Last Updated on August 19, 2021
A newly opened hotel gives food for thought.
The Fellow House Hotel impressed me before I even set foot in the elegant lobby. I lost my way into the parking garage and was rescued by an attentive staff member who cheerfully escorted me into the hotel, retrieved my husband in the underground parking and deposited us safely at the check-in desk. This set the tone for a very relaxed stay at this Cambridge hotel where the staff seemed genuinely pleased to be hosting us. As it was my first stay in a hotel since the pandemic began, I was just as pleased to be there.
The hotel is almost brand new – it opened in July – everything has gleam and sheen. This I expected. What impressed me was that the Fellows House Hotel is one of the most stimulating I have visited. What sets the hotel apart is its fabulous collection of art. The designers and a collective of artists have steeped themselves in this majestic city so that every nook of this 131 room, three-floor hotel, tells the story of Cambridge. The bedrooms each have an individual small artwork based around a quote from someone who has contributed to the city of Cambridge or the university. We occupied a room in the name of Martin Rees, a cosmologist, UK’s Astronomer Royal, who was master of Trinity College. As per the hotel’s name, there are large portraits of some of the Cambridge University Fellows dotted about; in the lobby, there is a fine oil of Dr Davidson Nicol, the university’s first black African Fellow (at Christ’s College). Smaller pen drawings of famous alumni hang along the walls of the passages, I spotted the actress Emma Thompson amongst these. The Folio Bar boasts a mural installation commemorating the contribution that Franklin, Crick and Watson made to the discovery of DNA. It would not be out of place in a gallery. Nor would a wonderful portrait of the sculptor, Anthony Gormley, which hangs in the outdoor snug where a wood-burning fire and a large TV must make a popular meeting place for friends. Then there is the Hawking Suite – a conference room with three huge photographic portraits of the young scientist during his student days at Cambridge University, the glass overlaid with some of his equations. It is very moving and hopefully inspires lateral thinking amongst those who gather in this space for meetings.
The lobby is very elegant with capacious, Chesterfield sofas and armchairs softened with cushions made from recyclable materials. On one wall there is a cheerful installation of bicycles, a nod to the multitude of cyclists in Cambridge. The hotel lounge is bound to satisfy all needs. The night I stayed fell in the school holidays and the hotel was packed with families. The pool table was busy constantly as were the games of solitaire dotted about the coffee tables. Anyone wishing to read can pick a volume from the bookcase where books written by Cambridge alumni reside. Throughout the hotel, the contribution of these alumni to their fields is celebrated. In the lounge, there is a display case of pipettes and artwork referencing Charles Darwin and David Attenborough, while in the Folio restaurant a long expanse of wall is decorated with a deconstructed poem by an alumnus.
For those who wish to work out or relax there is a well-equipped gym along with a small indoor pool, sauna and steam room.
The Fellows House Hotel, the first in Cambridge to join the Curio Collection by Hilton, has four room options catering for short and longer stays. All have luxurious bathrooms with rain showers and gorgeous tiling and are kitted out with products from The White Company, robes and the fluffiest towels. Studio rooms have Dualit coffee machines while standard rooms, apartments and duplexes contain kitchens, the quality of which I would be happy to have at home. Fully equipped with a coffee machine, kettle, toaster, hob, fridge, microwave and dishwasher, they also have a full set of knives, basic cookware and crockery and even a high-quality cookbook. My kitchen had one by Diana Henry and I spotted, in other rooms, books by Nigella Lawson and Skye McAlpine. I couldn’t help pitying the staff member assigned to keep track of all these covetable items! The generously sized beds are simply dressed in white with high-quality linen and are very comfortable. Our apartment had a separate living area with a sofa bed, large flat-screen TV (another is in the bedroom) and a round, marble-topped dining table and two leather chairs. The hotel is on a rather unprepossessing residential street with buses and Ocado vans providing light entertainment, but the soundproofing is excellent. Other rooms look over the internal courtyard.
The duplexes are a setup I could happily live and work in if I was in Cambridge for a period of time and are designed to accommodate people who are in the city to work, who are relocating or for guests who require extra space. On the lower level of the duplex, there is a desk alongside a large window, a lounge with flatscreen TV and very comfortable furnishings, plus the kitchen. Upstairs is the bedroom and bathroom. Each duplex apartment is named after a Cambridge Fellow with a selection of books written by them. The Fellows House Hotel pays as much attention to detail as the students require in their weekly essays in the Colleges themselves.
The food on offer is another striking feature of the Fellows House Hotel. This is a hotel where a plant-based lifestyle is facilitated. The menus are strongly vegan and vegetarian with enough to keep fish and meat-eaters happy. Unlike most restaurant menus which have a few vegetarian or vegan options, here they take pride of place, making the Fellows House Hotel a great choice for those following a plant-based diet.
The Sage of Cambridge is a versatile, mostly plant-based, café space providing an innovative range of breakfast choices, lunches and transforming at 5 pm into a wine bar with sharing platters. I had a colourful avocado and confit tomato on sourdough for lunch and even managed to eat it in the courtyard before rain drove me indoors. The hotel is built around this courtyard, reminiscent of the architecture of the Colleges with their internal quadrangles.
The Folio Bar and Kitchen is a relaxed space offering a wider menu. The Folio Bar has a wonderful array of cocktails each named after a book written by a Cambridge alumnus. This is how I discovered that Maria Vargas Llosa studied at Cambridge University – it is intriguing what one can learn from a cocktail menu – The Storyteller being named in his honour. I tried the Double Helix – pisco, Chambord, triple sec, lemon juice and raspberry. Next time I might sample Attenborough’s Life on Earth or even Hawking’s History of Time.
The wonderful design at the Fellows House Hotel extends as it should to the dining table where I particularly admired the glassware. The waiting staff were mostly young people – it is good to see jobs opening up for youth in the context of a crisis in the availability of hospitality staff in the UK – but were knowledgeable and very friendly. Although service was slow at dinner, the food was delicious and we settled in for a peaceful evening rather than clockwatching. A vegan starter of stem broccoli and figs was refreshing and piquant, while a dish of scallops and celeriac puree was excellent – perfectly spiced and cooked. I went on to have the breast of guinea fowl which can often be dry, but this was beautifully moist and accompanied with a lovely selection of crisp green beans, peppers, and green olives. On the other side of the table was a sous-vide lamb, pink and tender, with giant couscous and an array of veg. Vegan mains included baked aubergine with cashew ‘cheese’, heritage beets, roasted cauliflower or to-fish and chips. We were too full for dessert as the portions are generous, but we might have had vegan chocolate cake, vegan meringue with berries, carrot cake, cheese, or ice cream. The next morning a breakfast buffet served everything from porridge to pancakes, via the Full English or Continental options.
The Fellows House Hotel is a welcome addition to the Cambridge hospitality scene. It is located a 15-minute walk into the city centre and is as suitable for corporate stays and family holidays as it is for a romantic mini-break. I have no doubt it will prove popular with the scores of parents who visit their children studying at the university and would make a great venue for a graduation celebration. Fortunately, I am a regular visitor to Cambridge and so, without a doubt, I will be staying once again.
The Fellows Hotel
33 Milton Rd,
Cambridge, CB4 1UZ