at 20 Young Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4JB. Find them on Twitter here.