Bruton (& At The Chapel)

BRUTON

The Bruton train station immediately plunges you into deepest darkest Somerset. With naïve and simply un-googled views of Bruton being ‘just past Bath’ on the train from Bristol Temple Meads, the hour and a half travel time was quite the shock – but at least we had the Sunday papers to keep us occupied. Although, with a table booked for 4:00, and breakfast fast becoming a distant memory, the abundance of food images in said papers was abhorrent. Hunger fully developed, we set off from the tranquil station into the ‘high street’, past the impressive church with it’s forever chiming bells through the Midsummer town. A town I highly suspect was entirely curated by the National Trust or English Heritage.

My first impression of Bruton was its quaintness and charm. With character rich stone houses, dating from way back when, it really is beautiful to look at. And as if to rub its perfection in our faces, it even has a babbling brook trickling through (River Brue). With gorgeous banks on either side, dotted with wild flowers and looming trees. It reminded me of similar dated towns such as Lewes in terms of the architecture, and eclectic mix of old dilapidated building next to tasteful (and expensive looking) conversions and restorations.

Bruton appears to have heaps of character, in the winding alleys snaking off from the main artery, reminiscent of old villages and towns such at Port Issac yet with the grandeur of Bath. However the second big impression was the vacancy of the place, almost death life silence smothers it save those infernal church bells. Walking along the main streets of one of the the smallest towns in England it is clear it is no ghost town, the odd range rover rolls on through. But many shops are closed, other than the obligatory pub, convenience store and the main restaurant. Walking through the back streets and across the river, we never passed a soul. So if you want to really see Bruton, I’d recommend going for one night. You can spend Saturday relishing in the craft shops and cheese peddlers, and getting a better taste for the retail, food and life it offers, while Sunday you can appreciate the serenity that comes with the holiest day of the week.

And oh! What a food haven it seems to be! Given it WAS a Sunday, many of what I can only hasten to assume are the local delicacies were shut. Matt’s Kitchen, a restaurant right in Matt’s home has a daily changing menu that reads fantastically. Truffles Brasserie looked equally if not more appealing, promising a refined and delicious dinner, while Bruton Wholefoods stores looked like the most authentic and interesting organic store come café that I’ve seen in a while. All of these places within basically 100 metres of each other really reinforced a lasting memory of Bruton as being not ‘foodie’ but tasteful. See ya later chains, there no room for you in this little Somerset idyll.

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I took no other photos other than the roast. Apologies!

AT THE CHAPEL

So as unfortunate as it was that we couldn’t spend more time in Bruton and explore these promising eateries, our table was booked ‘At The Chapel’, and it did not disappoint. As you walk up to the restaurant desk, you are immediately taken aback by the size of the place. Not in square meters, but the height of the ceilings leaves a beautiful and open building. The décor itself is refined and tasteful. It boasts a minimalist tone, with streaks of wilderness and modernism helped along by the gallons of natural light filling the room. It’s mainly white with accents of natural tones, exposed wood and glass leaving an impressive finish. And despite much of the modern art on the walls being rather ‘unimpressive’, the splashes of vibrant colour they give the room are welcome.

The meal itself was delicious. Really super delicious. The English Laverstoke Park Farm buffalo mozzarella was a highlight for me, mainly as a novelty more than anything else. In texture, it was unusual, and unlike it’s Italian counter-part. It was soft, but not gooey, yet still melts in the mouth. Not as good as Italian? Maybe not. But delicious in its own right. Hell yeah.

I’d have to say the best dish was probably the asparagus and poached egg though. In the main part because of the ingenious brassica pesto that accompanied it which lifted the simple asparagus dish to another level, complimenting all the flavors and giving you a different taste to your more run of the mill asparagus expectations. Executed beautifully, it is the best asparagus dish I’ve had in a while.

The roast was also a hit, and one of the best we’ve had in a restaurant for years. With perfectly cooked beef, buttery squash mash, cauliflower cheese, well-cooked and seasoned veg, there wasn’t really anywhere to go wrong. The Westcombe ricotta gnudi was also brilliant, perfect in texture and taste, highlighted by the sage, wild garlic and pea shoots, which adorned it.We drank Picpoul, which worked well with the intense flavours of basil & tomato starter and garlic splattered gnudi, but would have been too sweet with the fish. The house red worked well with the beef.

