You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. Or ’til it changes into a fresh new outfit and presents itself to you looking all sexy and new again. My point: if the South West ever loses its dazzle, don’t relocate right away – rather, eat at Osip. That’ll buff the shine back into this glorious patch of the country for you.
Merlin Labron Johnson deploys the local bounty here with all the enthusiasm of a food obsessive newly surrounded by farmland. It’s a novelty for the Devon native, who’s come from London, where he launched three restaurants and earned a Michelin star in the process. In 2019, though, it was time to double back towards home, and Osip is the result.
Lucky Bruton. Not only did it bag this plenty talented chef (whose potential is probably yet to be actualised, given he’s not even had his 30th birthday) and his first restaurant outside of London, but it also has a drop-dead new hotel, Number One Bruton, which contains it.
This historic town (it got a shout out in the Domesday Book, even) is everyone’s new favourite getaway location right about now, then, with Roth Bar and Grill, At the Chapel and The Newt also among its to-tick-off culinary hangouts.
Boutique hotel Number One Bruton has been in the making for four years, the restoration of a cluster of buildings (townhouse, medieval forge and cottages) having been a huge undertaking for owners Claudia Waddams and husband Aled Rees. So old are some parts of the site that charms were found in the walls to ward off witches (fear not, they were replaced) and there are wooden beams still holding strong from the 1400s.
This framework is layered upon with an eclectic mix of restored features, hand-picked antiques, intriguing furnishings collected by Claudia’s well-travelled parents, and contemporary flourishes, pulled together by celebrated interior designers, Frank and Faber. The result is elegance with a colourful, playful streak. There are eight (soon to be 12) rooms here, starting at £130 a night, bed and breakfast.
Osip’s white, rustic aesthetic – all ceramic tiles, clothed tables and dried foliage – sits in contrast to the colourful boutique interiors of its parent building. Albeit with the same sense of history: previously an ironmonger’s shop, the space is quaint, with multi-pane bay windows flanking a wooden door at the front, and parts of the original stone walls (including a large, bricked-up inglenook fireplace) laid bare.
You quite quickly get the sense that this is a farm-to-table restaurant in more than just marketing strategy, although there’s no room to preach it on the menu, which is kept minimal. So minimal, in fact, that at dinner it doesn’t even contain choices. The same, daily changing six-course meal (£54 when we visit) is served to every diner – give or take dislikes, intolerances or allergies, of course.
Those half-dozen dishes are bookended by snacks, too. At the opening, that might well mean the sweet-salty bliss of macarons filled with velvety goat’s cheese; candied walnuts hidden in the folds of meltingly soft lardo ribbons; or a ceramic cup of duck ‘tea’. Made with the bones of the meat destined to star in the main course, the broth is infused with lapsang souchong leaves and spiked with burnt garlic oil, cleverly harnessing that bitter, acrid aroma of overcooked garlic to a comforting, aromatic end.
Whipped smoked cod roe comes with tiny, tangy onions and chervil, begging to be slathered on the hunks of thick-crusted sourdough that appear alongside, and its well-pitched smokiness is picked up by the following oca root dish, the pink Peruvian tuber shaved into raw, crisp discs and arranged on smoked crème fraîche and slices of raw trout.
A leek and Cheddar soup is pimped up with sweet caramelised onion, while rich shiitake mushrooms buddy up with toasted oats and rich-green nettle sauce.
To follow, Aylesbury duck comes in the form of a deep-pink, gamey-flavoured hunk of meat, as well as in a slice of sausage with cubes of salty lardo.
The raw-honey tart tastes entirely and solely of its hero ingredient, the velvety filling encased in a fine but sturdy crust, then (with a pot of Osip’s house blend tea) come Madeleines baked in beeswax.
The portions are well-judged and the veg-to-meat ratio refreshing, the focus leaning happily towards plants rather than protein, to an understated, well-balanced end. (If you’re staying over at Number One Bruton, you’ll get to go back for more of the same thoughtful food for breakfast, too. The rice pudding is killer, FYI.)
This restaurant and hotel might be housed in centuries-old walls, but in concept and practice are bang up to date.
1 Bruton High Street, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0AB; 01749 813322 (restaurant), 01749 813030 (hotel)