Despite living and working in London, it’s not that often that I see bonafide celebrities. Sure, I’ve walked past Liv Tyler and Anne Hathaway (the latter, strangely enough, on my way to buying milk), but in eighteen months there aren’t many more from the high-fliers list I could name.
Sometimes, it seems, you have to go out of the capital city to spot the genuine talent. Take Cambridge, for example: city of punts, gowns and the grasshopper clock. Its university colleges have nurtured such legends as Stephen Hawking, John Cleese and David Attenborough – and there’s always a chance you might spot one of them as you wonder through the streets.
Still, you don’t have to rely on luck. Head along Trumpington Street, and, by the corner of Pembroke College, you will almost certainly see one of Cambridge’s most famous residents: the Fitzbillies Chelsea bun.
Pinnacle of a 90-year institution – and brought back to life in 2011 – I first heard about these buns in a Guardian article and was compelled to seek them out last weekend – after all, if you read phrases like ‘the world’s stickiest Chelsea buns’, ‘secret recipe’ and ‘food that would make an angel weep’ would you be able to stay away? Thought not.
Initial signs were promising. The place was packed and the cakes at the counter looked wonderful. There were home-made choux buns and chocolate éclairs, gloopy slices of carrot cake, artisan fondant fancies… I almost forgot what I was there to try.
But no. I could hardly ignore the famous bun – and when I asked for one to takeaway, I was thrilled to watch the waitress turn to a huge metal locker, in which they were kept like gold bullion bars.
The Man and his cousins bought Chelsea buns too, and, as we started to walk through the rain, two of us could not wait to tuck in. I opened the bag and saw globules of syrup, trailing down the sides – it was as if the paper could hardly contain it. That ‘stickiest Chelsea bun’ quote? I think they might be right…
Indeed, as you’ll have seen from the photo, the whole thing was glistening with what tasted like golden syrup – no holds barred – and every other bite was followed with a good lick of the fingers. Lovely. The cinnamon taste was strong as well, and the only thing preventing me from rolling around the puddles was the texture.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure the bun was extremely fresh (why else would you need an industrial airtight container?). It’s just that, in my experience, the best buns are always the softest. You know what I’m talking about, Ogglers: the just-baked bun that rests on the plate, still warm; the kind of bun which succumbs to your teeth so willingly, practically bowing down in its haste to be eaten.
If I’d had a portable microwave on my person, I might have been able to raise my bun to a higher level; take it to the realms of the stupendous with a bit of gentle heat. As it was, I only had an umbrella (alas!) – so I finished my bun in the rather cool state it had been in since we met.
Oh well. Maybe next time I’ll get there earlier – intercept a hot batch as it leaves the oven. Or maybe I’ll train the Man to make them at home… With a wee bit of practice, he might be able to bake something just as good.
Only 90 years to catch up with the folks at Fitzbillies.
Looks like he’d better get on with it.