I tend to get out of bed at around ten to nine, having twice pressed snooze on my half-eight alarm. I then go to the toilet before flinging myself down the stairs towards breakfast, approximately 17 seconds before they stop serving.

This Monday though, I chose to wake up at 7:30 and run to Grantchester. I confess that I still pressed snooze, but just the once.

As my feet padded the leaf-smothered paths along the Cam and squelched their way through Grantchester meadows, I was thinking about a pub. Not another purely transactional, unapologetically commercial, community-destroying, ode to meteorological cutlery; but the Blue Ball Inn. I went there with my parents on my first day at Cambridge and we returned when they dropped me off for Lent too. It feels special.

As I ran (staggered) past the pub’s gorgeous face, I realised that despite the calm I was experiencing; there was nothing I wanted more than to be sat inside, on the bench by the window, watching the meadows for hours on end. I resolved to make my return that weekend.

We arrive a bit starving and order off the big chalkboard on the wall. I am usually Lord Tapwater the III, but I’m knackered and deserve a pint. Their Blackshore stout is well-balanced: the sharpness of its Marmite-y taste wades through its creaminess without being overly acrid. All of their pints are brewed in East Anglia, obviously. I’m not going to pretend I care about stuff like that usually, but it seems important in a spot which is clearly the heart of the Grantchester community.

The fire is on and the harmonica in The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan gently inflates the room. Photos of old Cambridge line a room filled with people of whom I am the least white; which says something. They all dart from one table to another, swapping nice-to-see-yous for anecdotes so wholesome I almost feel guilty for corrupting them with my nosiness.

Out the back is a ‘beer garden’. By this, they mean a bumpy patch of grass with a few small, round tables strewn across it. But I love it. It reminds of the birthday parties I would have in my back garden when I was little. Everything here feels so personal. Why would you ever go to some highstreet chain, with their stupid pamphlet menus and lovelessly made dishes, over this?

Our food arrives quickly. I’ve ordered a sausage and bean casserole and my date goes for the vegetable tagine. The menu is certainly not your standard pub grub, but it’s not-not pub grub either; it’s just proper comfort food.

The casserole is cosy and simple, but maybe too simple – at risk of being called boring. I know that comfort food isn’t meant to shock you, it’s just a culinary hug; but this just seems like someone’s cut up some sausages and bunged them into a pan of upmarket baked beans. It’s not a bad dish, but I don’t think it does the magic of the pub justice.

Yet in a cruel continuation of my endless and losing struggle against the restaurant gods, forever ensuring that my date orders better than me, the vegetable tagine is really good, evident from even the meagre two spoonfuls I’m donated. Butternut squash flirts with flakes of toasted almonds, chickpeas are bursting from their shells to greet some sweet shallots, all whilst cauliflower florets get busy under the coriander leaves. It’s so warming and exciting – without being pretentious – that I question my meat-eating habits for a good ten minutes. This is how you can make comfort food interesting.

'It's so warming and exciting - without being pretentious'Max Simmonds

Building on previous successes is a bowl of apple crumble. It’s not perfect: the apples they use aren’t tangy enough to cut through the richness of the ice cream. But it will make you smile – beam even. The crunch from a teaspoon of sugar scattered on the buttery crumble roof is a really nice touch. It feels like I’ve just swallowed a hot water bottle. 

Everything is good value too. Both of our dishes were a tenner each for pretty generous portions and the apple crumble was only £5. You could just have that and one of their rare roast beef sandwiches with rocket and horseradish for £10.

'It feels like I've just swallowed a hot water bottle.'Max Simmonds

If not for the inconsistency of the food, I would want to call it perfect. In a way though, if this was perfect, it would lose its charm. There is perfection in the Blue Ball Inn, residing precisely in its imperfections. In a tight-knit Grantchester pub, a young man comes to realise the glory of village-life and the hollowness of city air. When my natural cravings for community kick in at university, which can simultaneously be incredibly intense and deeply isolating, I struggle to think of a more wholesome remedy than the Blue Ball Inn.


Mountain View

Vulture Restaurant Reviews: Butch Annie’s

Food: 7.5/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Value: 8/10
Mains £9-12. Drinks around £5.

Getting there: Probably the nicest forty five minutes you’ll ever walk from the centre of town. Fifteen if you cycle.

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