After looking at countless premises, former Café Med owner Catherine Butler has opened her new restaurant and wine shop in her own home, a former chapel. Fiona Sims reports
The inhabitants of Bruton, in Somerset, must be rubbing their hands with glee at the opening of At The Chapel. The new café, restaurant, bar, bakery and wine shop opened in the middle of the village at the beginning of August in a converted 17th-century Methodist chapel.
Owners Catherine Butler and Ahmed Sidki have turned over their former home to gastronomic pursuits - and it's paying off. The place has been packed from the start. "I would rather be full at £10 a head than have two people at £50 a head," Butler says.
She's not new to the business, having co-founded the London-based Café Med restaurant chain in the mid-1990s, ultimately with 10 outlets. She sold the business in 2000 to retire to the country.
But she just couldn't keep away, first working with a former Café Med investor to consult for his pub company, then looking for her own place, with her partner, furniture and art dealer Sidki.
"I looked at lots of pubs first, but I felt nothing," she says. "Then I realised that the space we had bought as our home, the Chapel, was the perfect place to open a restaurant venture."
Working with architects MacKenzie Wheeler, she and Sidki set about transforming the four-storey, 10,000sq ft space. The café-restaurant has 60 seats, and there are a further 20 in the bar, and when the Gallery opening later this month it will have another 30 seats - all open from 9am until midnight. Head chef is Nick Brodie, formerly of the two-Michelin-starred Bath Spa and more recently Fishworks, also in Bath.
Then there's the bakery, with its wood-fired oven. The team there is headed by "French hip-hop baker Tito", whom Butler sent to Venice to learn more about pizza. The wine shop, with 80 bins, is run by Matthew Hooberman, formerly of London private members' club Soho House.
Hooberman also looks after At The Chapel's 60-bin wine list. All the wines on the restaurant list are available to buy in the wine shop, with modest mark-ups - another reason the citizenry of Bruton should feel blessed.
Highlights include 2006 Clos Lapeyre Jurançon Sec (£19), 2006 Zibibbo Pietranera from Marco de Bartoli in Sicily (£32), Danny Schuster's 2006 Pinot Noir, made in Canterbury, New Zealand (£30) and 2007 Saumur Champigny from Domaine des Roches-Neuves in the Loire (£19).
If you recognise any of these wines, it's because they are all from Guildford-based supplier Les Caves de Pyrene, which supplies most of the list. We don't usually trumpet one-supplier lists, but this supplier just picked up the International Wine Challenge on‑trade supplier of the year trophy - again.
Hooberman has cherry-picked (though there are many cherries) a selection of wines that mix up the unusual with the comfort zone, focusing on France, adding in a bit of Italy and Spain, plus a smattering of New World, with 15 wines by the 175ml glass, and 12 by the 500ml carafe.
The list is presented in price order. Hooberman says: "My view is, whatever walk of life you are from, you don't want any tricks played when you look at the wine list. You can see what it costs. You know your comfort level." He is on the floor in the evening, and on hand in the shop during the day if customers have any questions. He also trains the staff.
"We've got behind the Gringet - it wouldn't sell otherwise, and it's flying," he reports of the oddball white grape variety from Savoie, France ("Les Alpes", Domaine Belluard, £26). There's a similar story for the Zibibbo. But the popularity (unaided) of the two Cabernet Francs has taken Hooberman and his team by surprise. Both the Bourgueil (from Domaine de la Chevalerie, £18) and the above-noted Saumur Champigny are also flying.
Butler points out that many of the customers come from west London (some are even former Café Med regulars) - they either have second homes or have relocated - and they are notably wine-savvy.
Hooberman has also indicated on the list whether a wine is certified organic - I counted 21, though this is not used a selling tool. "I want it to be a sign that we are supporting growers who care," he explains.
"And I don't want any of our staff upselling," he adds. "I would like everything to be clear and transparent." That's rather refreshing, don't you think?
What's on the list
At The Chapel, High Street, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0AE. Tel: 01749 814070 www.atthechapel.co.uk