Restaurant review: South Street Pantry - 'family friendly' doesn't have to mean bland and overpriced

Lisa Markwell visits The Cape in Beaconsfield and the South Street Pantry in Bishop's Stortford and finds that - although they both feature jaunty bunting, mismatched furniture and a counter laden with cakes - there the similarity ends

Prezzo. Zizzi. Strada. Jamie's Italian. Bella Italia. Frankie & Benny's. Pizza Express. Harvester. That's the list one invariably gets on Googling "family-friendly restaurants" alongside the name of any decent-sized town.

So what's the harried mother/aunt/kindly friend to do when she wants to take a child out for lunch? (Yes, yes, fathers/uncles too; this is an equal opportunities problem.) What would be nice is a family-friendly restaurant that's an independent and makes you feel less like a unit on a bottom line and more like a potential regular.

The chance to try one comes when I meet my niece and her three-year-old in Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire. I want to avoid the aforementioned chains so opt for The Cape, an all-day, family-run "grand café and restaurant". The online menu sounds promising: brunch fare and an intriguing South African flavour to some of the dishes.

The pretty shop window shows plenty of cakes among the jaunty handwritten signs and vintagey mismatched chairs and tables. Not that I have much chance to admire them from where we are placed – behind a work station, close to the dishwasher. This despite the café being only about a quarter full. We have a hungry mite to hand, so resignedly sit down and order, from the children's menu, a picking platter (£3.95).

The grown-ups have a lamb skewer and "The Mandela". This last curiosity is two poached eggs on a potato rosti with chorizo, bacon and rocket (£6.95). The rosti is burnt on one side, undercooked on the other. The back-bacon is flabby and the rocket undressed. The eggs are OK, but it's not the bold melange of flavours and textures I was hoping for.

However, this dish is three-star Michelin compared with the picking platter. Children have palates too, but Matilda is presented with a slice of bog-standard white bread with blobs of margarine on top, two rolls of nondescript ham, and grated cheese and carrot. Shoddy is the word. We eat just enough to take the edge off our hunger and wait, and wait, for the plates to be cleared. Eventually, I stack them myself.

The whole experience vexes me. If I was a Beaconsfield resident with a young family, I'd like somewhere decent for a weekend jolly. This is, emphatically, not that place.

Do "family-friendly" places have to mean "family-fleecing"? The following weekend I visit Bishop's Stortford, on the other side of the home-county radius, having found an equivalent to The Cape. The South Street Pantry could be The Cape's cousin. Jaunty bunting, mismatched furniture and crockery, a counter laden with cakes… It, too, is family-run. There the similarity ends.

Enthusiastic young waitresses bustle through the long, narrow room, where every table is taken. There are sandwiches, quiches, salads and soups on the menu. Nothing to push the culinary envelope, nothing named after any of the world's leading statesmen. Everything is homemade. Mr M has Welsh rarebit with bacon, I have smoked salmon and scrambled egg. Our daughter has mac'n'cheese from the children's menu, which is a scaled-down version of the adults' (why doesn't everywhere do this?).

The rarebit is burnished and tangy, with a prickle of mustard to offset the cheese, thick-cut, crisp bacon heaped on top and a generous dollop of homemade chutney on the side – £6.75 well spent. My dish is a corker: a double stack of well-buttered granary toast, a mountain of wobbly, rich eggs and copious amounts of salmon. Meanwhile, Miss T works her way through a bowl of macaroni cheese that has oodles of flavour. There's some dressed salad and grilled tomato slices to assuage a mother's carb-fest guilt.

We waddle over to the counter to pay and encounter vast cakes under glass domes – raspberry sponge, lemon drizzle, chocolate, Eton mess, Victoria sponge, and coffee and walnut. Doorstop slices of the last two (£3.50 each) find their way home with us.

It's hardly scientific as a sampling exercise but the excellent, comforting South Street Pantry shows that it's possible to be family friendly (and become a favourite, if all those customers are as regular as they appear). Independents can go into battle with the ubiquitous chains, but they should remember that an army marches on its stomach.

7.5/10

South Street Pantry, 70 South Street, Bishop's Stortford, Herts, tel: 01279 659 510. £40 for three

Three more for all the family

Darcy's

An all-round crowd-pleaser and a safe place to eat in a culinary desert. The menu has nice twists to trad dishes.

2 Hatfield Road, St Albans, Herts, 01727 730 777

Forbury's

Fab food and amazing value. It’s quite formal in the evening, but very welcoming to children at the weekend.

1 Forbury Square, Reading, Berks, 0118 957 4044

Chapter One

Chef Andrew McLeish sends out superb, reasonably priced food at this classy spot.

Farnborough Common, Locksbottom, Kent, 01689 854 848

Reviews extracted from 'Harden’s London and UK Restaurant Guides 2013',  www.hardens.com

News
people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Service Charge Accountant

    30,000 to 35,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: We are currently recruiting on...

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?