When Ben and I planned our itinerary for the England trip this fall, most of our destinations had to do with the people we’d see. London had Elen, Sam and Sarah; Leeds was home to his sister Maria and Cambridge had Ben’s college roommate, Nate. The entire trip was a perfect vehicle to catch up with folks we hadn’t seen in ages.
While seeing Nate was the purpose of our one-day visit to Cambridge, we found ourselves wishing we’d scheduled more time to see the city, itself. It was pure joy to see history coinciding with every day life. Just one walk through made me want to spend days exploring every college, every path along the canal and, of course, every restaurant on its stone streets. (Stay tuned for a picture-only post of the sights of Cambridge.)
Nate planned our gastronomic itinerary by promising a trip to his favorite pub, a short drive away in Trumpington. (Feel free to repeatedly repeat the word Trumpington in a fake British accent for the rest of the day; I will be.) I tried not to pout at not being able to stop in for snacks at all the adorable restaurants along our walk, but I trusted Nate to bring us to quality cuisine. And, of course, real ale.
I may have insinuated that seeing friends was our primary reason for the trip. This is not true. We were in England to drink real ales: unfiltered and unpasteurized beers conditioned and served from casks without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. Otherwise known as flat beer that Queen Victoria drank. Prior to the trip, Ben asked me to download the CaskFinder app so we could find every pub in England with real ale and clean, serviced casks. This was, it turned out, not necessary. We spotted the Cask Marque seal of approval on pub doors almost everywhere we went. Knowing Ben’s obsession, Nate made sure that we’d find the best of the best at the Green Man. Ben was in heaven.
While I appreciated the taste and history of these niche beers, my interest almost always swayed the way of the food. It was at the table that I most missed Maya on this trip. Normal people order a main course, perhaps a starter to share, and, on an extraordinary day, dessert. Maya and I order everything. With hopes not to seem like a crazy woman in front of Nate, I grudgingly opted for the Normal People Route, starting with baked brie. Not just about beer, the Green Man boasted its own pastry chef and thus, the best bread I’d had in a long time. We ordered a second loaf and made sure every crumb was gone.
I did not get to try Nate’s main (see above about not looking crazy), but I appreciated its beauty and noted the use of multi-colored vegetables, something we didn’t see very often in pubs in England. (Chips and peas, chips and peas, chips and peas.)
Ben ordered the quintessential British dish, shepherd’s pie. Enveloped by a flaky crust and rich gravy, tender chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots and peas, it was the ultimate comfort dish (and my favorite of the two entrees I tried.)
I ordered a British dish I’d never heard of before: gammon steak. I’d see this on menus a few more times before we left. Essentially, it was salty ham topped with a free-range egg and served with potatoes and peas. It was, perhaps, the strangest of all of my meals. I found myself jealous that I didn’t order the shepherd’s pie.
Although our British fare (and accompanying ales) were filling, Nate demanded that we order one of his favorites for dessert: strawberries, cake and cream colliding in a sundae glass. I did not argue.
I somehow determined that I had enough room for a second dessert, as well: a simple custard accompanied by a melange of berries, including a red and black currants.
Our cozy meal ended all too soon, as did the Cambridge leg of our trip. Happily, it wasn’t the last we’d see of Nate, who trekked back to London to spend time with us later in the week. It’s not a coincidence that the dinners I enjoyed the most during our trip were the ones with good friends; they’re the best seasoning to any meal.
The Green Man
55 Trumpington High Street
Trumpington, Cambridge, CB2 1HZ