I celebrated my 14th wedding anniversary last week At the Chapel, for the fourth year running. Yesterday, my husband’s birthday, we were back again for dinner with friends. Sounds unimaginative? Believe me, we’re constantly trying to go somewhere else but at the last minute one of us always says: “Shall we just go to the Chapel?’ Bottom line is, I love it here.
It feels strange to review a restaurant I visit so often – for Saturday breakfast with family (scrambled eggs with field mushrooms and sourdough), for sciving coffees with girlfriends, work meetings (which automatically feel less like work), for ultimate wood-fired pizzas with the kids and for dinner more often than I probably should. On wintery Sundays we head for their roast beef like homing pigeons. It’s like the perfect neighbourhood restaurant - if, say, your neighbourhood were Greenwich Village or Notting Hill. But here in Bruton, well no wonder we can’t stop ourselves from coming back. I think it’s the setting that gives this converted 19th century chapel such a celebratory feel - it's vast and airy with white walls, a spectacular lighting installation from Bruce Munro and astonishing art (Pipilotti Rist, Martin Creed, Tracey Emin) thanks to owners Cath and Ahmed's close relationship with Hauser & Wirth gallery. At one end there's a good-looking cocktail bar, every bottle under the sun lined up temptingly, a Jesmonite crucifix on the wall above and then a room filled with every possible configuration of tables. It's huge, the Chapel, and yet somehow feels intimate - another box successfully ticked. Let's talk about the food which is simple and delicious, with dishes listed in the modern way as a series of local ingredients. So Castlemead partridge, bread sauce, honey roast parsnips, bacon. I like this, it's a good way of deciding whether you want to eat something although it rarely does justice to the beautifully presented food which emerges. My favourite starter, for example, listed as chicken liver pate, chutney, toasted sourdough and thankfully never seemingly off the menu, does not explain that the pate comes in your own dinky kilner jar with beautifully warm toasted sourdough and a little pot of chutney. The menu has changed since last week’s lamb and I can only remember that it was lentils, lamb, chard and salsa verde and yes, it was pretty sublime. But I regularly eat fish here as it's done so well - south coast hake, aioli, tenderstem broccoli is tugging on my heartstrings as I type. There’s a lot of other stuff going on At the Chapel – a bakery where artisan bread and pizzas are made in a floor to ceiling oven built by Ahmed, a wine store, a basement clubhouse that multi-tasks as pretty much whatever you want it to be: cinema, cocktail bar, DIY office. Cath and Ahmed originally bought the Chapel as their country home (Cath previously ran the Cafe Med chain) but once it became a restaurant they decided to ship in all the things it's difficult to source in the country - decent wine, coffee and bread basically. It's that whole London in the country thing which very few can pull off convincingly. We took our obsessive, restaurant-head, London friends for dinner here - so dedicated to the art of eating, they've been known to have a starter in one hip new eaterie and main course in another. It bowled them over, of course, and I'd wager they'll be joining all the other urban folk who beat a pathway down the A303 on Friday nights for a weekend of quiet Bruton-based indulgence. And this is the thing that sets At the Chapel apart - it's a restaurant where you could pretty much move in (great bedrooms, reasonably priced) and spend 24 hours eating your way through the menu from fresh croissants and knockout coffee at breakfast to the full blown steak, bearnaise sauce and perfect chips come night-time. No wonder we find it hard to eat anywhere else. Lucky people of Bruton, I'd say.