Café La Strada
Emporio La Strada
Cheap Street, Frome, home to Café La Strada, is one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval shopping streets. Too narrow for cars, it’s easily missed by those driving through or around Frome and a real find, with intriguing gift shops, a lovely bakers, a traditional fruiterer and a tempting cheese deli.
I’d love to claim that we discovered Café La Strada for you, but it was actually Kevin McCloud who told us it was his “favourite café in the world, because the coffee is so good”.
With this recommendation in mind I hoped for Illy coffee and I was not let down. “I started with the coffee and insisted on the best, absolutely the best,” says owner Jude Kelly. “From the outset in 2002, I didn’t want to compromise, and that still holds true today”.
Besides coffee, Jude’s must-haves for her café were chocolate and ice cream. The story of Café La Strada’s Senso Ice Cream is perhaps the best example of her strive for perfectionism. Before the café opened Jude searched the country for ice cream, looking not only for quality, but also for style; think Italian gelati, rich, but chic and contemporary. She had almost given up hope of finding what she was looking for when John James contacted her; but he didn’t supply ice cream, he supplied artisan ice-cream making kit. And to coin a phrase, the rest is history! Jude bought the equipment, perfected her recipes and after giving away 2000 samples on opening day Frome was hooked. Weekenders down from London don’t despair; we have it on good authority that it will just about keep cold enough to take home in a cool-box. The difficulty will be choosing from favourites such as fresh strawberry and rich chocolate and more unusual combinations inspired by Jude’s chef’s training, such as rice pudding and nutmeg, lemon and rosemary and even gin and tonic!
Jude’s family have been associated with Cheap Street since 1975, when her mother, food writer and restaurateur Margaret Vaughan opened The Settle, in a building that had been empty for 5 years. Jude describes her affectionately as “a tiny, formidable woman, self taught and one of nine children, my inspiration and my mentor. We are the best of friends.” After completing a degree in catering and hospitality Jude was hungry to run her own business and opened Kelly’s Burger Bar in the 1980’s, picking up on the trend for American style diners, revolutionary in Somerset at the time and now remembered fondly on Facebook.
Jude later went on to buy The Bakehouse from her mother, before history repeated itself when, like The Settle, the pepper pot building, the oldest retail business in Frome, lay empty for seven years. Jude says, “I had a gem of an idea, I was nervous about it, but a little voice inside my heart wouldn’t let go and eventually I put a proposition to the owner. Later the little lock-up, now the ice cream area, became available, and finally the third section of the building, a florist. I knew they all used to be one, so could be again. I sold the bakery business to my baker, Robin Sanders and his wife Linda. They still own and run it today, with their son who was an apprentice at the time.”
Whilst Senso Ice Cream may be Italian in style, Jude is very keen to make use of the best local produce. Senso Ice Cream is made with milk and cream from Geoff and Kim Bowles’ local Jersey herd at Ivy House. Freelance chef Richard Page makes many of the pastries, between working for The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath and At The Chapel in Bruton, others come from Puddings & Pies in Sherborne.
La Strada’s customer base is diverse, Jude and her staff go out of their way to make sure everyone is welcome from mums with buggies, to business people with laptops and clients, writers and artists. “I am hugely appreciative of people’s loyalty” she says “my customers are wonderful and my staff are superb, I am never blasé about it. I teach everyone who works here that we are about hospitality with a capital H.”
Expanding on the community feel of the café, Jude has set up a website called Frome Friends with her long-time friend SJ who runs her design agency Whitespace, from the office above Café La Strada. “It’s a central hub where people can meet new friends, join groups, see what’s going on and catch up on what’s happening in and around Frome.”
Whilst in Frome you musn’t miss Jude’s sister business, Emporio La Strada, affectionately known as La Strada Larder. It needs a full feature of it’s own to do it justice, but as a taster think kitchenalia by Terence Conran, Vileroy and Boch and Stefano Giovannoni, fabulous foodie treats and luxury hampers with goodies from Ouse Valley, Pickled Village, Tea Pigs and real Italian panettone, including the piece de resistance, il Panbriacone, the ‘drunken cake’ with a liqueur soaked centre. I truly meant to save it for Christmas, hope they’ve got another!
Thanks to S-J at Whitespace for the lovely photos