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In a nutshell
Farm-to-table cooking meets innovative refined dining in this new restaurant – a partnership with the town’s hip new hotel, Number One.
Merlin Labron-Johnson, who famously won a Michelin star at 24, only nine months after opening Portland Restaurant. Calling his new Somerset restaurant Osip, after his middle name, is a clever nod to who he is and what he stands for, without too much fanfare.
Chef Merlin Labron-Johnson in the Osip kitchen
What’s the vibe?
A reflection of Devon-born Labron-Johnson’s fuss-free approach, the intimate, bistro-style dining space has a natural, pared-back look with stripped and tiled walls, pale linen tablecloths, rustic ceramics, vintage mirrors and a green striped banquette along one wall. Expect grown-up family gatherings and date-night dining for all-ages.
What’s the food like?
At lunchtime there’s a choice of à la carte or a set menu, in the evening a five-course set menu only, both packed with ethically produced ingredients from the southwest. Nose-to-tail meat plays its part but seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs are championed (there are plans to develop a large allotment and to employ a farm chef).
While we wait for our starters – retro-sounding but devilishly modern eggs mimosa and pumpkin financiers filled with velvety pumpkin purée then topped with crisp sage leaves and shavings of cured egg (worth the table booking alone) – we are served little cups of bone broth laced with lapsang souchong, roast wild duck bones and verdant green leek oil “to warm you up”. Deliciously savoury, these spoke of more good things to come.
Which they did. First a plate of carrot, mooli, radish and beetroot pickled so deftly that the overriding flavours were of each individual vegetable, not what they had been steeped in. Then springy wedges of treacle and ale sourdough with rich potted pheasant and a dish of smoked butter sprinkled with shavings of something pleasantly brawny but tricky to identify (“grated duck heart”).
For the main course it’s “Bird”; morsels of buttery roast chicken served with puddles of smoked hay and apple sauce, bread sauce made with leftover sourdough, a pale but punchy gravy and silky, finely diced red cabbage with just the right amount of sharpness. The tourte de gibier, the restaurant’s current showpiece, is another must-try. Made for sharing, beneath its glossily glazed puff pastry dome is a layered mix of meat and vegetables that changes according to what’s in stock (on our visit, mallard, pork shoulder and Swiss chard).
Desserts range from a dainty hazelnut parfait éclair to an unctuous crème caramel drenched with raisins and Somerset cider brandy – wobbly as a drunken apple picker and impossible to stop eating.
Desserts include a dainty hazelnut parfait éclair
And the drinks?
Artisan ciders and small-batch beers from Yonder are the must-orders but kick off with a deliciously treacly hand-picked sloe negroni or a refreshing house-made redcurrant soda. If you’re a coffee drinker, make sure you try some. Sourced from New Ground Coffee, an Oxford-based social enterprise that trains and employs ex-offenders, it’s ground to order and served in a glass jug without milk (unless requested). The result is fruity, light and gentle – more like a tea than a coffee.
The restaurant’s knives are made by Roland Lannier, their handles crafted not just with recycled material but those that take longest to break down, such as old records. It’s a fitting metaphor; even broken records can have new purpose and, in Osip’s case, even ancient Somerset ingredients can be re-melded into something altogether more modern. As one sip of that wild sloe negroni will attest.
Words by Rhiannon Batten, January 2020. Images by Maureen Evans.