Every city dweller dreams of packing up and moving to the countryside, where fresh air and space are so abundant that they no longer seem like a luxury.
That’s exactly what chef and restaurateur Nicholas Balfe did – he went “home” to Somerset. Or should it be Holm?
The restaurant The name is a bit of a pun, as Balfe wanted the restaurant to feel like home. I sure wish my home looked as good as this, with its chic Scandinavian-inspired interiors, bare plaster walls adorned with simple art prints. As if you needed to ask, yes, it’s highly Instagramable.
There’s a crackling fire at the entrance and a totally open kitchen with nowhere to hide, which shows how confident the chefs are in their craft.
Holm is Balfe’s fourth creation with his team Matt Gurney and Matt Bushnell, who are behind three successful restaurants in south London, The van and at Larry’sboth in Peckham and Salon (until it closes this summer).
The restaurant is on the site of a former bank in the small village of South Petherton, about 40 minutes south west of the ever popular town of Bruton. Outside, it’s all honey-coloured sandstone, with columns and a gable above, a grand entrance fit for what’s to come. With the exception of the Natwest ATM sitting on the outside wall, you couldn’t guess its former life, although the old safe inside was instead appropriately used to store wine.
When I visited in mid-September, Balfe was preparing a barbecue for the locals in the restaurant’s community garden. For Balfe, maintaining a link with local life has always been important. He didn’t just want to choose a London restaurant and settle in a rural village.
Holm should not only attract locals, but also its bread-and-butter community. It’s a delicate balancing act, reflected in the menu prices: the two-course lunch is £25 or £30 for three, while the chef’s table is £59. Locals might still balk at that price, but for Londoners used to triple digits or more, it’s a bargain.
While we’re out, people stop and chat with Balfe about local food and activities. It is already firmly rooted in the community after opening its doors in November last year. This connection is also reflected in the ingredients – Balfe cuts out the middleman and buys directly from neighboring producers.
This means the menu is seasonally driven, led by what’s on offer at the time. A mainstay, however, seems to be the Westcombe Cheddar Fries – a signature dish for Holm, which is the starting point for our meal. These are small, fluffy squares of potatoes, drizzled with a very generous amount of cheese. Which ticks all the right boxes for me so far.
Next, the ricotta-stuffed Pitney Farm squash blossoms, which have been lightly beaten and are so deliciously sweet, thanks to a little East Lambrook honey.
The snacks are complemented by a smoked cod egg tomato tartlet. In short: divine. The filo casing is so thin and delicate that it’s hard to maintain any form of grace while eating it, unless you shove it all in at once. The star of this little show are the tangy tomatoes, which really sing.
The first largest plate is a meaty slice of baked Cornish brill, perfectly cooked and so creamy in texture and taste that it melts as soon as my fork gets near it. The chefs pour a bright green elderflower sauce over them at the table, and all accompanied by a few chanterelle mushrooms to add a peppery touch.
Otter Valley Farm pork comes in many forms. On the plate, it’s a few grilled belly cuts. They’re shiny and crunchy with layers of sweet fat, topped with wilted bitter beet greens, in a rich jus, topped off with dollops of eggplant yogurt.
To share on the table, cutlets, cooked rare (really only kissed with heat) and generously sprinkled with salt flakes. They are devoured in seconds. Another sharing is the small pork nuggets. Sturdy little oblongs, with a crisp golden brown exterior. Inside there is shredded meat, which is quite divine. We could eat at least two more.
We end with an apple, blackberry and fig leaf parfait. But it’s not just any apple parfait, it’s an apple parfait from South Petherton. It is wonderfully tart and juicy and completes a gourmet and superbly cooked feast.
Where Balfe has gone, others will follow. He is currently crowdfunding to renovate the upstairs bedrooms to make them more of a weekend destination, rather than just relying on passers-by who might take a detour en route to Cornwall or Devon. Then many more people will be able to call Holm home.
Nearby Bruton and Frome are now well cemented for their food offerings, but Holm can still co-exist as a starter. I’m sure this is just the beginning of things to come for the region, where London’s tight monopoly on the best British restaurants continues to dissipate in the rest of the country. After all, we all know the west is best, right?
Holm, 28 St James Street, South Petherton, Somerset TA13 5BW | [email protected] | 01460 712 470