The formerly sleepy Somerset village of Bruton was propelled into the limelight in 2014, when Hauser & Wirth opened its contemporary art gallery, garden and restaurant on its outskirts – a high profile, and highbrow, addition to Bruton’s already-burgeoning collection of hip hangouts (At The Chapel and Caro among them).
Ever since, this pretty village with its almond-stone buildings, has been drawing an unfeasibly fashionable weekend crowd. Now, however, with Bruton resolutely on the map (and many of those picturesque stone buildings bought up by head-over-heels visitors) the focus is starting to shift to near-neighbour, Castle Cary (pictured above).
Handily accessible by train from London – as the closest station to Glastonbury, it’s not quite as off the radar as it might sometimes feel – this small market town’s equally pretty, equally ancient buildings (principal of which is the stunning grade II-listed Market House) have welcomed a recent string of foodie openings.
Long-standing favourites like Levant restaurant with rooms, Charlie Hill Butcher and Pie Maker and Martin’s (there can’ be many Londis stores that stock delicious Somerset Pomona) have been joined by The Gallery bar and self-catering apartment and the Somerset Wine Company.
The latter shares premises with The Deli and, in a neat joining of forces, holds wine tastings, supperclubs and enoteca-style evenings where guests can sip small-vineyard wines by the glass alongside plates of cheese and charcuterie from the deli.
The Factory antiques centre also opened a new café on site in May, with plans afoot to hold regular pop-up restaurant nights there.
One of the most talked-about new food ventures in Castle Cary, however, has been Home, which opened on the town’s higgledy piggledy high street last August.
Run by half-Irish food writer Fiona Mattesini and her anglo-Italian restaurateur husband, Paul, Home is a simple café that genuinely lives up to its name.
Across the large glass windows that face the street a sign reads “Home: we wanted to open a restaurant that serves the kind of food we eat at home”. And that, essentially, is what the Mattesinis do.
Entered via the back door, through the kitchen rather than the front door, the café is currently open for breakfast and lunch, and unlicensed (though the couple’s to-do list includes plans for a supperclub on Wednesday evenings, and a license).
In a space filled with pretty, mismatched wooden tables, white-painted floorboards, posies of fresh flowers and family photos (there’s also a two-table terrace out at the back), guests take their pick from a daily ‘micro’ menu (five dishes) scribbled, stylishly, on a super-size roll of brown paper attached to the wall.
Breakfast options include Fiona’s homemade soda bread with eggs (plus avo and maple-toasted seeds if you want to be fancy), flavoured porridges (banana with flaxseed and cinnamon or sweet potato, nutmeg and maple syrup) and fresh juices (try the apple, pear, ginger and turmeric, the pineapple with mint or just a pile of local apples pressed to order).
Lunch options, meanwhile, are all well under £10 and tend towards soups, salads, quinoa pizzas and frittatas.
We started with soup, swithering towards the greens and garlic (kale, spinach, nettle, broccoli, peas and a drizzle of chilli thyme oil) before plumping for the African peanut – packed with sweet potato this was smooth and rich with just a hint of chilli and a scattering of crunchy roast chickpeas.
Next came the café’s signature dish, a warm salad of roast carrots, baby potatoes, sweet potato, asparagus and lentils with homemade salsa verde, a trickle of balsamic dressing and a trio of toppings – maple-roast pumpkin seeds, organic herbs and wodges of nicely charred-at-the-edges haloumi.
The surprise highlight was the lentils – cooked in stock then baked until they had a gorgeous, slightly nutty crunch.
As you might have noticed, the whole menu is vegetarian and there are plenty of dairy- and gluten-free choices, too. In fact, the gluten-free cakes are worth the journey alone.
On our visit there was a choice of more-ish beetroot and chocolate muffins, dainty lemon meringue cupcakes (with a dot of lemon curd in the middle) and the hit of the day – a gossamer-light but giant slice of violet-tinged sponge cake with fresh cream and blackcurrant jam.
Sourcing is carried out with equal care. Coffee comes from Bean Shot in Bruton, milk from Bruton Dairy and anything-other-than-soda bread from Lievito Bakery in Lovington while the couple grow a lot of their own veg.
Though Fiona and Paul weren’t there on the day we visited (18 year-old Pippa was cheerfully – and very capably – manning the stoves), they try to maintain a hands-on approach.
Customer feedback is important to them, not just in terms of honing the menu – much of which has been condensed to a list of regulars’ favourites – but also in making sure the overall experience is positive (Woolly Shepherd sound-absorbing ceiling clouds were installed, for instance, after early customers complained that the space was noisy).
The make-yourself-at-home ethos means customers also need to take a pro-active approach to get the most out of their visit.
If you don’t ask you won’t know that there’s a toy stash for children, for instance, hidden in a drawer. Or that, while the couple made a deliberate decision not to have a children’s menu, they are happy to adapt the menu to suit, or to whizz up a batch of Paul’s Neapolitan nonna’s tomato sauce to spread on soda bread (or some homemade sweet potato and peanut butter hummus with veg sticks).
Or that guests are welcome to help themselves to soft drinks from a fridge in the kitchen (and pay later), or tune the dining room’s radio into their preferred station.
Just don’t make yourself so at home that you start trying to do the washing up.
Home, Pithers Yard, 7 High Street, Castle Cary, BA7 7AN
Words | Rhiannon Batten May 2017