In clear contrast to my cakey colleague – and there I’m going to hit the alliteration on the head no sooner than it’s begun – Fitzbillies and I are no strangers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m an old hand, but I’ve been around the block once or twice, where ‘around the block’ should be understood as ‘in there for cake’. I have a particularly fond memory of combining some fruit-filled pastry things with Belgian Abbey beer, the whole serving as a most nutritious lunch.
This was the first time, however, that I’d sat down in FB’s café section. Having obeyed the injunction to wait to be seated despite the fact that the place was mostly empty, the two of us were directed to a table for six. Here we were able to enjoy the aggrieved stares of other customers in spacious comfort, secure in the knowledge that they thought we had seated ourselves and made up in illiteracy for what we lacked in breeding. Unbowed, I ordered some spiced farmhouse tea loaf and a double venti mochaccino.
No, ladies and gentlemen, the truth must out. You have done nothing to deserve my gentle humour. Tea loaf and tea it was.
The tea was fine, being simply two teabags and some boiling water. The tea loaf was equally fine, and the complaints that follow would probably be churlish regarding somewhere less obviously part of the local landscape and impressed with that fact. Yet that loaf could and should have been more. Tea loaf, as you know, consists essentially of three elements, namely cake, raisins and crunchy brown sugar bits. Though separate in their uneaten state they should fuse in one’s mouth into a loafy amalgam, each element contributing to a greater whole. But for this to work the elements need already to be teetering on the brink of combination; to require just that extra masticatory shove to make the leap into caketastic yummitude. But alack! in FB’s this was not to be. The crunchy brown sugar bits were too clumpy, not dissolving in the mouth but remaining as sudden, stubborn polyhedra of sweetness. The raisins were more welcome, though these moist oases only served to highlight the distinctly drought-affected nature of the loaf itself. Cambridge is built on a drained fen, and clearly that is in no danger of reasserting itself with the good people of Fitzbillies in the way to beat back the water, palette knives a-slashing.
Still, we sat at their six-man table for about an hour and half, and that probably pissed them off a bit.