If you’re looking for a soothing city escape, one of the most idyllic lunch destinations for a crisp autumn day – or indeed a bright spring or summer one – is The Garden Café at The Newt hotel and estate, near Bruton in Somerset. Not heard of The Newt? Firstly, where have you been hiding? And secondly, it’s possibly the coolest country house hotel to open in the UK this year. Formerly known as Hadspen House, this 300-acre estate and historical seat of the Hobhouse family, has been transformed over six years by husband-and-wife duo Koos Bekker and Karen Roos (a former editor of ELLE Decoration South Africa), who are best known for their farm, hotel and restaurant Babylonstoren in the Cape Winelands of South Africa.
The hotel, offering 23 suites spread out across the Georgian mansion and neighbouring Stable Yard, and spa opened at the end of the summer, but the gardens, shops and café are open to non-residents all summer and have their own separate entrance and car park. ELLE Decoration covered the opening of its beautifully landscaped gardens in our August issue, and it’s these, starring a curved walled ‘Parabola’ apple maze and a cute fairytale Hansel & Gretel style Gardener’s Cottage (soon to serve milk-based sweet treats) plus roaming chickens, that diners can gaze out and enjoy from the comfort of the elevated, glass-fronted Garden Café.
It’s a pleasant meander to reach the café after arriving at the car park reception; a timber pathway winds beautifully through the trees leading visitors to the entrance barn, which is flanked by colourful vintage tractors and farm machinery. Beyond this is a horseshoe courtyard of barns which include the ‘Cyder Press’ and al fresco bar, complete with thick rugs supplied to keep guests cosy, plus a gift shop and farm shop. Guests stroll a little further into the rolling gardens to reach The Garden Café.
Bekker and Roos are pioneers of the farm-to-table movement, and like South Africa the menu here, pleasingly concise and featuring lovely pencil sketches of ingredients and gardening tips (for October/November, ‘cover late crops with cloches’ and ‘mulch globe artichokes’), is seasonal, natch, with dishes created using the estate’s bountiful produce.
Vegans and vegetarians will be more than sated here. Who knew what wondrous things you can do with a cauliflower (roasted and flavoured with cumin and accompanied by almond purée), beetroot (crushed with Buffalo milk curds, or butternut squash (in a moreish rich risotto with spelt rice)? Ditto teetotallers, the homemade fruit cordials, come highly recommended and so crisp and fresh was the Falstaff apple juice that we bought a bottle from the farm shop to take home.
The entire design of The Newt is faultless, with an awe-inspiring attention to detail, even metal thresholds on the floor feature motifs of either apples or newts. In the café, jars of pickled produce are displayed by the open kitchen, homemade butters for the bread are served on cute mini-timber platters and cream ceramic side plates mimic the cross-section of a tree trunk. This is all very rural chic, designed to seduce style-savvy urbanites and locals alike. So if Babington House, plus Hauser & Wirth and The Chapel in nearby Bruton haven’t yet been enough to tempt you to this rural hotspot, then let The Newt lure you to the West Country, you won’t be disappointed.
The Newt is open 10am-4pm 1 October-30 April and 10am-6pm 1 May until 30 September; entry £15 for adults, £7 for children; thenewtinsomerset.com/