The story behind Somerset’s latest culinary opening, 28 Market Place
A land of rolling hills, apple orchards and dairy farms, Somerset is one of the UK’s biggest players in local produce. Historically, this hasn’t been reflected in the area’s restaurant scene – but times are changing. The past few months have seen a number of exciting West Country openings: food-focused hotel The Newt, Merlin Labron-Johnson’s farm-to-table restaurant Number One Bruton, and most recently 28 Market Place, located in the small market town of Somerton.
A restaurant, bakery and wine shop, 28 Market Place was founded by former Soho House manager Ben Crofton and his wife Vanessa, who met while working at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in Los Angeles. They fell for one another, married, and moved to the UK – Ben took up a job at Phil Howard’s The Square, before joining Babington House, and then Soho Farmhouse. ‘There wasn’t really a focus on food there: it was very much about creating atmosphere and events and dealing with members,’ says Ben.
His new project, on the other hand, is all about the food. ‘We stumbled across this town called Somerton – it was a beautiful market town and it had this sense of community among it,’ Ben says. ‘We found this restaurant and the address was 28 Market Place, and it just so happened that we were fortunate enough to acquire the properties next door too.’
Heading up the kitchen is Dan Fletcher, who brings with him a wealth of experience from top restaurants around the country. ‘I started working in kitchens when I was about 14, beginning as a pot washer in my local restaurant,’ Dan recalls. ‘I really enjoyed the camaraderie of the kitchen. I was lucky that the chef there showed me a lot of techniques – he pushed me to get my first real job as a chef at Tom Kitchin’s restaurant in Edinburgh.’ It was here, Dan adds, that he really became aware of the importance of utilising local produce.
A commitment to local, seasonal produce lies at the heart of 28 Market Place. ‘The other day I phoned a local farmer who has a 12-acre plot of land,’ Dan tells us, ‘that afternoon he came to the restaurant to deliver some vegetables and said: “those were in the ground 25 minutes ago!” To have that at a restaurant is incredibly special, and I feel privileged to be able to serve and highlight it.’
Dan heard about 28 Market Place from fellow chef Phil Howard while working at Fenchurch Restaurant at the Sky Garden. He took a train across the country to see it, and fell in love instantly – much to the delight of Ben and Vanessa. ‘We never expected to have someone as talented as Dan to get out of London and come here,’ says Ben. ‘If anyone asks us what our biggest achievement is, I would say it’s putting together the team we have.’
Producers being showcased at 28 Market Place include Ivy House Dairy Farm in Beckington, founded in 1982 by husband and wife duo Geoff and Kim Bowles. Here cream is potted up and delivered within 24 hours of being separated, milk even quicker, and Dan highlights the quality of the ‘electric yellow’ butter. Fruit and vegetables, meanwhile, are supplied by Plotgate Farm, a community-supported agriculture project found just down the road from 28 Market Place. Sustainability is big here: we’re told they deliver on the same day they harvest, they only grow what’s in season and synthetic chemicals and fertilisers are never used. Somerset is perhaps most famous for its cider and apples, so both play a part at 28 Market Place too – Dan highlights Dowdings and Perry’s Cider as key producers.
Next door to the restaurant you’ll find Market Bakery, which is spearheaded by Alba Lage – formerly at Soho Farmhouse. There’s also a wine shop, which plays host to a selection of over 100 fine wines alongside bio-dynamic and organic bottles from local suppliers. In short, 28 Market Place is a foodie’s heaven.
Could this be the beginning of a new era for the Somerset food scene? Ben thinks so. ‘It’s getting better, and I hope restaurants like ours opening up will give other people the confidence to come out of London and revive high streets in small towns.’ Watch this space.