“ Address: 2 Free School Lane / Cambridge / CB2 3QA „
The Eraina is a place I first ate in 15 years ago, and it's hardly changed at all in that time. It's a solid, comfortable presence in the centre of Cambridge that is as reliable as Gardenias or the van of life. The tables no longer have candles in wine bottles, they have candleholders instead, but there are still Greek friezes on the walls and a bar full of retsina and cheap lager (I don't drink lager anyway, so it all looks dodgy to me!)
From outside, and on first entering, it seems a poky place, with not more than one or two tables, but actually there are three rooms. This, combined with their practice of putting diners as far apart as possible, leads to a feeling that it's cosy and intimate but also rather private.
Today, we took my father in law and his ladyfriend there for the first time. We haven't eaten there for a long time, so I'm going to focus on that meal; it was just as I remembered though.
There were seven of us: me, my husband, our three children aged 1-13 and the parents. They didn't have a highchair available, but did have a booth like table so we could fit the baby between two adults and not have him try to wander off.
On being seated, we were brought water and glasses, a nice touch as we all like to drink water while we look at the menu, and if we didn't, well, it's no matter. The menu is densely packed with food, and actually a little hard to read at first, but it's separated into sections by food type so actually easy to use. There is no children's menu, but we usually order from the starters section for my 4 year old anyway, so that was no hardship for us and I actually rather like it.
We had yoghurt salad and hummous with pita bread to start. We could have done with more pita, and indeed ordered more. I think that's better than waste, but it would be nice to have a little more pita per starter. Then, between us we ate three of the specials of the day, two pork dishes from the menu, and my daughter had a Greek sausage starter. They brought us free salad as well, which was delicious.
All the main courses, except for my son's pizza (a daily special) came with peas, and all of them came with chips. I don't like peas, but the baby ate most of mine. Even the dishes that specify they come with rice come with chips as well! This is something I was used to, and had primed the in laws, but I can imagine it might come as a shock if you're expecting something a bit more upmarket. Everything was perfectly cooked. I had piquant pork, which was maybe a bit less spicy than I might have imagined, but still very tasty. My husband's steak was just the way he likes it. My son's pizza had so much cheese it's a surprise it held up; also just the way he likes it. The salad was crisp and slightly sweet, due to a large amount of carrots in it. The chips were light and crispy too. This is similar to my previous experiences.
We did have a disappointment at pudding; no rum babas! My husband and eldest had sorbet, though, and reported that they were the perfect mix of tart and sweet, while my middle child was happy with her ice cream. My own dessert, a kataifi, disappeared quite swiftly into the baby, but what I had of it was a nice balance of nuts, honey and pastry, without the slightly shredded wheat texture of some kataifis. We also had Greek coffee, which was maybe a little less strong than some I've had, but still satisfyingly oil like in consistency, and they tailored the sweetness to our requirements perfectly.
The wait staff were exactly attentive enough, appearing exactly when we needed them and disappearing in between, a fine balance. They've always been very friendly too.
My last day of a small trip in England was spent in Cambridge, close to where my grandmother lives. After a bit of sightseeing and walking and having eaten nothing since a bacon butty for breakfast, we decided to stop for a spot of lunch. I thought that I really should have some fish and chips before vacating the island but as a northerner should have known better than to dabble in the world of Cambridgeshire fish and chips. As often seems to be the case, the rows of restaurants had disappeared as soon as we were peckish.
We walked along a small side lane, a somewhat dingy looking establishment turned up on the right hand side. The menu was scrawled on a blackboard type material that acted as the outside wall. The alphabet used in certain parts of it was a dead give away as to the fact i t was a Greek restaurant but I was none the wiser as to whether it was open when peering through the window. Another couple of potential customers tried to open the door and succeeded.
I suppose that the lack of customers was a dead give away as to the quality that awaited us. A new waitress attended to us and was not overly familiar with certain things on there when quizzed but she was nice and friendly and consulted with the owner/manager who oversaw happenings with a hawk-eye. We ordered bread as a starter to keep us busy but it came from the meal. It was toasted pita and did not particularly go well with our main course which was two portions of fish and chips.
In appearance it certainly resembled fish and chips from a chippy, that is if it hadn't been served with a somewhat unique side dish of feta salad which despite its eccentricity was actually pretty yummy. I squeezed as much lemon on to the fish as possible but it still remained rather bland, the sprinkling of cold peas did little to liven it up as well. It was distinctly average and as we were only one of two tables in, eyes seemed to constantly be on us. The minute we rested a fork to have a sip of our drinks (the most respectable part of the meal), we were prey to the waitress who was ready to pounce on our plates. The toilets were located downstairs at the back of a room filled with empty tables.
Perhaps this was once popular, in fact it was supposedly one of the Price of Wales' favourite place when he studied there in the 1960s. The best thing I can personally say about it, is that it didn't break the bank. This wasn't dreadful, it was mediocre but they overstretched themselves and our experience was worsened by the fact we came across a much better looking real chippy just a couple of minutes walk away.