Bar Sleuth: Cambridge class
LONDON — In the bustle and hum of London’s West End, loaded with tourists and teeming with theatergoers, visitors sometimes need a little breather.
For those who are fresh out of a showing of “Mamma Mia!” or footsore from taking in the buzz of the city’s tourist hive, a meal and a pint can seem a million miles away.
But for those looking for a down-home oasis in Soho, deliverance is just a couple of blocks off Leicester Square along Charing Cross Road, where The Cambridge pub waits on the verge of the theater district.
Small, quiet, lit with dim yellow lamps and a pair of gold chandeliers, The Cambridge is a decent stop in the West End for the hungry tourist disinclined to take a number at the Hard Rock and wait for a seat under a glossy of Norma Jean.
For a pub, The Cambridge has a slightly classy feel to it: lots of gold chrome, dark wood, maroon leather and large mirrors. Well-dressed theatergoers sip post-show wine and dark beer, and the staff, even the bartenders, wear uniforms.
The feeling overflows to the bar, where bottles of expensive champagne and wine from various countries back a row of authentic ales, including Young’s, Bombardier, London Pride and Timothy Taylor.
But despite the whiff of high society that permeates the pub, one of the biggest reasons to stop into the Cambridge is the low-cost grub on the menu.
Part of the Nicholson’s chain of eateries, The Cambridge offers items such as potato wedges and “Yorkshire pudding poppers” for little money, plus chicken, fish and sausage baskets for 4 pounds, and pizzas for 5 pounds. Currently, the bar also has a “pie and a pint” deal going, where those who dig steak and ale, lamb or chicken and leek fillings can get some eats and a drink for 8 pounds.
The downstairs area is small, with limited seating, but if it looks full of people when you peer through the tall windows that line the place, don’t forget to check upstairs, which is the sit-down restaurant portion of the pub.
If drinking is the order of the day, The Cambridge has the added bonus of being part of a West End “ale trail” that winds its way through five pubs in the theater district. Stop at each spot on a pub-provided map, pick up a pint and collect a sticker for your purchase. Then, at the end of the crawl you can turn in the stickers for a T-shirt proclaiming your five-pint victory.
The trail is popular, especially on weekends, and the pubs often quickly run out of both maps and T-shirts, according to a manager at The Cambridge.
Still, though the celebrities immortalized in Planet Hollywood may beckon for tourist pounds from the heart of Leicester Square — and wonders of Chinatown can call from the center of Soho — more mellow options are available on the side. For a pint and a bite, try The Cambridge.
As always, if you drink, do so responsibly. Don’t drink and drive.
Location: 93 Charing Cross Road, London
Food: A wide range of choices: pies, pasta, baskets, shared meat plates and apps, plus the current “pie and a pint” deal.
Drinks: Several standard cask and guest ales plus a mix of domestic and imported lagers, such as Staropramen on tap. Wines and champagne from the regular to the expensive are also on the shelves.
Ambience: Quiet but not stuffy; depends on the nature of the crowd (if there is one). A TV hangs on one wall, but it’s not obtrusive.
Service: Middle of the road.