Its official! My quest for blog-material has won the approval of my husband. After trekking around Bury St Edmunds for quite some time in pursuit of various promising ‘google’ and ‘tripadviser’ leads on places to eat I thought I was in danger of losing his patience. However, unprompted, as we trudged round the streets of Bury with rumbling tummies he declared “I like it. It means we don’t get stuck eating in the same places we always do.” Indeed, what is life without a bit of variety and novelty? I have undoubtedly been given licence to carry on, I think!
True enough I am convinced we would never have been likely to stop at the intriguingly named ‘Gastrono-me’ unless doing a bit of research first. From the outside this unassuming café would be easy to walk past and not give a second glance to. The only clue that there may be more to this place than a rather bland exterior is the colourful chalk board bearing a George Bernard Shaw quote: “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” A sentiment that is echoed by the staff and experience on offer in this quirky café.
Those who venture in are greeted warmly and seated quickly. The venue is not large and space is at a premium which means that sometimes sharing a table is necessary – something which contributes to the community feel of the place.
The menu, while focussing on a few key ingredients, does not feel limiting and manages to be varied enough that there are two or three things which I was able to choose between – a perfect temptation to come back and try more! Questions about the dishes and their components were dealt with good-humouredly and with an obvious passion for the ingredients they use. Samples of which were enthusiastically brought to the table for us to try before we committed to ordering.
With adapted menu items ordered and drinks in our hands we sat back to take in the surroundings. Online reviews had cited it as anything from ‘dirty’ to ‘pristine,’ ‘crammed’ to ‘cosy’ with a whole host of other adjectives; ‘basic,’ relaxed,’ ‘lively,’ and with ‘oodles of personality’ among them. For my own part I would describe it as eclectic, busy and with plenty of character. Though the flimsy fold-out plastic chairs started to grate after a while and the array of ‘oddities’ screwed into the wall were not all to my taste I was certainly kept entertained while waiting for the food to arrive – company of my husband notwithstanding.
Though some dishes are somewhat bizarrely presented – hot dogs in 50’s style baskets prove difficult to eat – there is a general feeling of ceremony when dishes are carried through to the awaiting tables. Owing in part to the close quarters of the café and in part to the atmosphere created by staff; customers seem less reticent and more likely to converse with each other. So when a steaming dish of macaroni cheese, or an impossibly enormous ploughman’s are brought through conversation pivots to that: “Oh what have you ordered?” enquire hungry eyed guests still with menus in hand. “Is that how the sandwiches come?” question only mildly envious people tucking into their own lunch. And I am given the impression that we won’t be the only ones coming back to sample more of the menu…
The food itself is all admirably homemade down to the deliciously light brioche roll for their hot-dog dishes. It is uncomplicated and the seasoning does just enough to bring out the flavours of their simple, but quality ingredients. Portion sizes are a little on the large side and very filling so unfortunately there was little room for the temptingly displayed cakes and bakes also on offer. Though that’s not to say that you couldn’t – and shouldn’t – take some home for later!
Overall the joy in this café is that it doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. Yes it is basic inside and one must overcome some quirks and mild discomfort but the food and the staff’s passion make it worth overcoming. The name is still a contentious point for me and despite the explanation found on the wall inside it still boggles the mind. But the things that make Gastono-me stand out are the things that should be important in a small, independent café – individuality; a relaxed atmosphere; decent, well-priced food and most importantly; a passion for ensuring customers are allowed to enjoy their lunch in the way they choose to.
Thus I am glad to have stepped out of my routine for the purposes of this blog. I would urge others; the regulars of high street bakers, the frequenters of chain restaurants – go and see what gems can be found down side streets and behind unassuming, plain exteriors. You (probably) won’t be disappointed!