All aboard for summery salads, irresistible cakes – and pizza
The Railway Carriage Café (now with a brand new – old – big, green double-decker bus around the back) is a quirky, eccentric place to come and enjoy a delicious breakfast, lunch, coffee and cake or, on a Thursday and Friday evening, a wood-fired pizza. The food’s summery, salady, with a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean feel. It’s brilliant for veggies although meat eaters aren’t forgotten – and the cakes are to die for.
A finalist in this year’s Muddy Stiletttos Awards, the Railway Carriage Café, – and the Trading Post farm shop next door – stand on the site of an old filling station at Lopenhead, not far from Crewkerene and Ilminster in south Somerset.
The railway carriage was built between 1887-90 by the Stratford Locomotive and Carriage Works, and was one of around 3,000 carriages used to transport Victorians in out of London’s Liverpool Street Station on the Great Eastern Line.
Since coming down to Somerset in 2006, it’s been fitted out as a café, with a counter at one end, a few narrow tables to seat 6 sharing, with reclaimed cinema seats and magazines for browsing either side of a little wood-burning stove.
Round the back there’s a big, green double-decker bus, a small marquee and some outdoor tables and benches for al fresco eating.
Ding! ding! Hop on board…
You can sit downstairs or upstairs.
There’s comfy seating at the back.
There’s a sign saying that the bus is a work in progress, so while it looks a little basic at the moment, expect some changes to the decor over the coming months. There’s also wooden seating outside in the farm garden. It’s a working organic farm, so the fields alongside, partially covered with black plastic on my visit, weren’t the most photogenic – but the food is.
They serve breakfast from 9am-11am. This is no greasy spoon: there’s smashed avocado & lime, smoked bacon and poached farm egg on toast and toasted blueberry muffins with Greek yoghurt and fruit compote on the menu – though they do offer a thick-cut local corn bread sarnie with rashers of smoked bacon or big local pork sausages. Lunch is served from 12 noon until 2.30pm. There’s a choice of five mains, which on my visit included a coconut, turmeric root, ginger & almond masala with chickpea and coriander (with garlic pitta, chilli & seed pesto, mixed lentil & beetroot salad); smoked salmon, asparagus, dill and cream cheese quiche (served warm with a selection of house salads); and spiced lamb Merguez sausage with pickled cucumber, feta, lemon & parsley, alioli, garlic toasted corn roll (with coleslaw, sauteed rosemary new potatoes and dressed leaves from the farm). Here’s my choice:
Chickpea and spiced carrot falafel, homemade garlic flatbread with mint yoghurt sauce (with Greek feta salad, pickled cucumber, preserved lemon hummus and dressed leaves in a seed pesto, coleslaw). It was absolutely delicious. You can also order a breadboard, bowls of mixed olives, salads, dressed Puy lentils and sauteed potatoes. To drink, there’s the lovely Luscombe lemonade, ginger beer and elderflower bubbly; local apple juice and Rusty Boiler ale, house red and white and Dorset Tit (I sniggered, naturally) cider.
The food’s so pretty, I’ll show you what a friend and I had on a previous visit
Wear your elasticated trousers: the cakes and desserts they make at the Railway Carriage are irresistible.
I tried three (all in the course of duty you understand), along with a cup of excellent coffee (macchiato, latte, cappuccino, flat white or mocha all available).
After you’ve stuffed yourself silly and before you squeeze yourself back into your car, do pop into Trading Post shop next door. It’s got a fab range of salads and vegetables grown on their organic farm, other local foods, Fair Trade and world foods, special dietary foods, environmentally kind beauty and household products – or treat yourself to a bunch of their beautiful cut flowers.
I’ll be returning soon one Thurs or Fri evening with the Muddies, to try out their hand-pulled pizzas cooked in an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven (the local cured chorizo with mozzarella, sweet peppers, red onion & rocket caught my fancy) and homemade cocktails. Anyone for a rhubarb and mint mojito?
The Railway Carriage Café is open from Mon to Sat 9am-5pm; serving with wood-fired pizzas Thurs & Fri 6pm-9pm (takeaway available). Closed Sunday & bank holidays (except Good Friday).
Good for: a very relaxed and delicious breakfast, coffee and cake or lunch alone, with a gaggle of girlfriends, your partner – or your mum. Bring the whole family over on a Thursday or Friday evening for pizzas in the farm garden.
Not for: evening dining, except for the al fresco pizza evenings on a Thursday and Friday, the cafe closes at 5pm. Don’t come during the day with kids who will only eat chicken nuggets.
£££: Very reasonable and good value – portions are generous. Breakfasts cost £5-7; lunches £8.50-£11. Pizzas £9-£11. House red or white £4. Local cider or ale £3.50. Soft drinks £2.75.
Railway Carriage Café, The Old Filling Station, Lopenhead, near Ilminster, TA13 5JH. Tel 07729 685412. tradepost.plus.com