There are times when you don’t want epicurean adventure; when fancy food or tastes from faraway climes won’t hit the spot.
What you long for is a bit of comfort food; something old-fashioned and filling, which with every mouthful evokes toasty memories of childhood teas in front of Dr Who and an open fire that mottled your legs red.
At Lynne’s Pantry, one of the city centre’s oldest cafes, you get exactly that. Plus a pot of tea and home-baked cake for afters.
Lynne Frolish was a book-keeper until she set up her little cafe 34 years ago. Friend Janice Green had opened Mama & Leoni’s, the Italian restaurant down the road, Lynne had worked a shift or three there, quite enjoyed it and jumped at the chance of her own cafe when one went up for sale on Surrey Street.
She still owns the Pantry but suffered a serious illness 18 months ago and her son Matt is now in charge,
Teacakes and toasties, cuppas and quiches – it’s a whole new world for Matt, 33.
He’d been working for a UK-based Ferrari endurance racing team for years.
“I was car-mad in my 20s and was so grateful to get a job with the team, even though all I was doing at first was washing car wheels and making tea.”
He progressed to logistics and hospitality. But presumably he never forgot how to make a good brew. With his right-hand woman, manageress Joanne Goss, he’s steering the quaintly old-fashioned cafe forward. He’s given the front of the shop an urban redesign in steely grey and he plans a Facebook page and a Lynne’s Pantry Twitter account.
He’s tweaking the menu, too, introducing curry and lasagne to the specials board. Now there’s always a home-made meat pie and exotic-sounding melts – like brie, bacon and mango chutney – feature on the sandwich menu.
But he doesn’t plan to get rid of the comfort food, thank goodness. It’s what makes this little place an institution.
We arrive on a busy lunchtime and squeeze past the queue of office workers ordering their takeaway sandwiches to discover the Pantry has an upstairs and downstairs, prettily down with clotted cream paintwork. But it’s a sunny day so we sit outside at a little table on the pavement outside the Town Hall.
We’re worried the staff, who seem rushed off their feet with those sandwich orders, won’t realise we’re there and pop back in for reassurance, a gaze in the chiller cabinet and the lowdown on the soup and quiche of the day. Only then do we feel we can choose from the menu of jacket potatoes, salads, soup and sarnies and hot specials. It’s a problem Matt is well aware of. “We really need two counters, one for take-outs, the other for diners,” he says. “But space prohibits.” He’s hoping to encourage more sarnie customers to phone in their orders.
We’d set our caps at a hot roast pork sandwich (£3.50) with 30p’s worth of extra stuffing and a home-made cheese and tomato quiche with salad when we spotted some nursery food – and felt out hearts soar. It was Welsh rarebit (£4.40) for me, Fish Finger Sandwich (£3.50) for him and a hand-made sausage roll to share.
The Rarebit was melting but could perhaps have done with an extra hit of mustard in the mix. Nicely browned, it covered one slice of toast. A buttered slice accompanied it and I’d have felt I’d have had better value for money had the rarebit stretched to both.
The fish finger butty was declared magnificent; a big, soft, floury bap contained three perfectly cooked,good quality fingers – crisp outside, soft inside – and was accompanied by a pot of tartare sauce.
The £2 sausage roll was pricy, but a big ‘un. A good puff pastry enveloped lean, spiced sausagemeat and an inventive dash of cranberry sauce – a winning combination.
We’d already pigged out, but thought we’d go the whole hog and leave well and truly comforted by a slice of the enticingly large Victoria sponge stuffed with fresh cream and strawberries on the counter and hand-baked apple pie with single cream (£2.45).
We didn’t regret the decision. Both had been baked that morning and were as good as any mum used to make.
The cake was golden, moist and buttery and even better than a fine cake I’d had at an M&S cafe the week before. We were confused by the price, though; the menu said £2.70, the bill £3.40.
The pie’s crisp, sugar-crunchy pastry blanketed big chunks of apple that was sweet but not too sweet, soft but not too soft; it was, as Baby Bear would have said, just right.
A £2.25 mug of decent Americano coffee and a £2.40 pot of Earl Grey tea brought the bill to £20.75.