Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Beyond the Cambridge College Zone; TRAVEL

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Beyond the Cambridge College Zone; TRAVEL

Article excerpt


Andrew Neather finds a statement of cool in his old student stamping ground, but wishes it catered more for families



HOW times change. The last time I remember being on Huntingdon Road in Cambridge was as a student, staggering back in the bleary dawn from a riotous party; now I'm pulling off the same road and into the plush environs of the Hotel Felix, family in tow. But Cambridge has changed, too, not least through the appearance of upmarket places such as the Felix, geared to a more image-conscious clientele.

The initial impression is uninspiring, modern yellow brick boxes tacked on to a grander Victorian house. Inside, however, the design is chic: chocolate walls and brushed steel fittings, vast beds and crisp cotton, minimalist limestone-tiled bathrooms. The main building houses one of Cambridge's best restaurants, Graffiti, its walls hung with abstract canvases.

Grey uniformed staff flit about the bar terrace, overlooking lush landscaped gardens.

It was to this statement of cool that we brought a reviewing team more demanding and destructive than any student partygoers: our three children, aged one, three and five. On arrival, there was much exploration of the volume range of the TV and DVD players. At bath-time, the baby threw the toddler's clothes in the toilet - and then fished them out again. Then the eldest rolled out of bed, cutting her lip and bleeding over expensive sheets.

Next morning the toddler was only dissuaded at the last minute from wearing a pair of underpants on his head to breakfast. And so on.

The Felix lent us a baby alarm, and they had a high chair. But why are British hotels not better equipped to deal with children? Some inexpensive child-friendly equipment - nappy bins, in-room listening service, fold-up roll bars to stop children falling out of bed - would make life a lot easier, yet few hotels offer them. There was no children's menu, and a serving of fish strips and chips on the bar menu ([pounds sterling]14.50) was too small to feed a baby and two small children without extra portions. We decamped to the pub down the road for a kids' dinner the next evening.

But the Hotel Felix is too busy polishing the image of its restaurant to worry about boring details like children's meals. One of Cambridge's downsides is the lack of decent restaurants, something of a mystery in a town of its size and affluence: the Felix targets this gap with some style.

The food is good - I could happily have ordered most of dishes on the menu, such as crab-and-sweetcorn cannelloni, followed by superb squab pigeon with shallot tarte tatin. But it falls prey to a provincial tendency to aim for sophistication by adding too many fine ingredients. Did those cannelloni need home-dried cherry tomatoes, leeks, crispy Serrano ham and sweet lemon dressing? …

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