Harriet’s Tea Room and Fitzbillies (Cambridge) – Afternoon Tea and Chelsea Buns

Oxford vs Cambridge? Our sweet tooth bites into the latter’s English tea cakes, and the breathtaking Chelsea Bun.

Our experience

It’s ironic that the more fast paced, the more bustling this life becomes, the more one yearns for green open spaces. The historic university town of Cambridge is just one example of a peaceful retreat from the frenetic pulse of London City. Sitting back as all tourists do while a Cambridge scholar punts you across the criss-crossing veins of the River Cam, eyeballing the glass jars of traditional boiled English lollies at Hardy’s, browsing the weekend artisanal markets, biking around the sandstone university colleges…ah bliss. As long as you avoid the peak tourist season in the summer months, of course.

For these Dessert Correspondents however, and certainly for all our readers, it’s the promise of a traditional English afternoon tea at Harriet’s and the sticky glory of Fitzbillies’ Chelsea Buns that lures us to Cambridge.

Located off a main street, make Harriet’s your first stop. For $13.25 GBP per person, don’t expect to be serenaded by a string quartet, silver service, or delicately hand-painted porcelain. At Harriet’s, the atmosphere is genteel and quiet, and while there is a large grand piano in the front parlour, there wasn’t anyone playing on our visit. The tea setting is simple, plain white, and tea is of one type, being black. Rather, what you get at Harriet’s is easy delight. A generously-stuffed three-tiered stand, featuring a platter of triangle sandwiches, two obese scones and three chunks of pure, unadulterated English sponge cakes. On our visit, the scones were served piping warm, and accompanied by dishes of strawberry jam and thick Cornish clotted cream. Oh Lord, clotted cream on scones in an afternoon tea in a little English country town. It does not get better than this. On the texture point, they were a little on the slightly too-crumbly side for our liking.  The cakes, although simple, were delightful. Victorian sponge with a dusting of icing sugar, a more dense ginger-accented fruit cake and a delicious carrot cake that had us almost begging the waitress with those famous words of Oliver Twist. Undoubtedly, you will look at our below photos, and truly wonder why? Well, dear readers, when you have lived in Melbourne long enough and discovered that simple, traditional cakes are a rarity in a cake landscape dominated by deconstructed fancies, or when you stayed in Hong Kong long enough to realize that cakes are not “cakes” but rather soft cotton balls of air, your appreciation for proper cakes is truly renewed. Heed us, stop at Harriet’s.

Next stop though, you must stop at Fitzbillies, the hard-to-miss Art Nouveau facade made mid-century retro with its eye-catching 1970s eyeshadow blue awning. For less than $2 GBP, $1.80 GBP to be exact, you get what the American merely label as a cinnamon scroll, and what the English, with their predilection for titles, have bestowed as the Chelsea Bun. But dear readers, the Chelsea Bun is far better than any cinnamon scroll you will taste. Yes, perhaps you may be enchanted by the fact that you are eating something that has been made since the 1920s in a town founded in the 1200s. Or maybe, you are more mesmerized by the raisins dotting each curve, caramelised and re-caramelised into a breathtaking sweet, two-palm-sized bread-pastry creation. Whatever the case, you will most certainly need to take a turn around Cambridge town at least three times to walk it off.

Our verdict

No doubt there are some of you out there who will have heard, or indeed, been part of the debate as to whether Oxford or Cambridge is better. Academic prestige aside, our heart is divided between both. Our sweet tooth however, leans greatly in favour of Cambridge, because it is most certainly guaranteed that all those textbooks you have perused over, all those damn work documents you have had to review, all frenzied aspects of urban city life will simply disappear in one achingly slow bite of Harriet’s proper English tea cakes or that Chelsea Bun from Fitzbillies.

Dessert adventure checklist

  1. ☑ Dessert destination: Harriet’s Tea Room, 16 & 17 Green Street, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2 3JU, United Kingdom. And, Fitzbillies, 51-52 Trumpington Street, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB2 1RG, United Kingdom.
  2. ☑ Budget: $-$$
  3. ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Afternoon tea and cake.
  4. ☑ Must-eat: Harriet’s Traditional Afternoon Tea and Fitzbillie’s Chelsea Bun.
  5. ☑ The short and sweet story: Oxford vs Cambridge? Our sweet tooth bites into the latter’s English tea cakes, and the breathtaking Chelsea Bun.

Afternoon Tea in Cambridge!
Afternoon Tea in Cambridge!

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