If we had to nominate a firm favourite bakery-café then it would have to be The Town Mill Bakery in Lyme Regis. It is everything you could possibly want in a democratic, egalitarian and communal eating space.
Do not come here if what you are after are starched linens, individual tables, stiff Menu sheets or armies of waiters at your beck and call. There are none.
But what this bakery has done is created an exciting, enchanting, open plan space where everyone can sit together on long, wooden tables and help themselves to butter, jam, juice and milk.
Grab a soup bowl, sourdough toasts with vegetables, baked beans, cheese, ham, tomato or whatever the seasonal offering is and enjoy.
You can flick through the local paper, read a book, look at what the bakers and cooks are preparing in the kitchen section or ask for a coffee or tea to go with one of the cakes or biscuits.
After a bracing walk round one of Britain’s most beautiful seaside towns you may certainly need one of everything.
It must have been quite a leap of faith for Clive Cobb to open the bakery in 2005, because, back then, the renaissance for good, artisanal, organic bread had yet to take off in Britain. Bravery, hard work and persistence has paid off because he has expanded to Sherborne, Dorchester and Plymouth.
Your heart beats faster on entering this sort of place, but at the same time you feel at home, cosy and relaxed. Manager Geoff Andrews knows why:
“Lots of people tell us how comfortable and happy they feel when they eat here. There is no formality at all, and customers can chat to us as we work.”
In the background there is sometimes music, sometimes just chatter. White mugs dangle from hooks in the ceiling beams. There are no plates, only wooden boards. There is only one loo, used by staff and customers alike.
There are jars of homemade jams, pickles and preserves to buy, as well as many different types of wholemeal, sourdough, white, seeded and flavoured breads to buy. You can also buy the Twon Mill Bakery pottery, made in a workshop just round the corner.
On the walls hang giant whisks, cake rings and brown paper posters handwritten with menu ideas. There is also an explanation of “How it works”: a mixture of self-service and waitress service, along with a pinch of getting on with.
Don’t be shy, it may seem like alien territory because most tea rooms and cafes do not operate like this, but no one will judge you if you make a mistake. The food is too delicious for anyone to raise their head.
There are Shipton Mill Flour sacks on the floor, breadcrumbs on the seats and the smell of vanilla, tea and sugar in the air. If this is not heaven, then what is?