Food Review: Earsham Street Café, Bungay: ‘A dream for vegetarians’ 

Warm chickpea, spinach, butternut and honey tagine with a vegetable cake at Earsham Street Cafe

Warm chickpea, spinach, butternut and honey tagine with a vegetable cake - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

There was a queue snaking outside the door as we approached Earsham Street Café in Bungay. The building illuminated against the frosted night, emanating a warm, welcoming glow. 

We’d arrived for the café's first themed tasting menu of the year. And it was busy. Like my friend Rach and I, clearly the folk waiting hungrily and patiently in their winter coats were ready to get ‘out out’. 

It feels, doesn’t it (fingers crossed) like we’re clawing our way back to some kind of normality? There’s definitely a real keenness to fill the diary again. To have fun with friends over good food and wine. 

And that’s exactly what Earsham Street Café owner Gemma and her smiling team are all about. This lovely, pastel-shaded, scrubbed wooden table spot is a favourite in the town for its cakes, for its friendly service, for its hearty breakfasts, for dishes that take café food up a notch.  

The monthly tasting menus are a chance for the kitchen to really flex their culinary muscles, and show off not fancy, twee cooking, but plates of food that’ll create a party in your mouth. Flavour is king. 

And what a way to start the year? In Morocco. The land of souks and spice. 

It was just shy of £30 per person for a set menu of six tasting courses. In this case largely vegetarian (many of the staff don’t eat meat) so ideal for Rach. 

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While we waited for the first course to appear, we enjoyed a chilled glass of the café's house white. A fruity, off-dry Viognier blend. The wine list isn’t extensive, but it’s decent enough stuff (the house prosecco, with notes of honeysuckle is delicious) and there are some nice soft drink options, including Norfolk-made posh pop. 

Waiting staff glided around the room like clockwork to ensure every table ate at near enough the same time. The cacophony of chatter replaced at intervals by the clatter of knives and forks on stoneware. 

Zaalouk - an aubergine, tomato and garlic dip with grilled halloumi and flatbread at Earsham Street Cafe

Zaalouk - an aubergine, tomato and garlic dip with grilled halloumi and flatbread - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

First up was zaalouk. An olive oil enriched mezze dip of silky smoked aubergine, with mellow, slow-cooked tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Served with flatbread and griddled halloumi. We both agreed we could have eaten a vat of it. 

The second course of spiced cauliflower looked as though it might need a sauce when it was popped on the table. It didn’t. This was exactly the kind of meal you (well I) want boxed up in the fridge for lunch. Roasted, lightly spiced pieces of cauliflower. A bulghur wheat salad heady with lemon, crushed coriander seeds and pistachio. Pops of sharp sweetness from pickled red peppers.  

Spiced cauliflower, bulghur wheat salad and pickled peppers at Earsham Street Cafe

Spiced cauliflower, bulghur wheat salad and pickled peppers - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

It was obvious a lot of thought had been put into the flavouring of the dish. And also obvious there are veggies in the kitchen, who want to do the raw ingredients proud. 

Pastilla is usually a sweetened mix of duck, pigeon, maybe lamb or veg in pastry. The café's version arrived as a samosa. The buttery, flaky filo encasing an almost creamy butternut filling, aromatic with ginger and cinnamon, and with a building heat. I don’t do yoghurty things and they replaced the labneh for me with a raw slaw. Delicious. Very moreish...and Moorish. 

Spiced butternut and ginger pastilla at Earsham Street Cafe

Spiced butternut and ginger pastilla - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

The only appearance of meat was in the fourth course, where a single, tender, plump chicken thigh had been rendered until soft, and served with a steaming bowl of spicy, sweet, honey-infused chickpeas, in a thick sauce with butternut and spinach. It was utterly gorgeous – and another recipe I’d like to steal from this place.  

Rach had the veggie version – the chicken swapped out for a round of crisp-edged vegetable cake – and just as good. 

Harissa chicken with chickpea, spinach and butternut tagine at Earsham Street Cafe

Harissa chicken with chickpea, spinach and butternut tagine - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Semolina and buttermilk cake with yoghurt and cardamom orange syrup at Earsham Street Cafe

Semolina and buttermilk cake with yoghurt and cardamom orange syrup - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

I have to admit, the dessert wasn’t the kind of thing I’d go for, but I could certainly appreciate the flavours...and Rach wolfed it down. It was a glass, layered with buttermilk and almond semolina cake, orange blossom scented yoghurt and cardamom and orange syrup. 

The final flourish of a sesame and white chocolate cookie was more up my street, and indicative of the kind of sweet treat you might usually find on the menu at the café. 

Rich dark hot chocolate at Earsham Street Cafe

Rich dark hot chocolate at Earsham Street Cafe - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

We finished with tea, and a really rather good (as in, one of the best in the area) hot chocolate. All thick and rich, with rivulets of molten chocolate flakes sliding down the inside of the glass mug. Just the tonic for a cold winter’s night. 

The next themed events are Syrian (February 17 and 18) and Turkish (March 17 and 18). They really do sell out quickly, so act sharp if you fancy giving them a try. It’s worth the drive! 

Earshamstreetcafe.co.uk