Best food and drink in Somerset
Somerset is rich in agricultural tradition, bearing a bounty of outstanding local produce. Foodies take note - Somerset not only introduced the world to Cheddar, the cheese from Cheddar Gorge, but it is arguably also the place to discover the world’s best traditionally-made cider. Visitors from London should therefore expect to find many fine eating and drinking establishments, alongside unique opportunities to sample the wares of small-scale, artisan producers and visit farms for tasting sessions.
The trick to seeking out Somerset’s greatest food and drink hotspots is to not let the rural feel of an area put you off, with some of the county’s greatest finds tucked away between villages or in unassuming market towns.
Starting with Somerset’s larger and more popular towns, Glastonbury is a hit with vegetarians and vegans, while also being a great place to try world food. In particular, Queen of Cups serves Middle Eastern mezze plates - such as labneh with grilled peaches and dukkah - alongside cocktails, such as an intriguing tonka bean espresso martini. Rainbow’s End, meanwhile, is a cafe with a garden terrace that specializes in wholesome and appetising vegetarian dishes. Taunton has a much-loved vegan eatery, The Mango Tree, which serves exotic plates of “no beef” rendang and nasi goreng. The historic town is also just down the road from one of Somerset’s most well-known cider producers. Sheppy’s House of Cider welcomes visitors, providing tastings and tours from its contemporary visitors centre and museum that explores 200 years of cultivating orchards in search of this golden elixir. There is a bar and a cafe too for brunch or a gastropub-style lunch.
Further east, Frome is worth a visit for its hip, laidback nightlife as much as its independent restaurants that are doing interesting things with fresh produce. Rye Bakery is a favourite with both locals and visitors, set in a former church beneath a beautiful organ. Collect bread, tuck into brunch or select from a range of sandwiches or wood-fired pizzas at lunch. It’s a great spot for families too, with an indoor play area that keeps little ones entertained while parents chat over single-origin coffee. There is more pizza, great wine and beautiful, full-height windows facing winding Catherine Hill at Eight Stony Street, or, just opposite, High Pavement offers tapas with a Moorish influence and seating in a pretty back garden. Finally, Bistro Lotte is a snug, neighbourhood eatery with a convivial atmosphere and quality French cooking at wallet-friendly prices.
The market town of Ilminster, meanwhile, has only recently become an evening destination thanks to the arrival of the stylishly eclectic restaurant Today’s Menu and chic The Somerset Bar. The latter is housed within the new studios of the Temperley fashion brand and features bar stools in a dusky pink velvet, art deco mirrors and a floral chandelier. The signature cocktails, such as the Temperley Spritz or Orchard Mist, are apple-based, many of them created with Somerset Cider Brandy, which is made on the Temperley family's farm not too far from here. After a pre-dinner cocktail, cross over to Today’s Menu for varied, imaginative Mediterranean cooking.
Somerset’s farm shops are often well worth a visit, with some real gems to discover. South Petherton is a good base for visiting the Farm and Field Cafe at Frogmary Green Farm. It has a lovely setting beside an arboretum and a wild flower meadow and serves burritos, pizza, coffee and cake. The young team here are also planning a monthly banquet with cocktails and live music, so keep an eye out for that.
Drive past Ilchester and you might need to look twice to confirm that, yes, those are water buffalo in the fields. West Country Water Buffalo has a herd of around 250 beasts that graze here and a farm shop selling produce from its Buffalicious mozzarella cheese range, ice cream and buffalo steaks, which are low in fat.
There is local scrumpy to swig just outside of Othery, at the Bere Cider Company, where only traditional cider-making methods are used and cider is sold from a rustic shed. For drivers, there is a coffee shop too.
Brothers Cider has its own bar each year at Glastonbury Festival and the family behind the business opened their first pub in Shepton Mallet in 1842. The artisanal, sparkling Pilton cider, is also made in and around Shepton Mallet, by the old English method of keeving. Neither's orchards can be visited but keep an eye out for both cider brands in shops and bars.
Finally, a ten-minute drive outside Wincanton takes you to one of England’s finest country house hotels, The Newt. The luxury hotel also makes cider (except they call it cyder) - try its Fine Rose Cyder. The hotel also has two restaurants that come highly recommended. The Garden Cafe looks onto the kitchen gardens and orchards of the working estate and serves masterly, vegetable-led lunch dishes, such as spelt risotto with Westcombe cheddar, spinach, courgette and basil. For hotel guests, The Botanical Rooms is the place for dinner, with its own drying room for cuts of meat and a seasonal menu. This is dining for an upmarket crowd but really, Somerset has something for every budget. You just need to know where to look.
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