Sunday, 3 July 2011

A mid-week treat: 12a club and Bill's Cafe, Restaurant and Bar

Mid-week cocktails always taste better than weekend ones. There's something about drinking on a school night that goes to your head. It feels naughty and you know you'll regret it, but it still brings out the 'I know I shouldn't, but go on, just one more then' in all of us. 

I couldn't have picked a better drinking partner for cocktails last Wednesday night. I headed out to meet Briony Whitehouse, a Cambridge-based fashion blogger who is a bit of a big deal, not that she'd ever say it. Earlier this year she was one of Red magazine's top 20 under 30s and she gets over 50,000 hits to her blog, every month. But aside from all that she had a lovely twinkle in her eye, the most beautiful shoes on and was game for a drink or two.

We met at 12a club, the new-ish (it opened last November) member's only bar in Cambridge. Managed by the charming Mark Pope, the bar oozes sophistication. You can imagine a secret daliance or two playing out here. The decor reminds me of what I imagine an old don's office might look like - plush with lots of leather and a wealth of antiques and collected treasures. 

Butterfly Boston absinthe

A Cambridge Butterfly
They have a range of obscure and exciting spirits behind the bar. Each one has a story and Mark knows them all. Pick a bottle, any bottle and he will regale you with its history and flavour profile. I was attracted to the Butterfly Boston, a vintage looking little bottle containing an absinthe that Mark informed me started life in Boston in 1902, hence the name, slipped away after prohibition and was revived just last year. As you can imagine, it's not your bog standard absinthe, this one is smoother and the aniseed punch is really quite subtle. Mixed with grapefruit and a splatter of violet syrup, it tasted superb in my Cambridge Butterfly. 

Our second cocktail came with nibbles

Briony was rather flattered that Mark had read all about her penchant for pears and had some of the conference variety in specially for her. She had two pear concoctions and enthusiastically sipped each one, letting us know just how good they were. Most cocktails cost around £8 and when you consider that they are made to your specific tastes by a mixologist who really knows his stuff, that is a great price. You would need to factor in the membership fee though.  

Cocktails make you hungry and we heard that Bill's Cafe, Restaurant and Store had opened that night and was just round the corner. For Cambridge dwellers, it's where the Slug and Lettuce used to be. It's the fourth restaurant in Bill's small chain, they started off in Lewes and have now popped up in Covent Garden and Reading too. It prides itself on a great breakfast menu - and they'd be right too, bubble and squeak with mustard mash and fried eggs will definitely draw me back again. 

Bill's Cafe, Restaurant and Store, Green Street
Now I'm not a standard burger kind of girl, I hate them at a barbeque and rarely order one in a pub. It's not that I don't like burgers as a whole, it's just that they can so often be the hardest thing to get right. But for some reason, when it comes to a lamb burger I have to order it. I think it has something to do with a particular lamb burger with goat's cheese and the most perfect crispy chips that I enjoyed on an almost weekly basis throughout university.

The lamb burger at Bill's was a good one as they go. The meat was juicy and surrounded by a nice thick layer of white cabbage and red onion. The bun had a shiny top that hinted at a brushing of syrup or such like and insinuated it must have been made on the premise. One or two chips were a bit soggy and the wooden board was a little on the small side for a knife and fork burger-eater like me, but it was really very good overall.

Briony went for a lighter goat's cheese tart that was laden with pesto and rocket and she declared it a great option. We indulged in a last drink of the evening in the form of a hedgerow fizz; a small glass of Asti or similar with blackberries in the bottom. At just £3.75 it was a nice refresher.

Lamb burger with yogurt and mint
The walls were stocked from skirting to ceiling with Bill's produce - preserves, dressings, oils, chocolates and more. I bought some of Bill's apple juice (£3.45), which came wrapped up like a present and has since brightened my breakfast with its sweetness.

The walls stocked high with produce
Bill's is a welcome addition to the Cambridge restaurant scene, I will be going back for a brunch soon, most probably after a night of cocktails the evening before.

The best bit: 
12a Club What else, the cocktails of course. Everyone in Cambridge should sample one. Get in touch with Mark through Twitter (@12aClub) to pop along for a drink and a show round.

Bill's The restaurant is open fronted to allow you to sit and people-watch along the lovely Green Street. Plus a bursting brunch menu and some nice soft drinks options - a pink lemonade float would have be a definite had we not just guzzled cocktails.

Something to work on: 
12a Club With nibbles, events and daytime opening on the way, there's truly not any obvious flaws. Membership deals might lead to a buzzier feel but then I am told weekends are busy and of course a deal would not really be in the spirit of things.

Bill's So far so good. As long as opening standards are maintained, i.e. sticky tables and tatty menu syndrome doesn't set in, then I will certainly be back.

12a Club, Market Square, Cambridge 01223 350106;

Bill's Cafe, Restaurant and Store, 34-35 Green Street, Cambridge CB2 3JX. 01223 329638;

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