The changes to number 28 Market Place in Somerton are pretty subtle from the outside. The familiar sight of the white leaded windows and painted door with brass lion-head knocker doesn’t give much away as to what’s been happening on the other side of these centuries-old stone walls.
A total overhaul of the interior is what – a textbook restoration of a 17th-century Grade II* listed building. You know the kind of kit out: to highlight its historic character while also making it impossibly cool and contemporary, but with an understated edge.
It now contains a restaurant with adjoining bakery and wine shop – the latter two gracing the former with their bread and booze.
That front door spits you out happily at the bar, in a cosy dining area with crackling log burner. Walk past said bar, though, and you’re into dining room number two, with a glass roof and geometric tiled floor, where bountiful dried foliage is draped along the width of the walls, weaving through the lamps.
In the centre of the room is suspended a hanging garden, the rich green leaves dangling alongside wicker-shaded pendant lights. Walls are a patchwork of exposed brick and plaster, painted in a very precise shade of off-white.
Such impressive scenes are to be expected from owners Vanessa and Ben Crofton. This is not their first rodeo. The pair have hospitality experience a-plenty across hugely prominent restaurants: Ben (a Wiltshire native) served as director of Soho Farmhouse and Babington House and met LA-born Vanessa when they were both part of the team that launched Gordon Ramsay at The London West Hollywood.
This pedigree extends to the kitchen team too: head chef Dan Fletcher previously led the kitchen at Fenchurch at the Sky Garden and counts the esteemed likes of The Square in Mayfair and Tommy Banks’ Black Swan among his former workplaces. (You might recognise his name from the telly, too; the Yorkshire-born chef repped the North East in 2018’s series of Great British Menu.)
Chefs sometimes move in packs, relocating to new restaurants with current or former colleagues, and this has been the case at 28 Market Place, with several members of the kitchen team upping sticks and moving to Somerset from the capital.
Not everyone here is a seasoned city slicker, though: the front of house guys are mostly young, bright locals – they circle in stone-coloured aprons, serving artfully presented dishes to fellow Somerton residents with familiarity.
To begin, shallot’s sweetness and tang are right at home among 36-month aged parmesan in a delicate tart (£9), the filling loose and silky and the pastry crust fine. There’s also agnolotti, the little pasta parcels – which are cooked briefly, for a confident bite – packed with brown butter-roasted Jerusalem artichoke (£8). The backbone of this dish is its beef and bone marrow broth, which gets poured over at the table. Rich and dark, it’s punchy with savouriness and not a little addictive.
Wiltshire red chicken (£22) has been acquainted with the oven for not a hair longer than necessary, the curved strip of flesh plump and almost bulging, jacketed on the outer side with honey-coloured skin. It hugs a wedge of soft Delica pumpkin, which is heaped with a mound of its seeds and flecks of gold chanterelle mushroom.
Slices of dry-aged saddle of lamb (£26) sit in a dark jus and sport a thick layer of tender fat, the flesh as pink as a holidaymaker’s shoulders after an afternoon in the Spanish sun. Its orzo accompaniment comes in a separate bowl, the thoughtful carb alternative slicked in a velvety sauce and finished with a chunk of slow-cooked, flaking lamb shoulder. That’s topped with curls of crisp Jerusalem artichoke, for a welcome bit of crunch.
Sure, ice cream is a bit of a kid’s dessert, but seeing as this place has its very own version made in the bakery, and it comes in fresh-tasting, grown-up flavours like Ivy House Dairy milk and spiced orange and ginger, the choice is entirely validated, as far as I’m concerned (£6).
It goes without saying that the dairy isn’t the only ingredient coming from local farms and suppliers here; the West Country’s bounty could no doubt turn any newly inducted London chef into a kid in a sweet shop.
This three-in-one newcomer has very clearly been bestowed with a lot of investment (love, time, effort, cold hard cash), and I’d happily invest another of my evenings in it, too.
28 Market Place, Somerton TA11 7LZ; 28marketplace.co.uk