I’ll let you into a little secret. I’ve been looking for a new favourite restaurant. The kind like Ynyshir all those years ago when it was £55 and nobody had heard of it or knew how to pronounce the name. The kind that will feed my ego as people confirm my impeccable taste of its brilliance and lead to national food critics asking for help in getting a table as it climb the lists. It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with Ynyshir – on the contrary, I rightfully concur with it being the best restaurant in the UK – I just believe that after ten or so visits I’ve completed it for the time being. Let others experience the magic whilst I scour the country for the next one. I’ll go back when they get the third star.
Osip seemed an obvious choice to take its spot. It’s remotely tucked away in the impossibly chocolate box town of Bruton, Somerset. It has an owner who has pedigree for great restaurants in Merlin Labron-Johnson, and the cooking looks unique and grounded in its environment. We check in to the beautiful No.1 Bruton, walk down the road to The Prickly Pear for piss-poor tacos and margaritas, contemplate the stepping stones, shower, change and head to dinner in a beautifully appointed dining room. I get a negroni – a very good negroni – and go through the wine list that’s entirely natural and fairly aggressively marked-up. One bottle of seventy-quid rosè later and we’re good to go.
I don’t love the start. Grilled cucumber and smoked eel is a wet and greasy combination I never want again, whilst beetroot taco and mole is earthy enough to not require the dank grated Bambi heart. The pick of the nibbles is a fried potato with salted egg yolk that is fatty and comforting. The bread is outstanding; a treacle and ale sourdough with kefir butter that balances out the richness. It comes with a herb broth which smells and tastes like bouillon powder.
I do love the next course. Fine beans with almonds, hazlenuts, and slivers of white peach. Just really simple cooking that shines because of the quality of the produce. And I quite liked the dense ricotta gnudi with courgette that leans heavily on the acetic nature of the whey sauce, and the scallop which followed with the roe satay sauce and hottish purée of Thai basil. If I’m honest, the scallop suffers mostly because I’m comparing it to the scallop I had a few days prior at Tom Shepherd, and whilst comparisons are not ideal, they are also unavoidable when it is as memorable as the dish in Lichfield.
And then the wheels come off a little. I love the blackened aubergine purée, and the green peppercorns that rip through a wonderfully tacky sauce, but there are fundamental flaws with the lamb main. The saddle is tough, as are the intercostal muscles which are usually found between the rib cage. A cut of belly is all unrendered fat, impossible to cut, even harder to chew. I get celebrating the animal as an entirety, but surely part of that celebration is being able to eat it. The desserts veer from the breakfast like combination of apricot, honey, and toasted grains, to the unlikeable mound of soft things which is chocolate mousse, fig leaf ice cream and blackcurrant. We get the bill with a pistachio Paris-Brest that is nice enough and the not-so-subtle request to drink the half bottle of wine as they are spinning the table.
It was a birthday treat so I don’t pay the £400 bill, nor the wine after, nor the pricey but wonderful room at No1 Bruton, though I’m told by the bill payer that I don’t need to sugarcoat this purely because she paid. In writing this today I’ve just noticed that Osip are leaving No.1 to head to a new location on the outskirts of Bruton. I hope they do well, but I expect they’re safe from a revisit from me. The moments of brilliance are there, such as the bread and the salad, but the rest felt too safe and too subdued for me. The hunt for the new favourite continues.
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