Cambridge has a new cocktail destination at the Tamburlaine hotel, reports Mark Ludmon
Named after a great conqueror and ruler of Persia and central Asia in the Middle Ages, Tamburlaine hotel is setting out to conquer the food and drink scene in Cambridge with its restaurant and bar. The stunning boutique hotel takes its name via two plays about Tamburlaine the Great by leading Renaissance playwright Christopher Marlowe who was a student in Cambridge in the 1580s. Working with Bryan O’Sullivan Studio, the Dublin-based O’Callaghan Hotel Group has created something theatrical in its design that has the “wow factor” from the moment you enter.
The hotel’s entrance has a dramatic double-height lobby, with two custom-made large-scale chandeliers and a black spiral staircase. It has a traditional English look thanks to dark green-painted timber panelling and a hexagonal floor that is a contemporary play on a classic Victorian entrance floor tile. A homely feel comes from a mix of stucco plaster, antique brass, gun-metal soft velvets and patterned Persian rugs – a nod to the original Tamburlaine, or Timur, as he is usually known. “The hotel strives to capture the Persian flavour, strength, eloquence and passion conjured in the imagery of the play, combined with the traditional collegiate Cambridge aesthetic,” explains Blá Farry, senior interior architect at Bryan O’Sullivan Studio.
Looking down on this space is the first-floor Library – one of four different food and drink areas that flow into the ground floor. The Library is a calming, quiet space with table service, suitable for meetings and events, where people can enjoy a light menu of sweet and savoury plates, speciality teas and coffees, cocktails or suggested wine pairings. The walls are wrapped in traditional-style cherry timber panelling and lined with over 50 metres of antique leather-bound books – part of the collegiate aesthetic. “This is a space for people to get comfortable and pass a few hours reading, socialising or working,” Blá says. There is a traditional salvage herringbone floor with a high pewter centre table where people can entertain and help themselves to the honesty bar available. “The traditional library-style furnishings were selected for their comfort and homeliness and feel like they have always been there,” she adds. “The use of framed artwork was to add visual stimuli and create conversation starting points.”
Another lounge and events space is the Garden Room, filled with lush foliage and decorated in a colonial style, where afternoon tea, champagne and cocktails are served. “The space is overflowing with exotic Middle Eastern imagery and femininity,” Blá points out. “The brief was to create an oasis for people to come and pass away hours, drinking tea and pretending they are somewhere else.” The tiled walls and floors remind you of the orangeries of great stately homes while the ornate wrapping panoramic wallpaper depicts an imaginary faraway landscape, typical of the late Renaissance. The entire space is packed with exotic plants and soft furnishings that are colourful but delicate, with great attention to detail such as the “Tamburlaine” pink and gold-trimmed china crockery.
The main food and drink destination is the Brasserie, which is also home to the hotel’s cocktail bar. With relaxed leather banquettes and floor-to-ceiling windows, this is a masculine, sophisticated space in contrast to the neighbouring Garden Room. Again, there are double-height voids, enclosed with dark timber glazed screens and lit by bespoke brass chandeliers. The walls are clad in crisp, white painted fluted timber panelling, contrasting the warmth of the vintage chevron oak-smoked floor and tan leather upholstery.
The 150-cover Brasserie serves an accessible menu of locally sourced, seasonal dishes, developed by executive chef Alan Dann, whose extensive background includes gaining his first Michelin star at Lower Slaughter Manor in the Cotswolds. Open in the morning for breakfast through lunch and dinner, it offers dishes such as grilled breast of wood pigeon with puy lentils, pickled girolles and parsnip as a starter, followed by mains including free-range Blythburgh pork, heritage carrots and Aspall Cyder jus. The grill section features the likes of rare breed beef rib, Barnsley chop and Norfolk Black chicken supreme.
More traditional in style, the horseshoe-shaped cocktail bar is made of fluted teak and marble, taking centre stage in the Brasserie. It is designed to be a space where people can gather for cocktails but which is also comfortable and spacious enough for dining. The bar offers a wide range of premium spirits, beers and wines as well as cocktails created under bar manager Danilo Pozone who was previously at 90 Cocktail Bar, Hidden Rooms and Hilton hotels in Cambridge.
The menu focuses on classics, each listed with the year when the cocktail is thought to originate, from a Sherry Cobbler from 1830 to a Vesper Martini from 1953. There is a section dedicated to variations on a Daiquiri including Don’s Special Daiquiri from 1970, made with white, aged and golden rums plus passion fruit, agave nectar and lime juice. The bar uses Cambridge Dry Gin which is produced at The Cambridge Distillery on the outskirts of the city using botanicals such as blackcurrant leaf, basil, rosemary, lemon verbena and rose and violet petals.
Everything from the selection of the bar’s glassware and cocktail tools through to the cutlery, crockery and staff uniforms has been designed by Bryan O’Sullivan Studio to create a harmonious, consistent look. “The idea was to create a simple yet strong aesthetic – comfortable and welcoming where great food and drink have space to shine,” Blá adds.
The final F&B space is the hotel’s deli, Steam, which offers freshly made salads, sandwiches and fruit pots as well as breakfast and locally roasted coffee throughout the day, including take-away for commuters on the way to the nearby station – the inspiration for its name. In the evening, it transforms into a wine bar serving an extensive list of wines by the glass, accompanied by charcuterie and cheese plates. The design is more modern, with vibrantly tiled floors and neon lighting. “The brief here was to create a fun, stand-alone café where people are drawn in off the street,” Blá explains. “The space is colourful and exuberant, with references to the Italian cafes of the 50s and 60s through classic pink neon signage, blue pyjama-style staff uniforms, the bright-tiled bar counter and ceramic patterned tile floor.”
Built at a cost of around £50million, the 155-room hotel is part of a mix of bars, restaurants, cafes and shops coming to Cambridge’s CB1 “city quarter”, a new office and residential development from Brookgate. Other new arrivals include the Station Tavern, the first pub from Young’s in the city, helping to transform a previously unsightly area around the station. Tamburlaine is bringing more people to the area as a destination for locals and visitors, not just hotel guests, says general manager Zac Pearse. “Tamburlaine is a vibrant place for everyone to enjoy.”
Tamburlaine, 27-29 Station Road, Cambridge CB1 2FB
Tel: 01223 792888
Behind the scenes
Interior design: Bryan O’Sullivan Studio
Main architect: Oppermann Associates
Main contractor: John Paul Construction
Public areas fit-out: S&T Interiors
Stone and tile flooring: Chiltern Marble, Metric Flooring Contracts
Stones and tiles: Solus Ceramics
Timber flooring: Broadleaf Timber
Vinyl flooring: Bolon
Loose furniture: Derry’s Contract Furniture
Antique furniture: Vinterior
Fixed seating: Pure CF
Joinery: C&G Joinery
Lighting: Visual Comfort & Co, Pooky Lighting, Rockett St George, Graham and Green
Neon signage: Neon Sign Store
Wallpapers: Iksel Decorative Arts, Tropical Wallpapers, House of Hackney
Rugs: London House Rugs
Drapes and cushions: Robena Contract Furnishings
Artwork: Rise Art, Studio 2C, Print Club London
Library curation: Ultimate Library
Decorative items: Asiatides
Staircase: UAL Metal Fabricators
Kitchen design: Humble Arnold Associates
Mechanical & electrical: IN2 Engineering, Michael Nugent
Structural engineer: CS Consulting Group
Originally published in the June 2017 print edition of Bar magazine.