So the Jolly Scholar, AKA the former Bun Shop on King Street, is changing hands already. Last year a few friends joined me at the opening night launch event in the impressive Champagne bar upstairs and enjoyed delicious antipasto platters in the stripped back, old school restaurant downstairs. A month ago it was still trading; a couple of weeks ago a notice appeared in the windows noting that the kitchen was closed for refurbishment but drinks were still available; now, by the end of the month, the whole place is closed up and a change of ownership advertised on the front doors.
We know the previous owner from his other (now also former?) venture on the Suffolk coast. A delightful, unpretentious (looking at the celebrity weekender clientele some might disagree) pub and B&B providing excellent food and even better atmosphere of country living and seaside shanty music. Competing with the likes of Ruth Watson and her 5* foodie "pub", the Jolly Sailor in Orford held its own and stayed true to its origins as a village pub, frequented by fishermen and tourists alike, right down to its impressive collections of beer mats and brasses and convivial family atmosphere. We loved our two night stay there a couple of years ago; the breakfast in particular was to die for.
When the owner showed up in a city centre pub/bistro in Cambridge, offering up the same quality, locally sourced menu as the pub in Orford, we were thrilled! Having tasted the fantastic mussels and seafood platters so popular in the seaside village, we were more than willing to pay a little extra for a lovingly prepared, fresh and local plate of food right on our doorstep. Many Cambridge critics dismissed it as "another unnecessary wine bar" but I disagreed. It made a nice change to have a slightly more upmarket drinking establishment in the city centre, which was well-priced and with no pretentious labels attached and no teenagers queuing at the bar for pre-club drinks. The friendly staff, great food and more varied crowd created a refined yet relaxed environment and the exhibition space and function rooms were a great idea.
Why shouldn't a cosmopolitan city like Cambridge embrace a relaxed, friendly environment in which to enjoy a glass of Champagne on a special occasion (or indeed any old occasion)? It's got a couple of higher-end hotels and even a private members' club, granted, but there are still plenty of down-to-earth places to enjoy a pint of best bitter if the fancy takes you. I think it is better to encourage a variety of eating and drinking establishments in a city like Cambridge so, personal tastes aside, I always feel that it is a real shame when one doesn't survive whether it's a wine bar, nightclub (still upset about my beloved Kambar), takeaway or traditional pub.
Who knows why the Jolly Scholar couldn't make it work? I, personally, was unimpressed when the unique, high quality dishes and locally produced ingredients I loved started to disappear from the menu, replaced by burgers and pizzas (those I definitely can find elsewhere in Cambridge). Perhaps the size of the restaurant was too ambitious and too many staff were required, equalling one too many overheads. Maybe too little marketing took place. As a blogger and tweeter, I remember being frustrated with the lack of online contact even though the Jolly Scholar had a Facebook and Twitter account. When I mentioned them (often) on various online reviews, they unfortunately missed the opportunity for some free digital marketing. One might conclude that there isn't a great amount of city centre footfall along King Street but the location, on the opposite corner to d'Arry's Cookhouse & Wine Room, is not that far from the other city centre restaurants, bars and shopping areas in the grand scheme of things.
I'm now looking forward to seeing what pops up in the old Bun Shop next... Any ideas??