Food Review: The Punter

PARVIZI EATS continues with a visit to The Punter, the now famous site of David Starkey defecating.

Parvizi Eats: The Punter, 3 Pound Hill (off Chesterton Lane)

A Punter, it emerged during the research for this piece, is one of several things: that chap, you know Jack Wills, in his pseudo-Brideshead straw hat, all weather flip-flops and golden mane who is so enthusiastic for you to see Trinity’s Wren library in the pouring rain, a patron of a pub and most surprisingly a consumer of meretricious products. Luckily or unluckily, depending on one’s taste, The Punter is devoid of creepy truck drivers called Malcolm in search of a good time.

Pursuing research means that I feel the need to get out and actually meet real people, my pals for this year mostly being dead diplomats, our friendships nurtured over pages of their diaries; a political Julie & Julia (did anyone actually see the film? Answers on a SOE). Either way it’s mostly been Bayan & Percy (Loraine) – for those interested Wikipedia him; so during my Italian classes I quite enjoy making up stories about my fellow classmates. The ASNAC graduate is having a steamy liaison with the French geneticist, the Russian a Sex-God, and so forth. Such mental exertion coupled with the present tense of stare requires sustenance and it was on a Thursday that I chose The Punter for such rest bite.

The inn, similar to the Red Bull is only a little off the well-trodden path of central Cambridge, situated three minutes from Magdalene. It is rather cosy and has the feel of an officers’ mess on some H.M.S. or another with lovely prints, original paintings and other paraphernalia (there is a framed school badge of my sister school). Outside there is a little patio, which is super in the summer and access to a private dining room. The drinks are rather dear with a pint of Addlestones’ Cider coming in at just under £4 and the food menu is undoubtedly expensive, though there are daily lunch specials for £5, a steal and an aspect of the restaurant that really ought to be used more often. The clientele is mostly businessmen and women sealing deals or drowning away le crunch. Either way a welcome break from tourists in the Eagle, who insist on eating their disgusting fish and chips at the same table where Crick and Watson most likely bitched about their supervisors, how they broke into Newnham, and in Watson’s case discussed how whites are intellectually superior to others. It’s rather interesting how fascinated people are by these shrines to intelligentsia, yet how many of said tourists actually visit the labs? Would people visit The Punter if I were to say that David Starkey once took a shit in the mens? However the loos are rather special with wallpaper that resembles the skyline of Lilliput, where town and gown meet: above one balcony one sees “Downing is Great”, upon a roof “Gareth loves cock”. But there is more to the place than the toilet.

On the evening I went, the menus alter every day, the very pretty East European waitress handed us the choices of the day. Prices are very simply and oddly mathematically laid out – £4 – £3.5 – et cetera. This place truly is a gastropub there’s no doubt about it, Bowl of Chilli [£5] seemed interesting and yet one to miss. Our menu resembled the quarter finals of Masterchef, or a champion of champions Come Dine With Me, where the contestants are handed a budget of £120 and decide to experiment with ingredients, which are even hard to find in Waitrose. Pigeon, purple sprouting broccoli (?), vacherin, which sounds like an antibiotic, mullet and monkfish. The mains were simpler, I decided upon Fish & Chips w Pea Puree [£12] my partner Rib Eye Steak w Chips & Salad [£16], now I realise that we want to avoid a second Cod war with Iceland, and thus for my twelve pound£ (written like a pretentious punter) I expected great things. It was not great. The batter was not crispy, the chips were too few to even constitute a similar number to those that attend Evensong on a Tuesday night, and the pea puree, which I hoped was posh for mushy peas, were someway stuck in the evolutionary ladder between pea and mushy – the homo georgicus of the pea world. The steak was good, very good and I felt incredibly jealous that I had not pushed my own boat out seeing as I was paying for the meal. We ended the meal with the Apple Crumble [£6], which came with a fantastic custard, and though the food was generally incredibly good, and I will come back most definitely for more £5 lunchtime deals, it seemed that £10-14 mains were a lot to ask for pub food. The Punter needs not improve much, the batter being an exception, yet it has to combat the expectations one has for paying that much for a meal because it is essentially a pub to most.