Read our expert travel guide to the best restaurants, bars and cafés in Bruton, a small town in Somerset in the South West of England. This little town is only 45 minutes from Bath by car, and you can expect freshly baked loaves and cakes, local beers and ciders, and pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven, as well as the newly revamped Number One Hotel Bruton.
Chef Merlin Labron-Johnson’s new field-to-fork restaurant, Osip, is an intimate, bistro-style dining space that sits inside Number One hotel. It has a natural look, with pale linen tablecloths, vintage mirrors, gauze curtains to keep the street-side buzz of Bruton at bay, and a long ribbon of green along one wall, in the shape of a striped banquette.
Merlin’s ingredients are largely grown and produced in the southwest, and many of them are organic or biodynamic. The fruit base for our deliciously treacly hand-picked sloe negroni was made in-house, and a plate of carrot, mouli, radish and beetroot was pickled so deftly that the overriding flavours were of each individual vegetable, not what they had been steeped in. Order “Bird” for morsels of buttery roast meat (chicken, on our visit) served with puddles of smoked hay and apple sauce, bread sauce made with leftover treacle and ale sourdough, and sharp red cabbage to slice through all that richness.
Number One Hotel
Number One is a revamped Georgian townhouse that offers eight bedrooms (eventually it will be 12) and a sense of playfulness behind the polish. On the ground floor is an honesty bar and a lounge lined with photographs taken by the likes of Terence Donovan and Perry Ogden, while legendary garden designer, Penelope Hobhouse, is behind the hotel’s tiny courtyard garden.
In the Georgian townhouse itself, designers Frank & Faber have decorated the bedrooms with a tasteful riot of pattern on pattern, plus period fireplaces and gilt mirrors. For a more modern feel, a trio of cottages behind the main house (overlooking the courtyard garden) have simple white bathrooms, quarry-tiled floors and neutral colour schemes, reflecting their former status as workshops. Four extra bedrooms, industrial in style, will soon open at the end of the garden in what was previously a forge.
Breakfast, taken in Osip (see entry above), is totally unique in terms of its offerings. Try vanilla-spiked rice pudding topped with homemade granola and a spoonful of toffee-ish milk jam; still-warm boiled egg cradled in a little nest of hay; pheasant terrine and chutney on freshly baked sourdough; or a sliver of jammy pear and quince tart.
Roth Bar & Grill
Much more than just a restaurant attached to a gallery (in this case Hauser & Wirth Somerset), the Roth Bar & Grill is a destination in its own right. It’s a space that works just as well for a languid Sunday brunch with the family as it does for a romantic dinner date, or a boozy night out with friends (on Fridays the bar serves local beers, ciders and bespoke cocktails made with home-infused spirits against a backdrop of guest DJs and musicians). Chef Steve Horrell and wife Jules (he’s in charge of the kitchen, she’s general manager) serve a seasonal, produce-led menu that’s fervently flavour-driven. Try smoky merguez sausages served with harissa-spiked mash, beetroot and gin-cured salmon (served with guacamole, prettily scattered with borage flowers, on just-singed homemade flatbreads) and platters of house-cured charcuterie – including copa, bresaola and proscuitto with local wild garlic.
Hot on the heels of Steve’s one-day Uncut butchery courses, the restaurant has also launched Unhooked fishing courses. Led by Horrell and Ben Carter, head of the wilder side of Roth’s supply chain, participants will learn how to line-catch, kill and prepare mackerel, bass, bream and plaice, and cook it on a Dorset beach.
At The Chapel
This light, elegant space proves not only that chapels can be stylishly and successfully converted in the right hands, but also that great food is to be found in the most unlikely of locations.
In this case, much of that food comes from the giant wood-fired oven at the front of the building. There’s also a bakery space that sells fresh loaves and cakes (among them, commendably, a no-profit loaf designed to make good quality, nutritious bread available to all), and a simple but carefully sourced menu of pizzas – try the Taleggio, field mushrooms and thyme topping.
If you’re not a pizza fan, there’s plenty else to tempt, from cos, feta, fennel and almond salads to chargrilled local chicken with lemon, thyme and aioli. This is relaxed, modern food for a relaxed modern crowd (families are very welcome), many of whom book into one of the bedrooms above the restaurant and make a weekend of it. There’s also a wine store on site, with an interesting selection of single-estate wines, and a programme of films, talks and events to tap into.
