And in one stylish fell swoop, University Arms becomes the best hotel in Cambridge
On a patch of green halfway between the station and the colleges of Cambridge sits a building no one has looked at for fifty years.
Cambridge’s oldest coach house, it’s one of those buildings that has grown in all directions over the years with the original bit –the nice bit –eventually replaced with a bit of 60s zig-zag stuff known in architectural terms as ‘shit’. It was fashionable for five minutes, during an ad break in an episode of Mind Your Language, in 1971. And was then ignored.
Now, without anyone having shed a single tear, that bit is gone and in its place is the reborn University Arms with a drive-in bit complete with slightly amusing bulging columns all done in a very local-looking golden sandstone. Walk inside and it’s the perfect Grindr profile of a building: handsome, masculine, colourful and game for a laugh.
Done out in an Edwardian meets playful 1940s style in all colours of the Farrow & Ball palette (there’s a Farrow & Ball right opposite the hotel if you want to take those colours home with you), it’s the perfect spot for moneyed parents dropping off their children at university to have a cheeky weekend. Or gays wanting a bit of old-school sophistication.
The reception is grand and spare while the bar is called The Bar (we love literal) and, along with the library next door (replete with snooky-perfect fireplace), is covered in pictures and peppered with clever tomes (there’s a real books theme here: our room is crammed with them, good ones too. We actually read –with the TV on in the background, obviously). It’s very much The Ivy, which is no surprise bearing in mind that the designer responsible for that, Martin Brudnizki (we’d bet our bottoms that he’s gay) is the man behind this.
The restaurant (Parker’s Tavern), we’re told, picks up on the atmosphere of a college refectory, but you’d be paying quite a lot for your education if it was anywhere as lovely as this with views over Parker’s Piece, the big stretch of green just outside most of the windows, all those pictures (including a fruity one of a man sitting on another man’s lap) and powder-coloured leather throughout.
The food –overseen by Tristan Welch, who’s clever and handsome and used to work alongside Gordon Ramsay at Pétrus and hangs around the lobby just being generally nice –is good ol’ British comfort food like your momma definitely didn’t make it (unless she’s a culinary genius).
Over at the bar the staff, whose expertise you usually wouldn’t expect outside of a capital city, are charming and chatty and will rustle up a cloud of something fruity and potent or serve you their specialist gin, which costs £55 a glass because it’s made out of ants. And when you pop to the loo you’ll hear Alan Bennett reading Wind In The Willows as you tinkle. (He’s not actually in there, because that would be weird.)
The college theme is continued in the rooms, again in those Farrow & Ball colours with books and mid-century-looking furniture and bathrooms with old-school soaps and two TVs in the suites so you can watch Homes Under The Hammer from, well, anywhere, which is the sort of telly decadence we approve of. And room 907, right up there on the roof, might just have the loveliest bathroom in the world.
They spent 80 million of Her Maj’s pounds doing this place up, and they spent it beautifully. Because University Arms is now, by the longest of shots, the most exquisite hotel in Cambridge.
Review by Stephen Unwin