Blitzing a cheeky weekend away with the other half, what could be better than breezing around a little seaside town? Clacton may be old-fashioned in terms of its rattling array of arcades and stripped back variety of amusements and rides along the pier; however it still has that classic British charm of longevity and persistence. Plus, nothing beats a hot sugary doughnut with your feet dangling off the side of the prom.
When my husband and I arrived in Clacton after driving for a few hours up the A12, we were decidedly hungry and decided to find a nice spot for lunch. We soon stumbled upon a café called The Pantry, situated in a convenient location between the seafront and the shops, as well as being a stone’s throw from our Premier Inn lodgings.
As we entered, I loved how kitsch it was. The plain white walls were bedecked with tokens of a bygone era, the centrepiece undoubtedly an old bicycle complete with wicker basket on the handlebars mounted on the wall and surrounded by mini chalkboards with friendly messages to the diners. The opposite wall was classic red brick with pale wood paneling on the bottom half. The tables were a shiny dark wood-effect plastic, paired with cream upholstered dining chairs. Although it may sound a hodgepodge of themes and colours, uniquely it worked in that very traditional family-run feel. The décor merely accentuated the fact that this was a small, local business that was most likely family owned and run, and despite not being the classiest joint, when in Clacton, it seems very fitting.
I ordered a cheese and ham ploughmans for my lunch, which I thought came under the baguette category, but turns out it was an entire meal just by itself! When it arrived at the table, I was blown away by how large it was, although my grumbling tummy certainly appreciated the grandeur! I’m afraid my picture doesn’t do the meal justice, as food was layered upon food and it was almost a plate of hidden British foodie treasures. The ham was gloriously thick cut and a really lovely lean cut with none of that annoying gristle or fat running through the middle. It had a great flavour too, and I loved ripping up bits to eat with bites of my pickled onions or rocket. I also received three large slices of the ham, so very generous portion size wise. The cheese was a wonderful brick of cheddar. It was almost the size of a lump you would put on a family cheeseboard, and I was delighted that it was all for me! Paired with the onion toned chutney that was served in a clear dip dish on my plate, it was really delicious, particularly when I then placed both in some of my baguette. The cheddar was nice and mature too so plenty of flavour there to respond to the ham.
Alongside the main elements of cheese and ham, I also had a whole baguette, and a side salad which included rocket, raw onion and tomatoes. I had a couple of quarters of apple, a few large silverskin picked onions for that poignant flavour hit, and as I mentioned earlier, the dish of chutney. Paired with a cuppa served in a typical silver café teapot for one, it was wonderfully British, good quality food, absolutely loading my plate in a mountain of deliciousness. It’s a hands on meal and the best bet is just to get stuck in and enjoy it, which I did. I polished off my plate to a high degree of cleanliness, earning a raised eyebrow from our waitress.
But I didn’t stop there. Using the excuse that I was running a half marathon the next morning, I created a double raised brow when I ordered a cream tea for my dessert. The homemade fruit scone was a lovely size again, and peppered with juicy dried sultanas and raisins; so much better than a plain scone if you ask me. I swiftly dismissed the portions of butter – who uses butter in a cream tea anyway?!? – and went straight in to slather both halves of my cut scone with the pre-packaged portion of strawberry jam I was given. Interestingly, instead of the traditional clotted cream, I was given a clear dip dish of squirty whipped cream instead, you know the stuff you fluff out from a tin. Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. I get that this is probably a cheaper option that has a longer shelf life than clotted cream, but to be honest with you, it does look cheap to serve a cream tea with this type of cream. I spread it over my jam regardless.
The scone itself was lovely. A touch warm still, beautiful buttery flavour and the right amount of fruit for my liking. It held together well yet had a nice level of crumble as you bit into each thick half. The jam was just standard pre-bought stuff you’ll see in any breakfast buffet so it was just doing the job of being the fruit layer. The whipped cream was actually ok. Being so much lighter than clotted cream, it wasn’t as heavy to eat as a whole which was actually a good thing after my ploughmans mountain. It added a whole lightness to the cream tea that was rather refreshing.
All in all, I enjoyed my foray into The Pantry for some classic café fodder. It was pay by cash only which is so old school, and you also had to pay at the counter at the back of café at the end of your meal, although a waitress came to take our order and brought our food out. Soon after we arrived, locals started flooding in for their weekend brunches, so it’s always great to stumble upon a favourite of the locals as then you know the food should be pretty pucker. It was a lovely, incredibly filling lunch, with a menu of café classics served large. A proper bit of British grub.