Bean Shot Coffee
Wander into many a café in Somerset and you’ll find it’s Bean Shot coffee that they’re serving. The company may have been founded by an Australian, Nick Law, but it’s now firmly rooted in Bruton, where the roastery also has a small café on site (plus a coffee bar in Sherborne). Whether you want to buy some just-roasted beans or sit down with an espresso beneath a ceiling draped with coffee sacks, visitors are welcome. If you’re a cheese-lover, you might want to stop off at the Godminster cheese shop, a couple of doors down, while you’re there. It’s known for its waxed organic cheddar, but also makes an organic brie.
For a small village in deepest Somerset, Bruton punches above its weight in both food and shopping terms. You can combine both of those interests at Caro, a stylish lifestyle store/studio/b&b on Bruton’s High Street that’s central to the town’s booming creative scene. Once you’ve browsed Caro’s covetable goodies (including Scandi interiors by Ferm Living), walk further down the street to reach a secluded one-room garden house b&b. Guests are given vouchers for a cooked breakfast at At the Chapel during their stay (try the Somerset baked ham with green eggs and sourdough toast), and it’s worth popping into Fifty High St. on the same street for a browse of its functional (but still chic, somehow) homewares and kitchenwares.
Run by self-taught chef Matt Watson in what was formerly the front room of his house, this intimate restaurant (it seats only 26) serves a single main course dish on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, plus a choice of starters and desserts. Check the website for the current week’s menus – expect everything from Kenyan chicken and coconut curry to cod masala with fennel bhajis. One note of caution: it’s sometimes closed altogether for private functions.
As you might expect, Bruton’s general stores are anything but run of the mill. At Central Church Bridge Stores, just by the river at the tail end of Patwell Street, you can buy everything from Bart’s ras-el-hanout to local preserves, ciders, wines supplied by Wine Wizard in Castle Cary and bottles of Newton House gin. Up on the High Street, meanwhile, Bill the Butcher has joined forces with Spar and now runs a meat and cheese counter in one half of the shop and a grocery in the other (including boxes of More Wine’s refillable wines). Then there’s Gilcombe Farm Shop just outside town.
The meat counter at Bill the Butcher
Two of Bruton’s local food champions, Tom and Richard Calver at Westcombe Dairy, produce award-winning cheeses from their own herd of Holstein-Friesian cows (most famously a seriously tangy, nutty Cheddar, but also a Caerphilly and a Somerset Ricotta) using traditional techniques. Despite their appreciation for age-old techniques, the Calvers are anything but Luddites. In recent years they’ve built a cheese cave, pioneered the use of tiny microchips for cheeses, and commissioned the UK’s first cheese-turning machine, affectionately dubbed Tina The Turner.
With cheese- and beer-making a perfect pairing, it’s perhaps little surprise that the Wild Beer Company is also based at Westcombe Dairy. Their range of creative, seasonal beers also owes much to the surrounding countryside, with the house wild yeast captured in a neighbouring cider orchard and foraged ingredients often making it into their brews. Along with the Calver’s cheeses, many of the beers are available in Westcombe’s on-site shop (if you haven’t tried them before, we recommend the Bibble for an all-round crowd-pleasing brew).
While you’re in the area…
Visit The Newt, a new hotel and garden attraction between Bruton and the town of Castle Cary. Koos Bekker and his wife Karen have planted orchards, restored the gardens and turned the Palladian mansion into a hotel, and there’s even a shiny state-of-the-art cider-making facility, complete with daily apple-pressing shows.
The Garden Café here is a contemporary vision of glass and wood that overlooks the kitchen garden. Its seasonal menu has been designed as a gardener’s notebook, and head chef Alan Stewart makes sure that the garden’s fruit and vegetables are the headline acts. Even the bread and butter is on-message – the sourdough starter is made from apple pulp from the cider press, and the buffalo milk butter is flavoured with preserved orange and thyme from the garden.
Words by Rhiannon Batten and Lucy Gillmore
Photographs by Maureen Evans and Rhiannon Batten