What makes a great tea room, coffee shop or somewhere to grab a spot of lunch when you’re out and about? A place with amazing homemade cakes and savouries? Fresh Cappuccino made by people who genuinely understand coffee quality? A beautiful building to while away the hours in? Somewhere bright and beautiful that’s dog friendly too? (woo hoo!)
Well, if you’re in Dunster and this sounds like your idea of heaven, pop by Chapel House Tea Room on West Street… because not only have owners Gareth and Jonny got that little lot nailed, there’s also a fab selection of local arts and crafts, a really warm welcome and lots more besides!
The guys first fell in love with the former Methodist Chapel, and decided to open a tea, coffee and craft shop there, back in August 2015. They both have impressive hospitality backgrounds (individually earning their stripes at a variety of London hotspots, as well as River Cottage and managing The White Hart in Somerton) but as Jonny tells us, Chapel House was their first business together so they wanted it to be absolutely perfect:
“When we were looking for a place to open, we fell in love with the chapel straight away. After seeing it for the first time, we went away feeling really smiley – and we just knew!”
And it's easy to see why. It's a stunning building with heart and history and as Jonny goes on to say:
“We just loved the history of the place... the fact that it’s always been at the heart of the community. Over the years, the Chapel’s been used for a number of different things and some of our neighbours who live in Dunster village still remember having their school meals here as children. We absolutely love hearing the stories of the Chapel”
And we love hearing the guys share them too! They tell us about the last wedding held here in 1967, before the Chapel was sold in 68… but we're not prepared for the rest of the tale that comes some 50 years later (and yes, it does make us go a little teary-eyed). As Gareth tells it:
“We had a photo of the last couple who got married at the Chapel and one day, we got a phone call. We couldn’t believe it when we answered and it was them! It was due to be their 50th Wedding Anniversary and they wanted to celebrate here, at the place they’d made their vows, so we opened in the evening and created a private party for them. It was such a special thing to be part of”.
We can imagine it was (hearts officially melted!).
Anyway, since the guys opened, they’ve always wanted to do some updating and create a bigger kitchen (it was very small before, which made it tricky during busy times), so for the past couple of months the beautiful big door to Chapel House has been firmly closed, whilst renovations have been going on behind it! It’s meant long days, lots of hard work and a few surprises along the way, but the freshly revamped Tea Room opened on Saturday - which was definitely cause for raising a glass!
We had a sneak peak behind the closed doors last week though, when Gareth and Jonny had a 'soft launch'... welcoming family and friends and testing out the new kitchen space ("I've even got room to dance around now" Jonny says, with a glint in his eye). Anyway, we love it!
We've got a bit of a crush on the character of the inside space... on the old stone Chapel windows, the lights that spread patterns across the walls and the feeling that when you take your seat, the building is definitely sharing its' many stories with you.
Since taking on the renovations, Jonny, Gareth and their families have uncovered some secrets too - a beautiful stone fireplace and original wooden panel that they've restored (Gareth's dad spent ages on these particular features, a little bird tells us) and they now take pride of place in the dog friendly seating area at the back of the Tea Room (you can see them behind Graeme and Petal here!)
This area is fab by the way... full of comfy, funky chairs and velvet sofas. It's raised up too, so you get a great view of the rest of the space - an ideal lookout spot and as you can see, our hounds made themselves right at home in it! :)
During the renovations another secret was revealed too... through the power of builder's dust!! As the fine grains fell to the floor when works were underway, they highlighted ancient fossils in the stonework where the altar area used to be. No-one really knows how they got here, but that was certainly an unexpected find!
The old storage cupboard was also opened up to create a cool little hideaway, with character details galore. The old Chapel commandments are up on the wall here too and we love this authentic touch.
The guys eclectic interior styling really brings the space to life - the mismatched tables and brightly coloured chairs, the maps on the table tops, the Mad Hatter's tea party ceiling lights, the way the local arts and crafts are boldly displayed...
... every element blends together to create a unique space with a quirky personality all its' own.
It's a pleasure to spend time here and we could happily lose a couple of hours sipping coffee, daydreaming, doodling and testing out most of the menu (for research purposes of course!!) ;).
Talking of food, we get to try the most amazing afternoon tea while we're here...
We’ve had a few afternoon teas in our time it has to be said, and from The Ritz to The Sanderson they were all mighty fine... but we absolutely love the Chapel House take on a Great British classic!
What's so special about it? Well, for us, there's nothing quite like a totally homemade afternoon tea - when you know everything's been created from scratch in the kitchen that very day (Jonny starts the baking at around 7am) and the recipes, ingredients and flavours are second to none. And, wait for it... our main topic of conversation, as we happily munch our way through the treats on our vintage stand, is "Homemade Somerset Cheddar and Parsley scones"... and I never thought I'd be writing that before visiting Chapel House! :)
Put it this way, if I never eat another scone again so be it, because these are the flipping business! Two types of toppings are included on ours - smoked salmon and cream cheese, and vintage cheddar and homemade pickle - both are seriously heavenly. Made from a recipe Johnny's mum gave him many moons ago, he's tinkered with it to perfection, adding natural yoghurt to the scones instead of buttermilk, making them extra light and tasty. Oh yes!!!
The sandwich selection of vintage cheddar and spicy tomato chutney, egg mayonnaise and cucumber, alongside crumpets, a taster of mackerel pate, tomato and mozzarella mini tartlets, traditional scones with jam and clotted cream and a cake selection to die for, was just the job for a Sunday afternoon. It would've been rude not to try the local sparkling wine from Secret Valley Vineyards in Goathurst too! Wow. It's beautiful. The perfect accompaniment to three platefuls of homemade treats... as is the Miles coffee that's locally roasted in Porlock.
The other thing to say is that not only do the guys source as much as possible locally, they also cater brilliantly for all dietary requirements. We don't eat meat so our afternoon tea reflects that, but there's plenty of choice for everyone who does - as well as the most gorgeous gluten and dairy free cakes!
The Somerset cheese and parsley scones (I know, we're back to obsessing over those! ;)) have become a bit of a local favourite here and you can try them on their own as a light lunch, along with a whole selection of other tasty bites on the menu ... but our recommendation would definitely be to get stuck in to the afternoon tea with a glass of fabulous fizz and to sit back and enjoy the experience of Chapel House.
As Jonny tells us "we really just feel like guardians of the building" and we completely know what he means. When you find a special place that has stories hidden in every brick, you simply want to take care of it in the very best way you can - and Gareth and Jonny have certainly done the building and its' history incredibly proud.
Our review in three words: Somerset cheese scones (only kidding!! ;))
Our real review in three words: Bright, beautiful, tasty!
P.S. The other bit of the Tea Room that's become locally famous is the loo! Well, not many have velvet drapes, a sparkling loo seat and an Oscar statue holding a toilet seat! And as you know... you can always judge a place by 'the facilities'! ;)
Chapel House is open from 9.30am to 4pm on Sunday and Monday, 9.30am to 5pm from Wednesday to Saturday and it's closed on Tuesdays. In the Craft Shop, look out for locally made arts and crafts by makers Kate Creates (handcrafted lampshades), Cats Creation (arm knitted snoods) and Kate Andrew (original slate paintings) and a fab range of gin, with Wicked Wolf taking pride of place.