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We were too full for pudding, but did indulge in some take away treats from the in-house bakery. Their brownies were not as good as mine (ahem), but the lemon drizzle was pretty tasty.  At The Chapel has an in-house bakery and wine shop, which is immediately a win for any self-respecting hotel.

Any qualms? Potentially the unfinished nature of the dishes, in that I was recommended sides with everything that wasn’t the roast. Also the puddings didn’t SOUND delicious enough to order despite already being uncomfortably full, which is saying something. The service was temperamental, which tainted it slightly. And the biggest regret was not trying the pizzas. But i’m just picking holes.

In the immortal words of Arnie, we will be back.

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Eating food in France.

So last week I went to France. And after a week back at work i’m feeling rather morose. So I decided to write about it.

Our trip began in Toulouse. It struck me as a grand city, which takes its vibrant food culture seriously. They care and celebrate the amazing produce they use, and really it’s an attitude we in the UK could take some inspiration from. The markets sprawl through main roads, sheltered market halls and ‘très European’ squares. The produce itself ranges from local cheese and wine, charcuterie and meat vendors (lots of fois gras), fruit and veg and endless amounts of fish. In fact, plenty of ‘firsts’ were tried here, from mountain cheese, honey straight from the honeycomb and snails.

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You could spend days here planning out endless meals, nosing through stalls and people watching. The vibrancy and eccentricity is infectious. But there is a moral to the story. Not having our own kitchen here was frustrating. OK, I suppose moral is too grandiose. But it certainly is advise. And this frustration is exaggerated if you have any dietary requirements. The menus are meat orientated in the small bistros (often revolving around foie gras), and often selective. This is usually something I rate, and I do, but it’s no meat//fish//veg options. It’s a duck//foie gras//lamb type arrangement. So you might be just doing a bit more leg work. That’s all.

But onwards to Montpelier we went. Here the food tourism shifted from trawling through markets to inspecting the pocket-sized bars, tapas-eries (yeh that’s a word) and bistros that trickle through the vein-like back streets in the centre.The achingly cool places pepper each corner of the maze streets, which made making a decision that little bit harder. And the diet visibly changed to a more even balance between meat, fish and vegetarian. These were complimented by the large, clean, pedestrianised areas right in the centre.

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We settled with Comptoir Saint Paul for our first meal, situated in the old town, behind St Roche church. The simple and seasonal 3/3/3 menu was initially a good sign. (That, and the beautiful rustic courtyard setting and quiet panic preparation for the busy service ahead.) Busy is good. Not only was each course here pretty tasty, but it was also very… unique. The tuna tartar was one of the nicest things I ate the whole holiday, it really was amazing, well balanced and tuna that just melted in your mouth. The presentation is where the confusion lay. I wouldn’t even know where to start to find a square clear soup bowl with equally dated plates, but it was the balsamic glaze – underneath– the bowl of asparagus soup that really made it. And the idea of just using the same giant purees for each main, and excessive garnish was almost homely. All very charming and forgivable. The wine was also local and delicious. Montpelier is definitely one to visit, and if you’re in the area, try out this place.

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– The view from our table –

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So finally Sète. We loved having a kitchen in here, but given the array of restaurants selling fish along the harbourside combined with the temperamental nature of the markets, it wouldn’t matter either way. But try to stay somewhere with a view. The sea is gorgeous and clear, and waking up to this oh-so-dreamy view really made the stay. That and the patisserie…


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THE harbourside. Right next to our amazing apartment.

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Dodgy photo, but great place. Air b n b at it’s best.

So how did we make the most of the local/seasonal food?

  • Bread from next door, poached eggs and asparagus.
  • Whole boiled globe artichoke, vinaigrette
  • Tuna steak, roast potatoes & tomato salad
  • Loup de mer stuffed with lemon & spring vegetables in white wine/butter sauce.
  • Spaghetti vongole
  • Lots of cheese wine and bread
  • (+ one dinner out at the coolest little fish monger come restaurant, Chez Francois – complete with oyster shucker stall operating all evening) (Side note, cool little place, but the food was actually pretty average… #sorrynotsorry)

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Tuna buying

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Loup de mer

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Oyster shucking stand.

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So cheers to me having a great holiday with a glass of Louis Roederer I guess.