In Review

A first look around the University Arms Cambridge

The city’s oldest hotel is about to reopen following a two-year refurbishment

Many great innovations have come out of Cambridge: Francis Crick’s co-discovery of DNA, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and Stephen Hawking’s speculations about time and space, among others. But alongside these sits a lesser-known wonder: football.

In 1848, the definitive rules for playing football were established in Trinity College, Cambridge. The first game to be played by this rule book was on Parker’s Piece, a huge green in the centre of the city, in 1863, when the Football Association was founded. The father of the FA, Ebenezer Cobb Morley, said of the then new guidelines: “They embrace the true principles of the game, with the greatest simplicity.”  Copies of the rules were pinned to the trees surrounding Parker’s Piece, which is overlooked by Cambridge’s oldest hotel, the University Arms.

Nearly two decades later, this historic hotel, which first opened in 1834, is about to be relaunched following a major two-year refurbishment and design collaboration between Martin Brudnizki and John Simpson. Interior designer Brudnizki is regarded as one of Europe’s foremost commercial interior architects. His recent work includes the reimaginating of The Ivy and Scott’s in London, Soho Beach House in Miami, Sessanta in New York and Matsuhisa in St Moritz. Architect Simpson has a similarly impressive CV that includes working on Buckingham and Kensington palaces. 

Gone are the old hotel’s muted 1960s and 1970s extensions (vintage, but not in a good way). In their place sits a beautiful neoclassical exterior, complete with creamy stone pillars and soaring copper-clad turrets. The hotel now comprises 192 striking and “playfully” designed bedrooms and suites, a restaurant and bar, library, underground valet car parking and top-of-the-range fitness facilities.

The hotel’s new stand-alone restaurant and bar, Parker’s Tavern, is being overseen by Cambridgeshire-born-and-bred chef Tristan Welch. High ceilings and low benches offer diners something of the experience of dining in a University college, complete with original stained-glass windows.

Welch talks passionately about his seasonally changing menu, which will be “as unpredictable as Mother Nature”: think foraged samphire from the nearby Norfolk coast where Welch holidays every summer, and top-quality local produce. Even the beer is delivered by bicycle from a local brewery. Beer “doesn’t travel well”, the chef explains. There will be up to 110 covers in the restaurant, and 61 in the bar, with guests choosing where they want to eat. Parker’s Tavern will also offer picnic baskets, allowing customers to join the sprawling locals and tourists who converge on Parker’s Piece in the summer. 

New innovations aside, great care has been taken to preserve and present the original features of the hotel, including a magnificent marble fireplace in the library that will be lit for the first time in more than a century when the hotel reopens.

And if you time your visit right, you can still watch a game of football being played on Parker’s Piece from your bedroom window.

The University Arms, Regent Street, Cambridge. For more information, see universityarms.com

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