Tom heads west for fine autumn ingredients served swellegantly straight from the farm.
Unlike its amphibian namesake, The Newt is not small, and it’s certainly not shy. An epic seven years in the making, this rather magnificent Somerset hotel, from South African businessman Koos Bekker and his wife, Karen Roos, has lavishly landscaped gardens, a working farm, spa, shops and even its own ‘cyder’ press, which produces a very fine drink indeed. What could be garishly over-the-top turns out to be warm, charming, and blessedly unpretentious.
Like dinner in the Botanical Rooms, its main restaurant, where everything is softened and soothed in a Georgian flicker of candlelight. We sit in the wood-panelled dining room, all discreet marble curves, soft leather seats, and framed pressed flowers. For those wanting a little more theatre, there’s always next door, under the glass roof, among rosemary-filled planters, with full view of the open pass.
But there’s space here, enough to socially distance, enough to chatter without fear of being overheard. Comfort, too. Most of the produce comes from the farm, which makes this autumnal evening a particularly bounteous time to visit. Charred corn on the cob, slathered in umami-heavy yeast butter, has the true sweetness of the just-picked. Padrón peppers also benefit from the few minutes between plant and plate, giving an extra vitality to these occasionally pungent pods.
A crisp, bracing beetroot tartare, with roasted hazelnuts and a slick of cured egg yolk, is far greater than the mere sum of its parts. Shards of apple add more crunch, and a subtle acidity, too. Chard is paired with gently lactic mozzarella and anchovies, the fish providing a deeply savoury depth charge that pulls the dish together. Trout, subtly smoked, is mixed with a nudge of horseradish and salted gooseberries, and topped with a garland of sliced radish. Food here looks as good as it tastes.
There’s a bracing freshness to each dish, an absolute precision of flavour, with innate understanding of texture and acidity. What could be dull, over-worthy, mainly vegetable-based cooking both satisfies and thrills. A main course of salt-aged sirloin is a fine piece of meat, but the potatoes, a sort of bastard and brilliant offspring of baked and roasted, are inspired. Head chef Ben Champkin is a talent to watch.
The Newt, £55 for 3 courses, Bruton, Somerset BA7; thenewtinsomerset.com
Drinks: Olly’s spooky sparklers
Cracking open the fizz this Halloween? Here’s how to ensure your buck delivers bang. For value, go for Cava, especially own-labels – at £9, Morrisons The Best Vintage Cava Brut 2017 hits the spot or try my The Wine Society pick. Crémant, made in the same way as Champagne, is a canny buy, while for Prosecco, try Morrisons The Best Prosecco, a snip at £7. But for me, British bubbly is my go-to treat – no tricks.
THE SOCIETY’S CAVA RESERVA BRUT NV (12%), £8.95, The Wine Society. Sumptuous Cava with impressive richness and depth: serve with cheese straws.
SPECIALLY SELECTED MILLESIMATO PROSECCO DOCG (11%), £8.99, Aldi. All the freshness of pears and tangerines romping in a sunny Jacuzzi.
CLASSICS CREMANT BRUT (12%), £10, Marks & Spencer. Top fizz to rival big-name bubbly – without the price tag. Buy as much as you can find.
LARMANDIER-BERNIER LONGITUDE 1ERE CRU NV (12.5%), £41.95, leaandsandeman.co.uk. Up there with the best on the planet: pristine, complex, worth the cash.
Wine of the week NYETIMBER CLASSIC CUVEE (12%), £28.95, henningswine.co.uk. This English fizz rivals grand cru Champagne with gorgeous complexity.