Review: Bruton, Somerset

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At the tail end of 2014 I spent 3 months in Manhattan engulfed by a nostalgia for the British countryside. In the line (sorry, queue) for coffee every morning I dreamt of lush green fields, rolling hills and old stone cottages. I imagined what it would be like to swap the grid-like streets and crammed subway carriages for winding roads and a 4×4. I didn’t want to see another bagel; I wanted Gloucestershire Old Spot and unpasteurised dairy.

I’ve always been enchanted by Somerset. So near to London yet so culturally different, its soil is known for producing some of the country’s finest produce, most notably cheddar cheese and cider. It is also host to one of the biggest music festivals in the world in Glastonbury, and has been home to a bohemian community of writers, artists and musicians for centuries.

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It was the 22nd of December when my companion and I finally wound our way down little country lanes to Bruton, Somerset. We parked on the narrow, one-way high street just after sunset and pushed open the wooden doors to the chapel, greeted by the scent of freshly baked bread. Ahead of us people tucked into chicken liver pate, soup and pizza. There was no smell of incense or sign of prayer within the 16th century walls – the chapel was deconsecrated in the Sixties, reportedly housing a recording studio and hippie commune after its demise. When in 2000 Catherine Butler and partner Ahmed Sidki left London to convert it into their home, they ended up creating At the Chapel; restaurant, bakery, winestore, clubroom and eight bedrooms.

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Its passionate owners bestow a rare kind of charm on the place that’s as slick as it is full of character. In less than a minute we were whisked away from the bustling community of happy diners to our own bedroom upstairs. Our gaze was immediately drawn to the magnificent stained-glass 17th century lancet window, only until we discovered the delights of the spacious bathroom with its freestanding bath, walk-in shower, marble tiles and REN toiletries.

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It was just a few steps down to dinner. The menu was everything I had hoped for on those wistful days in Manhattan. Ham hock terrine with piccalilli. Homewood ewes cheese. Chargrilled Westend Farm porterhouse pork chop. Goulds Farm rump steak with Blue Vinney sauce. I’ll stop there, but I could have ordered everything on the menu. We were served the finest produce, prepared in such a way as to celebrate its freshness and natural flavour, and sourced locally. I sunk into bed that night with a big smile and happy belly.

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The next morning we awoke to the smell of fresh croissants wafting through the floorboards from the oven down below. There were two hanging on our door, the soft layers of pastry melting in my mouth as my companion made coffee from the privacy of our bedroom. Cramped subway carriages and manic cab drivers were a world away from this country bliss.

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Inspired by the modern artwork decorating the building, we drove to their source; the newly opened Hauser & Wirth Somerset. A world-class gallery just outside Bruton on Durslade Farm, it has been restored using traditional materials and now hosts exhibitions from international artists both in its grounds and within its walls. In March 2015 the gallery will host an exhibition of work by Chinese artist Zhang Enli entitled ‘Four Seasons’. It is slated to run from 7 March – 21 June 2015. The landscaping scheme for the entire site has been designed by internationally-renowned landscape designer Piet Oudolf, who also worked on New York’s High Line. Guess I hadn’t travelled as far as I thought.

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Creatively stimulated and realising it was time for lunch, we headed towards the gallery’s on-site restaurant. The nature of the place meant that we didn’t really leave the artwork behind at all, but rather become all the more immersed in it. Designed by Luis Laplace, the Roth Bar & Grill has as its centerpiece a site-specific bar created by Björn and Oddur Roth, son and grandson of the late Dieter Roth. The artistic pair collected salvaged materials from the surrounding area and fused them together with other objects. Some are doused with paint, others are purposefully made to appear abandoned and decayed. We ate next to a drawing of lobster claws by Henry Moore while the late Jason Rhoades’ neon chandeliers hung above us. It was a feast for the eyes, a buffet of some of the finest contemporary artists in the world.

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The restaurant is run by At the Chapel, so we knew to expect locally-sourced food of a high quality. Durslade has the added advantage of being a working farm that serves native breeds including pigs, Lleyn sheep, Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cattle and Welsh Blacks. Tucking into our meal surrounded by families enjoying lunch together, we were reminded of the things that hold a community together: good food and creativity. This particular community has it in abundance.

At the Chapel
High Street, Bruton
Somerset BA10 0AE
www.atthechapel.co.uk

Hauser & Wirth Somerset
Durslade Farm
Dropping Lane, Bruton
Somerset BA10 0NL
www.hauserwirthsomerset.com

 

Zosia Swidlicka



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