LEVANT, CASTLE CARY
The atmosphere of a private supper club with a menu inspired by the scents and flavours of the Middle East
I don’t know of any other restaurant in rural Somerset quite like Levant in Castle Cary, south Somerset. It’s a restaurant that has the feel of a private supper club with a menu inspired by the flavours and scents of the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
The restaurant’s in a beautiful Arts & Crafts house tucked away behind a wall on Station Road close to the centre of the market town of Castle Cary. To get to the dining room, you go through a little gate in the garden wall and follow the path down to the side of the house.
The dining room overlooks terraced decking alongside a brook, which was of course, babbling. Although it was far too cold to eat outside on a cold December (much nicer inside with the roaring woodburner), in the summer it would be idyllic.
The menu reflects owner and head chef Tanya’s French-Egyptian-Jewish background, with dishes that have been inspired by childhood memories and by contemporary chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi and Claudia Roden, who is a friend and mentor.
So first came some marinated Kalamata olives, Lievito sourdough bread flavoured with sumac and za’tar with olive oil for dipping.
In the Middle Eastern tradition, we had a selection of mezze to share: crisp little filo pastries filled with feta, cheddar and mint, a spicy aubergine and tomato dish called zaalouk, gravalax with roasted beetroot and a horseradish relish, some juicy lamb and beef kofta with quince and tomato sauce, and a couple of quails eggs sprinkled with cumin and rock salt. You can taste so many different spices and flavours in every mouthful – each dish was delicious.
From the choice of three mains, we chose the partridge escalope and the citrus spiced salmon with a hot spicy sauce called zhug and a yoghurt dipping sauce; there was also veggie option of butternut, carrot, spinach with beluga black beans and chermoula sauce and minted yoghurt. All the mains come with kosheri, a fragrantly spiced basmati rice and a crunchy Autumn slaw. Great combinations of colours, textures and flavours – and we loved the scattered jewel-like pomegranate seeds.
Tanya serves up the prettiest desserts, don’t you agree? Here’s the chocolate and cardamon pot and the Middle Eastern mess with pomegranate seeds and raspberries. The chocolate was sweet and delicious but not cloying; the meringue was the perfectly baked, crisp on the surface and a little chewy inside. Both came with generous dollops of cream flavoured with rose water and saffron and dotted with pistachios and rose petals. It was so fragrant, you could almost dab it behind your ears.
Levant isn’t licensed but you can bring your own alcohol if you like (there’s a £3.50 corkage). You can stay at the house too. There are four bedrooms and you can even rent out the entire house at certain times of the year (loads of reception rooms, bathrooms and as you can imagine, a huge fabulously well appointed kitchen).
Levant is on Station Road, one of the main roads into the town centre – look for the large handpainted ‘Levant’ sign.
You can park in the Constitutional Club car park close or if it’s after 6pm, on the road. The entrance to the house is through a gate in the wall on Station Road.
Good for: anyone who enjoys delicious food and is looking for something a bit different. It’s got an intimate feel, so especially good for couples, friends and small groups and those who like sharing their food (the mezze!); a special dinner or party (Levant does party menus too).
Not for: those wanting to peruse an extensive wine list: it’s BYO. Not for meat and two veg types or for those that don’t like spices. Ditto the spices plus the drop down to the brook so possibly not for young children or fussy eaters; not ideal for large groups unless you booked the entire room.
£££: Reasonable. Starters £4.50/£5; mains £12-15; and desserts £4-£5.
Levant is open for lunch on Fridays 12.30pm and for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays from 7.15pm. You can book it at other times for private parties (there’s room for 28 seated, plus more standing, and there’s the decked terrace outside, too).
Brookfield, Station Road, Castle Cary BA7 7BX. Tel 01963 350248/07779 093020. levantcatering.com