The idea of restaurateurs from the capital opening ‘provincial’ outposts is hardly new (cf, Sargasso) but rural Somerset may seem an unusually parochial choice for the team behind south London’s Levan. In this case there was a more personal reason for owner Nicholas Balfe, who grew up there and seized an opportunity to go back to his roots (he is now the sole owner since parting ways with his business partners). There is precedent too: Merlin Labron-Johnson (formerly of Portland and Clipstone) has been very successful with Osip in Bruton (he’s re-opening it in a bigger venue next year), and it seems Holm, whilst still relatively young, will be too.
Indeed, if this visit and their Instagram following are any sort of barometer, Holm is deservedly thriving – a restaurant loved by both locals and for those seeking a pit stop in the area (there are now rooms too if you want to crash for the night). Set in a former bank in the sandy-toned village of South Petherton (20 minutes or so from either of Yeovil’s railway stations), it seems a world away from the commotion of London, aided by the minimalist design and friendly service led by Balfe who works the floor and personally greets guests at the open kitchen on arrival.
The surroundings may be understated, and the kitchen exudes a quiet confidence, but Holm leaves an indelible impression
Within seconds of being seated the Holm Negroni (£10) arrived. I normally abhor any tinkering around with classic cocktails unless there’s a ruddy good reason. There’s perhaps a nod to the St John Negroni / Fergoni here with darkly bitter Punt e Mes for the vermouth, Cynar for a vegetal touch and Pomona, a digestif made in Somerset. This was a truly delicious way to open proceedings, which both whet the appetite and was a comfort after squelching through the fallen leaves outside. And as with all Negronis, this could work equally well as an after-dinner drink.
Locality is prized here whether it be the cheddar fries with pickled walnut, Bath Blue for a cheese course or Exmoor venison. This is also true of the soft drinks, beers, ciders and wines, though the wine list generally leans towards the Old World (together with a somewhat ‘London’ price point).
And then onto the food, which on this visit was simply course after course of unadulterated loveliness.
Bitesize salt fish beignets with dill mayonnaise were the first indicator of a highly competent – and generous – kitchen, though perhaps just a shade too shy on the dill. The aforementioned cheddar fries made a pleasant change to the now ubiquitous gougères. And the beef and blue cheese croquette with its molten béchamel was even better than it sounded. It may seem parsimonious being a solitary croquette at £11.50 but it was almost a meal in itself, perched on roasted cauliflower in purée form (a theme of menu misdirection which repeated itself later) with gently stewed red onion and an unadvertised meaty jus to bring it all together. Heavenly.
The Exmoor venison with kohlrabi and red cabbage (£28) was a perfect gateway to autumn: the red cabbage had been puréed like the cauliflower earlier and worked in harmony with the bitter kohlrabi, expertly-cooked venison and a glistening gravy.
On the side, a gargantuan portion of Cornish mid potatoes with truffle mayonnaise was frankly enough to feed the five thousand. Perhaps in this age of waste consciousness the kitchen could’ve prepared a smaller portion but the cooking could not be faulted.
To finish, an apple choux bun (£8.50) with toffee sauce poured from on high for a little flourish, as is de rigueur. Mercifully this wasn’t too sweet – just excellent pastry work.
It’s a struggle to find anything to criticise, though from the prices alone you would think you were still at Levan in south London – especially in the drinks department. Perhaps that is off-set though by the general generosity of the food.
The surroundings may be understated, and the kitchen exudes a quiet confidence, but Holm leaves an indelible impression. I hope I get the chance to try it in the summer when the seasonal menu will have changed – especially the terrace outdoors with a Holm Negroni and more of those cheddar fries.
28 St James's Street
by J A Smith