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Chef Tristan Welch gives a first look around Parker’s Tavern at the University Arms

By Ben Comber

University Arms Hotel
University Arms Hotel

The University Arms is almost ready to waltz Regent Street back to the 1920s after an extensive redevelopment.

Univeristy Arms
Univeristy Arms

A complete redevelopment of half the building is drawing ever closer to completion and it’s expected that by spring 2018 the hotel will be open, along with a restaurant and bar overlooking Parker’s Piece, and the Cambridge Independent has been shown what will be revealed.

It’s a complete rebuild of the 1960s concrete block that stood before it. Architect John Simpson has said that he needed to go back to the ‘natural development pattern’ of the area to design the building, so it resembles the 19th century buildings along the street. The hotel will welcome guests with a 1920s grand porte-cochère based on The Ritz in London.

And the grand exterior aims to give a taste of what is to come inside.

The general manager of the University Arms, Ian James, said: “It looks amazing. John Simpson wanted to give Cambridge something back – the hotel was very much the poor relation in Cambridge. It was unloved. When the other hotels were refurbishing the University Arms never did.

University Arms Hotel junior suite
University Arms Hotel junior suite

“Melford Capital bought the hotel in 2012 and had this vision. The hotel was ugly, so should they just refurbish the inside or should they shut it, demolish it and start again? To get that vision they had to demolish it. And they brought in John Simpson, who has done work on Buckingham Palace, Eton and Kensington Palace, and has also worked on Peterhouse so he knows Cambridge, and thus put this together.”

It is thought to be Cambridge’s first hotel, and first opened in the 1830s as a 15-bedroom coaching house. When it closed in 2014 it had mutated into a 119-bedroom modernist hotel. In 2018 it will emerge from its overhaul with an extra storey, 192 bedrooms, and on the ground floor a restaurant, Parker’s Tavern, will be run by Cambridge chef Tristan Welch who has worked under Michel Roux Jr, and headed Gordon Ramsay’s prestigious Petrus at The Berkeley.

For the past three years he has been running a restaurant in the Caribbean, on Mustique.

He said: “I’m so pleased, I never imagined that we’d ever come back home. My wife is Swedish and I always thought that London would be our middle ground, but she fell in love with Cambridge.

University Arms Hotel restaurant
University Arms Hotel restaurant

“I think she loves the creativity and university town feel, and the fact that there’s always something interesting going on. It’s the right balance of rural versus town, so it’s perfect in that respect.”

But a hotel restaurant is not the aim here. Parker’s Tavern restaurant and bar will be standalone operations, and Tristan says he wants it to be a place where people can drop in for a sandwich if they want to. Calling it a tavern takes it back to the 1800s when it was a tavern and coaching inn, but the idea is to supercede expectations.

There will be 132 covers in the restaurant, a 65-seat bar and another 30 seats in the library.

“Sunday lunches will be amazing here,” he said. “We’re going to have a roast beef trolley that I’m currently designing – I love the idea of a trolley going through the restaurant. If it’s a heated trolley and there’s a lovely joint of beef it’s kind of what Sundays are about, a slice off the joint with a few Yorkshire puddings. We’re also working on a chocolate trolley as well, serving handmade chocolates and macaroons.

University Arms Hotel bar
University Arms Hotel bar

“And I’m really excited about our afternoon tea, we’re going to make it a real big thing. Afternoon tea has become an event and I think to have afternoon tea where you can overlook something as historic as Parker’s Piece is fantastic.

“The idea is for a delicious taste of Cambridge, and seafood from King’s Lynn and north Norfolk. We’re talking to local farmers as well. It’ll be thing like scallops cooked in the shell and beautiful lemon sole with brown shrimps and Epicure potatoes that grow in sandy soils. It’s British with a slight twist – the best quality ingredients cooked simply and beautifully.”


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