Last Friday my husband and I were fortunate enough to be able to secure a couple of hours to ourselves, courtesy of my mum, who agreed to the not inconsiderable task of babysitting my two girls and Bertie the seven month old Weimaraner puppy. I say not inconsiderable task, because we had a table booked for 7pm at The Pantry, the village cafe-cum-bistro, and as any parent knows, getting your children to bed on time can be a herculean endeavour at the best of times, but when you really, really want them to be in bed/calm/quiet because you’re going out, there’s no way it’s going to be calm experience. And, to be honest, 6.30pm bedtime is beyond even my wit! So they were all still very much awake as we left.
However, we put this from our minds and headed off, hoping that children and dog would behave themselves just long enough for us to get a decent conversation and some good food. And we weren’t disappointed in either!
During daylight hours, The Pantry is Winscombe’s premier coffee shop-cafe; a small, intimate space, whose decor is part shabby chic, part country casual. It serves a delectable range of cakes, coffees, teas and light lunches, and is run by local couple Quinn and Mandy McCarthy, assisted by the friendly and emollient Becky. On the rare occasions that I’ve been child free, and able to leave The Hound, I’ve commandeered a table in the corner with my macbook and indulged in their excellent coffee and beautifully moist carrot cake (made by Mandy), and felt like an actual proper writer. Situated just off the High Street, it’s a great place to stop if you’re exploring the Winscombe end of the Strawberry Line, or if you just fancy some really good food! Welcoming to all, it’s a lovely place to go with children as well, and on the occasions I’ve been in there, the clientele has ranged from pensioners to (yummy) mummies and variants in between, including would be writers…;)
About once a month, The Pantry dims the lights, turns up the stereo and transforms itself into a bistro for the evening. It is a space that lends itself to intimacy; there are a mere six tables, two large and four small, so you have to book quickly if you want to take advantage. Candles burn in glass jars on the tables, the atmosphere is warm and cosy and it has that laid back, friendly vibe you’d hope for.
Service wise, despite the two sittings, we didn’t feel rushed or chased out of the venue. Becky was a friendly and outgoing front of house/waitress whose unflappable nature coped with the wide range of customers that were there at the first sitting. It was a full house, but everyone got her attention.
In terms of the food, the theme of the night we went to was ‘Burgers and Cheesecake’ and I can confirm that both of these were excellent, as were the triple fried chips, homemade coleslaw and brioche buns. I’d have loved a bit more of the coleslaw, but I couldn’t fault ‘the Winscombe Whopper’, a 2 x 10oz mammoth of a meal. While not cheap, the meal was good value for money, especially when you consider that The Pantry isn’t licensed, so BYO brought down the price of a meal out considerably.
I did have a slight ulterior motive for booking the table, although I only ‘fessed up to my husband when we got there. I’m currently knee deep in Book 2 of the Little Somerby novels, which has changed (working) title to Sweeter than Cider, and the main plotline revolves around my heroine, Caroline, opening a bistro that used to be the village tea room. I’m as yet undecided if she actually owns it outright, or whether she’ll be leasing it, but I wanted to get a sense of what the atmosphere would be like in a village bistro, so it was a useful exercise, as well as being good fun! I did have an ear finely tuned to pick up any tidbits I could use in the book, but one of the things I really took away was the joy of having a local small restaurant right on my doorstep. I hope that Caroline’s bistro in Little Somerby will have the same kind of friendly, welcoming vibe that The Pantry does!
And what happened when we got home? Well, my eldest was happy because she got to stay up later, my youngest was snoring soundly in her cot, and the dog had been banished to the kitchen because he loves my mum just that little bit too much…ah, the joys of grandparenthood!