The Roth Bar & Grill exists on an art-farm called Durslade in Bruton, Somerset, which is also the country outpost of the Hauser & Wirth gallery, which is the silliest art gallery in Britain. It specialises in decapitated gnomes. It is only 13 miles from Babington House, Soho House’s monstrous country house with its playrooms for adults and giant fish-finger sandwiches. This is a world of electric Agas, black Range Rovers and pink wellington boots; and it is, almost by itself, the reason why country dwellers despise town dwellers. If people live in homage to what they read in Sunday newspaper supplements, they deserve to be despised.
When I visited it three years ago, it was both abuzz and the silliest restaurant I had ever seen. It was sillier than the Leaky Cauldron in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, Florida, in which the diner is invited to be a tiny wizard who, after an English breakfast, will battle both a larger wizard and the contents of its own stomach. This comparison is not ludicrous, although I liked the Leaky Cauldron better, and not because it was accessible by roller-coaster: both restaurants have the same crazed devotion to their theme. In Florida, you pretend to be a wizard. In Somerset — slumbering, soporific Somerset — you pretend to be a farmer who is very interested in conceptual art. They are equally mad.
The food was fine, but I could not forgive the collision of modern art and spurious rustic-themed idiocy. I hated the piggery that played a recording of animals, the monumental squashed egg in the garden, and the fact it called itself ‘a working farm’. I hated the customers, who were city children insulting their rural parents by showing them what evil they could summon given money and unlimited (though surely unacknowledged) snobbery and spite. By pudding, I hated myself.
Then I drove from Penzance to Oxford on a grey Friday and I stopped at Durslade for lunch, and found that this time I quite liked the ridiculous art-farm. Or rather, I forgave it.
All fairylands depend on the quality of the fairies within; or in this case, the absence of the fairies, who were presumably at this time stuck on the A303 or in meetings very far away from straw. My husband once knew a weekend dweller in Wiltshire who used to complain about straw in the road. The farmers laughed at him, but they did not kill him and feed him to the pigs, as I would have done.
Durslade is older now — I speak relatively, for the farmhouse is very ancient — and fraying slightly. It is closer to what it should be, and that is pleasing. Winter will do that.
The silly art is still there, of course, in a restaurant with a long open kitchen and smooth, exposed rafters. There are, among other things, a stuffed hare wearing a green hat and carrying a small shotgun, and a photograph of a chef sitting morosely under a tree, as if he had run out of basil. But the dining rooms — pale walls, dark floors — were almost empty, and I knew better than to visit the art gallery again.
We ate spiced beef with couscous, and an immense burger with Westcombe cheddar and bacon: both were fine, and not overpriced for what I call the Babington Triangle, because it deserves a myth. Then we toured the farmhouse, which is available for rent. It is a monumental stone rubble house of horror with gothic windows and stone facings. Inside it is neither chintz nor Soho House knock-off: it is stripped back, meandering, eerie and, in the red-painted hallway, horrifying enough to compose horrifying narratives for the inhabitants of the Babington Triangle. We left happy.
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