The Pilgrims at Lovington, Castle Cary, Somerset

Sartre is alive and well, and working as a sign writer in Somerset. I know that because I saw his handiwork, hanging outside a pub called The Pilgrims in Lovington. It read, simply, "Sunday lunch - or lunch on a Sunday?".

Sartre is alive and well, and working as a sign writer in Somerset. I know that because I saw his handiwork, hanging outside a pub called The Pilgrims in Lovington. It read, simply, "Sunday lunch - or lunch on a Sunday?".

Lovington is an ordinary-looking village and all too easy to drive through, if you're in a hurry. Which would be a shame. But the sign - especially that metaphysical question mark - made me stop my car. For that I thank you, Jean-Paul.

The Pilgrims doesn't look much from the outside. I would guess it was painted in whatever was on special at B&Q in, say, 1980. The inside isn't much better. It had the feel of a pub with a darts team - not a pub with fish suppliers who deliver five times a week. And certainly not a pub that is shortlisted for the forthcoming Somerset Life magazine's dining pub of the year. But appearances can be deceptive. Maybe Sartre could knock up a new sign along those lines?

On the menu, in the small print where restaurants normally bang on about food allergies, it read "Some of our staff may be nuts. And the chef has been gently modified - but not for ages." And I liked the way the chef made a virtue of his local produce - even down to the table water. Not that I tasted a difference. Unless I venture to the sulphury reaches of Vichy or Badoit, I never taste any difference. But it was a nice idea.

We began with a Portobello mushroom (£5) in a mascarpone sauce. There was a herb, somewhere, that married nicely with the mascarpone. But I couldn't identify it. So I had the lovely waitress ask the chef. I imagined she was the chef's wife. It's not important if I was wrong about that - the point is that The Pilgrims has a family feel. The waitress reappeared, smiling. "He can't remember," she said. "Whatever was close at hand." It showed. His cooking was spontaneous - as if done for friends.

The smoked trout and eel (£7) came from Brown and Forrest in Hambridge (see Second Helpings, right). The thick slabs of fish had the smell of the front parlour on a Sunday, when my grandmother used to light a big coal fire. Hot smoking is a short process - about two hours - that retains the fish's succulence. It's a skill. There's no control panel, just a fire. The end result is complex - and a flavour as rewarding as good wine. Normally I would recommend lemon and black pepper, but The Pilgrims surprised me with horseradish. I sometimes forget - horseradish isn't just for roast beef.

It was odd to see raclette (£5) on the menu. Not least because it was the only cheese in the place that didn't come from the West Country. Three thick slices arrived, melted onto a scalding hot plate, with cornichons and capers, and a good pile of bitter salad leaves. All that was missing was thick buttered bread. But that meant I had enough room for monkfish, which was sautéed with scallops, smoked Dorset bacon and girolles. It was finished with a crème fraîche, and served on a rice pilaf.

There are many, many different types of rice - it seems ridiculous that we only ever talk about long- and short-grain. But the long-grain pilaf made a delicious change from potato, as did the introduction of Somerset cider brandy. The chef should have taken off the outer skin from my side order of broad beans. And baby corn - why? It reminds me of the time when Britain went stir-fry crazy. Let's put the baby-corn years behind us, and allow it to grow into a proper vegetable.

I dropped my napkin on my way to the lavatory. It was still there when I got back. In a London restaurant, three people would have raced to pick it up and fold it into the shape of a swan. I would, of course, have had to pay handsomely for the privilege. But, having said that, I paid £20 for monkfish at The Pilgrims. True, the place could do with a lick of paint, and some new curtains. But lunch was a joy - an unabashed pleasure of existence. Maybe that's why Sartre agreed to do the sign.

For more information about Somerset, visit www.celebratingsomerset.com/visitors

The Pilgrims at Lovington, Castle Cary, Somerset (01963 240597)

SECOND HELPINGS: A TASTE OF SOMERSET

By Caroline Stacey

Almshouse Bistro

Since September, a new owner (and former full-time salmon smoker) has been a breath of fresh air in the ancient square. He still smokes salmon; eat as much as you like for £6.95, and follow with pork tenderloin.

The Square, Axbridge (01934 732493)

Brown and Forrest Smokery Restaurant

Smoked eel, hot smoked salmon, duck, lamb and even garlic straight from the smokehouse star in the simply lovely café where they care about what matters: freshness, not frills.

Bowdens's Farm, Hambridge, Langport (01458 250875)

Moss Food

Bright and breezy little café in the county town - perfect for a less-than-£10 lunch, all-day coffee and great cakes. Why don't more places do a juicy roast-beef salad, and gooey brownies?

The Crescent, Taunton (01823 326793)

New Farm Restaurant

Dine on the farm - on seasonal produce home-cooked with flair. Chilled cucumber soup with oysters and radish, and loin of lamb on broad bean pesto are this season's treats (for dinner only).

Over Stratton, nr South Petherton (01460 240584)

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
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

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower