Auntie Maddy takes on the UL Tea RoomMaddy Sanderson with permission for Varsity

Humanity’s come far in the years since civilisation began. A recent win was the widespread success of the Covid vaccine. The moon landing was pretty big too, I guess. But just last week these things were blown out of the water when I got up close and personal with one of the biggest thrills of the modern age. Forget Junction. Forget Glasto. We’re taking a trip to the University Library Tea Room, reopened 9 January after its year(s) of rest and relaxation when it was closed during the pandemic. And about time, too – for too long has the secret under-desk sandwich-scarfer had to suffer in (literal) silence. Easter may be months away, but it looks like we’ve already got ourselves one hell of a resurrection.

“Easter may be months away, but it looks like we’ve already got ourselves one hell of a resurrection”

I’d ploughed through a bumper bag of Sainsbury’s own-brand multipack crisps about 15 minutes before volunteering to trot over to the UL, and while I’m no stranger to a second/third/fourth lunch, I thought that, for safety’s sake, I might need to call for back-up. So naturally, I flew in the special forces (enter: Lily and Joe). I’m also vegan, so thought it might be wise to bring in someone not quite as gastronomically challenged as myself to cover the tea room in all its blazing glory. Things got off to a rocky start when I was immediately deemed a security threat upon entry to the library, caught red-handed with my hefty black tote bag swinging on my shoulder like I was still strutting up and down Sidgwick Site without a care in the world. Rookie mistake. Come on, this isn’t the bleeding Arc Cafe – this is the University Library Tea Room! And to add insult to injury, to my great surprise I found no shining ribbon for me to cut waiting at its entrance. Still, after turning the corner, all was immediately forgiven. Picture a scene of light cascading in through high rectangular windows, illuminating the canteen below and bathing its patrons, perched attentively over a book or a thick wedge of cake, in rays of golden January sun. The sounds of soft clinks of glass and porcelain and the low, rumbling roast of the coffee machine float like sweet arias up to its high ceiling, drawing me in and towards the counter.

Baked goods of the ULMaddy Sanderson with permission for Varsity

The food situation seems to be predominantly self-service – aside from hot food, and I presume the soup of the day (intrusive thoughts did, admittedly, beckon me towards the great vat, goading me to plunge my bare hands into the boiling slop) – which, if like me, you’re terminally uncoordinated, can at first appear more than a little daunting. But have no fear: there’s a team of more-than-amiable staff on hand should you stumble in your efforts to nab the fateful last scone, and who, when they’re not whipping up some premium cooked delights, also make a pretty good coffee. Lily bought a red velvet cookie and Joe a sausage roll, which came with free salad and crisps. For myself, I nabbed a Jammy Dodger blondie. And of course, all of us bought a coffee. I was set back £6.20, which, in this economy, did make me wince just a little. But let’s face it: there’s a cost of living crisis; with the rest of the country struggling to keep its head above water – why would a random tea room in Cambridgeshire be shown any extra mercy? You’d spend more money on a Wednesday Revs ticket on average, and at least the UL Tea Room won’t leave you with a raging hangover, burst eardrums and a renewed sense of self-loathing you didn’t think was quite possible this early on in the term.

“A space in which both work and play can, and should, collide”

As Joe’s sausage roll is ready to be taken out of the oven, the machine begins to beep in a cadence not too dissimilar to that of the oven we had when I worked in my local Subway, inducing a series of unpleasant flashbacks that momentarily distract me from the big angry “DECLINED” plastered across the screen after I tap the card machine. As expected, the venue was bursting when we arrived, so, financial difficulties (temporarily) resolved, our merry band had to briefly hover around one of the larger tables like eager vultures. But our patience soon paid off. The Jammy Dodger blondie, although so dense it would put most neutron stars to shame, was so soft, warm and jammy that it (almost) made me believe in love again, and with Lily happily working her way through the cookie and Joe through his fragrant, herby sausage roll – which, in his opinion, had the perfect pastry to sausage ratio, an extremely rare occurrence and pleasantly surprising – it’s safe to say that the food in the tea room gets a mega thumbs up. I noticed Joe’s crisps looked a little small. “Bottom of the bag”, he suspected. Still, it was hardly a bother. We did arrive pretty late, and what utter madman would open a whole new bag of crisps 20 minutes from closing?

Tea Room itself, in all its gloryMaddy Sanderson with permission for Varsity

It’s difficult for me to imagine going on a date here (Any takers? Please? Please?), but a cute coffee hang with friends? Sure thing. Just be wary of the occasional pass-agg tutting from fellow cafe-dwellers should the conversation reach over ten decibels. Nonetheless, the atmosphere is far from dismal. In fact, Joe described the ambience as a “general murmur”, which, for a library tea room – a space in which both work and play can, and should, collide – is about the best you can hope for. There’s also a water cooler and a bookshelf at the back, near the intense plush comfort of the sofa square (if not a tad socially awkward, should you make eye contact with the person opposite), so you can spend all day chillin’ in the tea room to your heart’s content. I can’t promise you’ll get any more work done in here than in the austere hush of the main reading rooms, or the desolate emptiness of the upstairs stacks (literally the Cambridge University backrooms), but when you’re mid essay crisis and looking for a place to drown/gorge your sorrows away, there’ll always be a place at the table for you.