Category Archives: British

At the Chapel. A weekend for one

I’ve travelled on my own a lot. Buenos Aires, New York, Rome, Lucknow have all been solo adventures; each trip planned in excruciating detail down to where I would have my 4pm coffee and post dinner stroll. Bruton was different. The street I live on in London is possibly longer than the distance between the start and end milestones of this quaint village in Somerset. And save for long walks, an occasional cheddar cheese farm and a country outpost of a city art gallery there is little else to “do”. 

I packed my tablet with several movies, carried as many books as clothes, and took along more newspapers for this long weekend than I usually read in a month. I’m a city girl. What was I doing spending my birthday on my own in the middle of nowhere? Mad. 

Cold and windswept, I walked into At the Chapel in Bruton. Welcomed by muddy gumboots leaning cosily against each other, wafts of freshly baked bread, and the warmest smile I’ve been gifted in the longest time, I knew I had just made one of the better decisions of my life. Charlie swept me into the beautiful atrium restaurant, where I would return like a homing pigeon for the next three days.

  

   

I don’t make New Year resolutions, I never begin diets on a Monday… so the only way I can describe what happened in Bruton is ‘revelations’: 

Where you come from matters 

I imagine Somerset is beautiful in every season, but especially scenic as spring takes hold of its rolling hills and bustling coastline. A short drive from Bruton is Tom Calver’s Westcombe farm, where 280 cows graze their days away in lush fields, less than a mile from the dairy (something about not wanting to disturb the milk’s molecules with too much travel). A small group of men make this award-winning cheese by hand, carefully slapping and turning the cheese until it’s ready for a long sleep in the cave. Tom could have turned the family dairy into a “business”. Instead, he chose tradition. His commitment to artisan techniques has resulted in the best Cheddar anyone will ever taste.

 

Where you are going matters too

Beginning with my first skinny, dry cappuccino, At the Chapel got everything right. And whatever they didn’t, they corrected with smiles so wide, and hearts so warm that I struggle to name any flaws in my stay. I was lucky to meet owners Catherine Butler and Ahmed Sidki who first bought this now fabulous restaurant, bakery, wine shop and hotel to convert into their home. Instead what they ended up doing was create a home for everyone who walks through their doors. A home with gorgeous bedrooms, outstanding pizza, and a team of inn keepers who look after you even before you realise you need looking after.  

 

Where you are matters most 

I have not stood still for a while. Always looking back and looking forward, I lost sight of the ground right beneath my feet. I weep for the loves I have lost, for the life that may never come my way. I weep a lot. The love and warmth at At the Chapel brushed away my tears long enough for me to realise that I am already surrounded by old friends and new strangers who love me today, now. Where I am, matters the most.

 -p 

 This is how I spent my weekend in Bruton:

  • Stayed At the Chapel in a lovely room (£150) with South-facing views of The Dovecote (and not once felt the need to hide behind my collection of books and movies). Each hotel guest wakes up to a warm croissant left outside the door first thing in the morning. Best I’ve ever tasted.

     

  • Walked through muddy fields to the fantastic Hauser & Wirth gallery. 
  • Roth Bar & Grill makes a decent Negroni with the longest orange peel I have seen. I don’t recommend the food.
  • Spent all other meal times at At the Chapel.
  • Visited Westcombe Dairy and came back with a truck load of Tom Calver’s Caerphilly, Cheddar and Ricotta. Sipped on the local brew – Fresh by Wild Beer Co.
  • Walked to The Dovecote.
  • Promised myself to return to Bruton. Soon.

 

 

 

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Breakfast, British, Cheese, Cocktails, Coffee, Hotel, Hotel restaurant, Pizza, Travelogue

Three tables for two

I have just finished reading Gouri Dange’s The Counsel of Strangers, a charming presentation of six stories that come pouring out at one big Indian wedding. Something one of the characters said in the book stayed with me all week. The near-suicidal Nurse Sajani at one point in her story said: “So then, tell me, as the fellow says in his book, When I die, who will cry? But I have a more urgent question. When I am living, who will laugh with me?

The dreariness from the week before has continued to creep into the rest of the month. I’ve been on crap dates, fallen ill, still haven’t found joy in the promotion, and saddest of all, found out that the Coffee Shop Guy is married. I needed a miracle to lift my mood… but thank you Universe for sending me three!

Rahul was in town on business and pulled out a few hours to buy me a Skinny-Dry-Extra-Foam-No-Sugar-Chocolate-on-Top-Cappuccino at my local Pret A Manger. I have known Rahul for as long as he’s been married to my best friend Lina and over the years he and I have developed a tremendous affection and respect for one another. I have heard and experienced too many incidents of “socially acceptable” inflections that quickly escalate into uncomfortable conversations and consequently, the death of friendships. But in the 15 plus years that I have known Rahul, I am relieved that not once has our friendship turned even mildly flirtatious, and not once has my friendship with Lina ever soured. Lina and Rahul, collectively and separately are havens of joy and love and I am grateful for them in my life. That day I laughed a lot with my favourite married man.

It is week one of the grouse season and there was no question that I had to book a restaurant that served grouse. Scott’s in Mayfair, before the refurb was the epitome of traditional elegance. The renovations brought a few naff additions like the art on the walls, a mile high island bar to display their oysters, and way too many diners in grey tee shirts. Fortunately the food is still top-notch and my handsome companion wasted no time devouring the menu. Madison and I settled for 18 oysters – yes, 18, the Roast Grouse for him and a Bannockburn Rib Steak for me. We paired our oysters with a rosé from Sancerre and the mains with reds from France and Argentina. Madison orders with his eyes and so of course we had dessert (that we couldn’t finish) – honeycomb ice cream with chocolate sauce and a scoop of the mint chocolate chip. Date two is with handsome Madison. I have only known him a few years but continue to be joyously surprised by how effortless our times together are. We glide from gossip about ex lovers to Ugly Betty, from developments in the Indian hotel industry to non-political books by daughters of politicians; I cannot remember the last time I had so much to say to a straight man. That day I laughed a lot with one half of my favourite gay couple.

I first met Aditya in 2004. I remember like it was yesterday, an autumn evening when I had a sudden attack of the butterflies. We flirted for years. I dithered, then he did, and at one point we just stopped; flirting and dithering. Today even though there is no hope for a romance, nor a desire for it, Aditya is still my favourite single man because he still gives me butterflies. That night we went to a restaurant he had never been to before. Goodman is a New York steakhouse in the heart of Mayfair and I am delighted to report that no steak lover will ever be disappointed here. Aditya visits London every few months and always, always makes time to meet me. He lets me know that I matter. That night I laughed a lot with my favourite single man.

My three miracles arrived like strapping life guards on a stormy beach. I’ve been reminded of the love that surrounds me… even if not from exactly next door, and all is right in the world again.

-p

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