Read our expert travel guide to the best restaurants, bars and cafes in Bruton, a small town in Somerset in the South West of England. This little town is only 45 minutes drive from Bath, and you can expect freshly baked loaves and cakes, local beers and ciders, and pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven.
Roth Bar and 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.
In 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 musical 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.
Roth Bar and Grill
The Hauser & Wirth empire extends to its own farm, Durslade, and many of the restaurant’s ingredients come directly from it, or from other carefully vetted suppliers in the surrounding area.
Herbs come from a kitchen garden tucked behind the restaurant, beef (usually Hereford and Aberdeen Angus but they’re currently experimenting with Wagyu) and pork from the estate, milk from neighbouring Bruton Dairy and gin from newbie Somerset distillery, Newton House. In addition a vineyard has just been established on the estate; its first fruits, a bacchus, will be released in 2018.
Roth Bar and Grill, kitchen garden
The kitchen team, therefore, know their suppliers so intimately that when they thought their Durslade-reared pork was too fatty they worked with the farm manager to alter the pigs’ lifestyle and diet to produce a leaner animal.
You can see the results in the glass-fronted salt room at the bar’s entrance, a work of culinary art stacked with 500 Himalayan salt bricks (backlit to provide a dappled rosy glow) and home to whatever happens to be hanging that day (in a typical week the restaurant gets through half a cow, a whole pig and two sheep).
Roth Bar and Grill, Salt room
The result is food that not only tastes and looks good (as it should at London, rather than Somerset, prices) but is made by a team who genuinely revel in culinary creativity. Take the smoky merguez sausages I eat there. Served with a harissa-spiked white bean mash, they were originally devised as a way to use up lamb trim but are now so popular there would be an outcry if they came off the menu.
Roth Bar and Grill, smoky merguez sausages and beetroot and gin-cured salmon
Beetroot and gin-cured salmon (served with guacamole, prettily scattered with borage flowers, on just-singed homemade flatbreads) are the result of another successful kitchen experiment. A platter of charcuterie – including copa, bresaola and proscuitto with local wild garlic – have all been cured in-house. Non-carnivores can get in on the sausage act, too, with little slices of pistachio and amaretto-peppered chocolate salami served with coffee.
“We see hospitality as treating guests like you would at home,” explains Jules. “We want to offer them something nice to eat and drink, and make sure they’re happy and comfortable.”
Unsurprisingly many of those happy restaurant visitors leave wanting a slice of the Roth Bar & Grill knowhow – and they can get it thanks to the restaurant’s increasingly busy programme of events, from cooking courses to guest chef dinners, barbecue feasts and seasonal dinners, talks and feasts.
Roth Bar and Grill
Hot on the heels of Steve’s one-day Uncut butchery courses, the restaurant is launching Unhooked fishing courses this autumn; 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.
Other new courses include the self-explanatory Cured, Bake, Kitchen Garden, A Day in the Kitchen plus a series of farm lunches, which entail a farm tour followed by lunch with farm manager Paul Dovey.
The majority of the more practical courses take place on Mondays when the kitchen is closed and can become a teaching kitchen. Most include lunch and accept no more than eight people so that they can be really tailor-made to suit all participants’ skill levels and interests.
Less hands-on events include the farm’s annual participation in Open Farm Sunday, each June, evening Open Source Salon events where guest speakers are invited in to share their knowledge and family friendly seasonal gatherings such as pumpkin festivals and Christmas fairs.
Watch this space, too, for Roth on the Road, a series of dining experiences on beaches, up hills and in forests that is currently in the pipeline, and for the imminent opening of The Bull Inn, a country pub just outside Bruton that will be run by the Roth Bar & Grill team.
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.
At the Chapel
In this case much of that food comes from the giant wood-fired oven in the front of the building, 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) between serving a simple but carefully sourced menu of pizzas to restaurant diners (think anchovies, olives and capers or Taleggio, field mushrooms and thyme).
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, 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.
Service in the restaurant could have been more welcoming, and quicker on our visit (it took an age, at a quiet time, for coffee to arrive, though the coffee was, luckily, worth the wait) and that stylish décor is getting to the point where a refurb might be due but, for now, consistently good food outweighs those niggles.
At The Chapel
Bean Shot Coffee
Wander into many a café in Somerset and you’ll find it’s Bean Shot coffee 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 or a flat white 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.
Bean shot coffee
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 tiny concept store whose carefully curated range of products includes some beautiful kitchen products, from jade rolling pins to Gwalia enamelware, Cult vinegars and sleek wooden trays.
Shopping done, take a moment to enjoy a coffee (from another Somerset supplier, Round Hill Roastery) and an eye-popping slice of Bakemonger cake in the shop’s tiny coffee bar. There’s also a guest bedroom on site (just as slick as you would imagine) and an events space is in the pipeline.
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 (Kenyan chicken and coconut curry, perhaps, cod masala with fennel bhajis or slow cooked lamb with guacamole, flat breads and tomato salsa) and decide whether you fancy booking in or not.
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 and much more). Then there’s Gilcombe Farm Shop just outside town.
Bill the butcher, meat counter
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 – winner of Best Cheddar at this year’s British Cheese Awards) but also a Caerphilly and a Somerset Ricotta) using traditional techniques. Harnessing the unique character of the milk in the end product creates “food that’s better for us, and tastes better too” says Tom.
Despite their appreciation of 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.
Westcombe dairy cheese
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).
Westcombe dairy shop
While you’re in the area…
Neighbouring Castle Cary also has plenty of foodie attractions worth a visit, including homely vegetarian café, Home, and the Somerset Wine Company, which not only sells artisan wines and More Wine on tap but also works with the Deli with which it shares space to run pop-up food and wine events, tastings and suppers.
Words | Rhiannon Batten
Photographs | Rhiannon Batten