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
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
News
news
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
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
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

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

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week