It’s a question that often crosses our lips – so we decided to find out…
The summer of 2015 saw the bloggers and self-titled macaroni experts Charlotte Griffiths and Daisy Dickinson embark on the cheesiest tour of Cambridge; a mac’n’cheese crawl with the aim of finding the best macaroni cheese in the city. Conducted over two separate evenings (we’re not quite that disgusting), the crawl’s route was put together via Twitter recommendations, suggestions from friends and our own personal experience.
Eateries featured in this definitive (so far) review:
We’ll update this list as and when new macaroni cheeses come to our attention – scroll down past the reviews to the end of this post to see the current league table and choose your next dining destination.
Daisy: I’d tried (and really liked) Bills’ Mac N Cheese with leeks before, and this time it came served with added grilled asparagus for £9.50. A cheerful sprinkling of panko breadcrumbs topped this dish which – though it did have a delightfully creamy sauce – was lacking in the smoky flavour I was expecting from the description. It also could’ve benefitted from a little longer in the oven.
Charlotte: Bill’s was busy when we visited, yet the attentive waiter was happy to sit us in the window to watch the world go by. He expressed surprise that we were sharing just one main, then promptly returned with the establishment’s cheesiest offering.
Sadly, it was a little too promptly: a little longer in the oven would have pushed this leek-strewn mac to the front of the pack. A good effort though: and who doesn’t love asparagus?
Daisy: Tipped off as being an uber-traditional, American-style mac, what ended up being the last dish on the first leg of our journey was from Byron Burger. Delivered with a no-fuss approach, this side dish used classic macaroni pasta with a rich and tangy sauce, topped with melted cheese.
Charlotte: This mac was again a side dish, but realistically sized for accompanying a massive burger (or washing down two previous macaroni cheeses if you find yourself on a ridiculous food mission).
Byron was my personal favourite: traditional long macaroni with a gooey, Cheddar-ish cheese topping, and a sauce that expertly coated each tube of pasta. I’d have liked a little more colour on the top, but it didn’t stop me tucking in.
Charlotte: We turned up at CAU without a reservation, but the front of house staff thought our request to “just have macaroni cheese” was brilliant, and immediately sat us at a prime seat in the window where passers-by could watch the quest in progress.
Cau’s effort is a side dish that’s embellished with truffle oil: we’d had a Twitter tip-off that this mac wasn’t as truffley as it claimed to be, but when the waiter lifted the mini lid of the cast-iron dish, a whopping whack of delicious truffle scent rose above our table.
Mini, soup-pasta style tubes and a well-judged sauce consistency, plus that excellent truffle fragrance, but the crumb topping could have been a little crispier. Nice presentation too: the waiter dug a spoon deep into each mini dish before leaving us to tuck in.
Daisy: Next stop was Cau where – thanks to a little live tweeting – we’d been told of their truffled side dish. Arriving in an individual rustic dish, the sweet aroma of truffles came through instantly upon lifting the lid. Breaking through the crumb topping revealed a light sauce, covering mini mac pieces.
Daisy: First stop on our second leg was The Grain & Hop Store, and my first time eating here. The Baked Macaroni Cheese with Vintage Cheddar came complete with house salad for £7 and was served in a hipster tin oven-dish. It’s top marks for this mac from me, with a Quaver-esque taste – in a really good way! – and perfect consistency. I thank Cheesus for this delight.
Charlotte: This newish eatery had been on my hit list for some time, mainly due to it being a tankovna bar – serving super fresh Pilsner Urquell to thirsty Cambridgeites. The beer did not disappoint, and nor did their take on mac & cheese: accompanied by an unheralded leafy salad that was studded with minuscule fiery, sweet peppers, the crispy-onion-topped mac was piping hot, well cooked and smothered in a perfectly cheesy sauce. A classic take and a very strong contender for the crown…
Daisy: Our final stop of the tour’s second leg saw us visiting a mac we’d had rave reviews of: the River Bar Steak House. The attentive bar staff set us up with a G&T and I ordered the vegetarian Mac n Cheese with Porcini and spinach for a whopping £14.
For those looking to go all out and indulge, this is the place to be. I daren’t guess how many packets of butter were used to create this masterpiece which came with twice cooked chips, and a big side of mayo!
Charlotte: This legendary dish came so highly recommended that, once word had spread of our quest to sample all the city’s offerings, one friend actually ran down the street to make sure we visited this particular culinary hotspot.
The bar is better known for their steaks and delicious cocktails (try the Japanese gin with apple!) yet their mac deserves your attention. The word epic is hideously overused, yet well-applied to all aspects of this dining experience – particularly the £22.50 price tag assigned to this luxury dish. If you’re in the mood for rich, unctuous mac & cheese and have a penchant for lobster, then I recommend this – just make sure you haven’t eaten two other main courses beforehand.
Daisy: The first stop on the first leg of our cheesy crawl of Cambridge took us to the recently revamped Salisbury Arms. Offered as a main meal, their ‘pot’ was a generous helping of rigatoni muddled in intensely creamy sauce, with a lava-like hot bubbling top.
Charlotte: The Salisbury Arms‘ effort was magnificent: a properly-sized main course which was ideal for sharing between two normal people, or equally, exactly right if you’d had a terrible day at work and needed to physically clamber into a soothing bath of cheese and pasta. The barman welcomed our mission with open arms and kept popping back to our table to get the verdict.
Served scaldingly hot from the Salisbury Arms’ pizza oven, this mac had perfectly bite-sized pasta and optional bacon – which I personally think has no place in a M&C (but then I’m a purist). It also managed to beat the law of diminishing returns which normally hobbles a mac and cheese experience: the nicely-cheesy sauce thickened somewhat as it cooled, which made the eating experience actually improve as you excavated downwards to the lowest levels.
The Best Mac & Cheese in Cambridge can be found at…
- The Grain & Hop Store | 18
- Salisbury Arms | 16
- Byron | 14.5
- CAU | 13
- Bills | 10
- The River Bar | 9