The train swishes past bright yellow rapeseed fields, past soft rolling hills and pastures dotted with sheep. A couple of hours from the hustle and bustle of London and you are almost there, in Bruton, which seems like a world away. A 500-year-old crumbling dovecote on top of a green mound dominates the tiny sleepy town like a watchtower. A stream separates the railway tracks from Bruton’s main street. The only street, really. There’s a pottery studio, an art gallery, the old chapel turned into high-end rural B&B, a library, an old pharmacy turned into a natural wine bistro.
Osip is right next door, all in bright, pastel tones, adorned with dry bouquets of herbs and drawings of chefs. It’s here Merlin Labron-Johnson found his much-needed respite from London, and the highly competitive food scene that gave him everything at a very young age – then sort of cast him aside, as London often does.
Photo by Maureen Evans
Labron-Johnson was 24 when he got his first Michelin star, to this date the youngest British chef to achieve that feat, a mere nine months after opening Portland in 2015. In 2018 he left, overwhelmed with early success and underwhelmed with the reality of running a restaurant in a place like London.
“When it comes to praise, recognition and acknowledgement it's hard when you are so in the thick of it in terms of the work that you are doing, hard to really acknowledge it and enjoy it,” says Labron-Johnson. “It’s frustrating, the idea of opening a restaurant in London when you put all this effort and then achieve something and everybody absolutely loves it and it’s the coolest thing in town, and then six months in they’ve all moved on to the next cool thing. It’s also a little bit demotivating.”
“So at the time, even though I was achieving a lot of success, I wasn’t really noticing it because I was so busy and working so hard. But now when I take a step back and look at it I think, wow, it was really great but also sort of hollow.”