It’s an ace restaurant with a very nice gallery attached: we visit the bar and grill that feeds the art crowd at Hauser & Wirth’s outpost in the Somerset countryside.
The market town of Bruton in Somerset might seem an unlikely spot for renowned gallerists Hauser & Wirth to establish a new exhibition space. But since the Somerset gallery’s opening in July, there have been over 20,000 visitors – and where there are visitors, you need to provide food. The gallery’s Roth Bar & Grill is an integral part of the enterprise and an art installation in its own right. We talked with restaurateur Catherine Butler, the talent behind both the Roth Bar & Grill and Bruton’s At The Chapel, about what makes this such a special place.
Bruton isn’t quite on the beaten track. Why do people come here?
Bruton had its heyday in the 12th century when there was an abbey here, but that all faded after the Reformation. In the 1960s, a lot of creatives in London began to come here, and it’s a migration that’s never stopped. I was living in Notting Hill running Cafe Med, and came here with my partner to see a friend who had a field up the road. They told us that the old Congregational Chapel on the main road was up for sale and we ended up buying it. On the way back to London we asked ourselves, “What have we done?” But there is a magic here. People come here and they don’t want to leave. After a lot of work we opened At The Chapel as a restaurant in 2008, and added bedrooms in 2011.
What made you decide to open a restaurant here?
You couldn’t get a good cup of coffee or a good loaf of bread, or even a decent Bloody Mary. But there was an appetite for it in the area. There’s an amazing number of incredible producers around here, and it felt as if everything was here waiting. I wanted to make a place where the whole community was welcome. We started with the restaurant, then the bakery, and then found ourselves selling bottles of wine from our wine cellar because there was nowhere else to get a decent bottle, so we started a wine store.
How did you get involved in the Hauser & Wirth gallery?
Iwan and Manuela Wirth came here from London and it was the same thing – they loved it here, bought a place, and put their children into the local schools. We met them when they’d come to At The Chapel; they did some art curation for us, we did the catering for Iwan’s 40th birthday party. After the party they invited us to do some catering for them in London and, the day after the event, the gallery director told us it was the first time that most of the phone calls afterwards had been about the food, rather than the art!
All of us love food and love the countryside. The Wirths are very creative and have a great work ethic, and they saw that in us. They invited us to take on the restaurant and we couldn’t say no.
Where did the idea to name it after the artist Dieter Roth come from?
Björn and Oddur Roth (Dieter Roth’s son and grandson respectively) are good friends of Hauser & Wirth, and they came to do the gallery’s first residency in Bruton, before the space was even open. They collected lots of abandoned agricultural material from local farms and welded it together to make a fully functioning bar, which is the centrepiece of the restaurant, as a tribute to Dieter Roth. There are pieces of the old railway line from Bruton as a foot rest, screens, a keyboard, and three of the stools have seats you can remove to reveal a drum. Whenever we have live music, people grab the bar stools and jam along! It took about six months to build and it’s entirely made from found objects. Their aim was for it to be a functional working bar, rather than an art installation.
Obviously the restaurant exists primarily to look after gallery visitors, but what are the food principles you’ve brought from At The Chapel to the Roth Bar & Grill?
What we grow ourselves we grow organically, and we source as much as we can organically, too, and as locally as possible. The gallery is in the old farmhouse of Durslade Farm, which is a working organic cattle and sheep farm, and supplies us with all our beef and lamb. We’re very lucky to have such fantastic food producers on our doorstep. All our salad leaves and tomatoes come from Charles Dowding, who’s an organic and biodynamic gardener close by. We get dry-plucked chickens from Woolley Park Farm, and cheeses from local dairies such as Westcombe Cheddar. It’s not just the food – we trained to London standards socially able local young people to work for us, so we can keep investing in the community here.
Read this feature as it originally appeared on Flavour