Owned by John and Jules Natlacen, this lovely little delicatessen and village store is tucked away down a small side street in the dainty little village of Barbon just north of Kirkby Lonsdale. Harking back to days gone by, this quaint little shop and café is reminiscent of times before huge supermarkets appeared in every town. Back then we were satisfied with popping to the shop and choosing from the limited selection of groceries on offer. As long as the staple foods of milk, bread and cheese were available, families would never starve… and cheese is precisely what John and Jules now offer in abundance from their little store. A foodie fan, John procures the finest cheeses both nationally and abroad and people come from far and wide to get their cheese fix here at The Churchmouse at Barbon.
Not content with their deli/café/local shop status, the Natlacens have branched out, expanding their business further by offering a Friday night bistro evening. Jules invited me to try out their menu last week and give it the Welly once-over. Offering rustic, wholesome food from a menu that changes every week to reflect new seasonal dishes, I was looking forward to something a little different… after all it’s not often that your village store transforms into an evening restaurant once a week.
It was lashing down last Friday when hubby and I turned up. Dark and wet outside, the warm glow of candlelight welcomed us in from the rain. Most of the tables were already taken with couples and one larger group of friends tucking in to what smelt divine. Cute and bijou this little store had suddenly transformed into a lovely restaurant redolent of a tiny Parisian bistro.
The lights were turned down low with cosy tealights dotted around on tables and shelves with a pretty string of fairy lights running the length of the top wall. We squeezed into a table for two next to a bookcase filled to capacity with classic larder fare. Tins of baked beans and soup jostled for space next to teabags and sugar; a comforting, homely arrangement of traditional British groceries.
In contrast to the very English array of provisions around us, the menu was positively exotic. With a tasty choice of mouth-watering Mediterranean dishes from Sicilian lemon chicken to Moroccan tagine we were hungry and looking forward to getting stuck in. All home-cooked and made from fresh, John and Jules obviously make a real effort with their Friday Bistro nights.
For starters I choose the pork pinchitos on skewers marinated in garlic and paprika. The portion is generous and the chunks of pork are really succulent and tasty. Hubby goes for garlic button mushrooms in a tarragon and cream sauce with a to die-for parmesan crust. We swap dishes half way through as they’re both so delicious.
Next up, Sicilian lemon chicken taglietelle for Mr Welly and duck breast stuffed with pork meat and black cherries for me. Again, both dishes are generous – big chunks of moist chicken served with massive green olives, and oh so tasty – the flavours are fantastic.
My duck is cooked to perfection and the rich jus infused with thyme and port together with cherries is a sheer taste-sensation.
Served with a glass of aptly-named Spanish Rioja from Barón de Barbón we both polish off our plates.
Feeling fairly stuffed and not wanting to miss out on the mandatory after-dinner cheese, we both share a slice of caramelised orange cheesecake to test the dessert menu (well it would be rude not to). Sweet and light it is absolutely delicious.
And finally the pièce de la résistance. John serves his cheese on a wooden paddle, immaculately presented with redcurrants, grapes and celery. We tuck into a local piece called Fellstone from Whin Yeats Dairy just round the corner in Hutton Roof, then move on next to the fabulous Basset Blue Stilton from Nottinghamshire and finally smelly Pont L’Évêque from France.
We’re now both utterly sated. The food has been delicious, we’re both really impressed. For a tiny village shop, John and Jules have come up trumps. They’ve really thought about their menu and created luscious dishes which are exciting and inventive. Once again, it’s fabulous to experience the quality and effort our fellow Cumbrians put into their businesses. Long may it carry on. Churchmouse cheeses is most definitely on the foodie map – we will be back!
Good for: Casual evening diners seeking hearty, tasty food in a cosy, relaxed environment.
Not for: Fussy eaters or those with little appetite. The portions are generous so go hungry!
£££: Gastro-pub prices but bistro-style quality. A true hidden gem.
The Churchmouse at Barbon, New Road, Barbon, Cumbria, LA6 2LL