I really thought Bill's Cafe was an American import. I envisaged Bill, the youngest son of a far-flung branch of Colonel Saunders' clan who, turning his back on the family (and their military pretensions), settled in Brooklyn to open a chilled-out place for the local Bohemians. It makes sense: the wooden floors and rustic shelving a post-modern allusion to the pioneers' log cabin; the communal tables a place for playing chess or planning a wholefood collective; and in the evenings ... jazz players noodling on their sax (what else?).
I am wrong however, Bill is from the South Coast, from Sussex in fact, and English as apple pie. Not exactly a chain, there are apparently about five Bill's Cafes dotted around the south of the country. The menu is crowd-pleasing: burgers, mezze, roasted chicken breast etc, and it's all well-cooked and flavoured; they also do a mean cooked breakfast. If I were being picky I would say it does have a slight over-styled, self-conscious feel, I sense the deadening hand of a slick marketing exec.
The shelves lining the walls artfully display a range of what they call "groceries" and what most people would call "luxuries you don't actually need" (I know, I know that's a tautology).
These all seem to be chosen for their attractive packaging, so while waiting for lunch you can place your order for such essential provisions as Ortiz anchovies, bottled French juice or Bill's own ale ... and you can even purchase a bright string bag to take it all away with you.
If this all sounds like damning with faint praise I have to say I really like it ... I do, and it is great to see a new face on the Cambridge scene.
There's just a whiff of the ersatz - and if you don't believe me try selecting one of the olde books in the cosy nook by the stairs...