Jo Rees heads to Taunton for a slap-up dinner in the casual surrounds of the town’s grandest hotel
What’s the draw?
Quality restaurant cooking in a relaxed and contemporary setting.
Change is afoot in the restaurant world as smart spots whip white linen off their tables and mothball formal service in favour of a more laid-back experience, so it turns out The Castle at Taunton has been ahead of the curve all along.
When the team first launched Brazz in 1998, it was to provide residents with a more casual alternative to its feted Castle Bow Restaurant, while also giving locals a reliable brasserie for lunch or supper. Then, in 2019, the team read the culinary runes and made Brazz the hotel’s main restaurant, turning Castle Bow into an elegant setting for private dining.
Nowadays, those looking to share a few small plates at lunchtime, or even a pizza, rub shoulders with couples indulging in celebratory feasts as they sit on Brazz’s leather and velvet banquettes. The vibe is buzzy, the lighting low and the hum and clink from the bar entirely in keeping with the culinary zeitgeist.
Andrew Swann is The Castle’s head chef and oversees all of the hotel’s food offerings. Returning to the kitchen in which he started his career, after working in London at the likes of The Savoy and L’Escargot, has turned out pretty well: this year he bagged Best Chef at the Trencherman’s Awards.
What to order?
The menu is large and varied with plenty of specials, so it’s possible to dine on what would traditionally be considered fine-dining fare, or to feed an appetite for a gourmet burger stuffed with streaky bacon, bacon jam and Twanger cheddar.
On the smart end of the spectrum are dishes such as roasted lamb rump served with a breaded square of unctuously fatty lamb shoulder on a bed of borlotti beans and tarragon. On our visit, in-season local venison was also on the menu, soft as butter and accompanied by the Middle Eastern flavours of labneh and apricot.
The puds were especially good and we devoured a reinvented chocolate Wagon Wheel with a squeakily clean raspberry sorbet and nibbed hazelnuts. We also enjoyed a blackcurrant pannacotta (served with crisp sesame tuille) that offered up the last strains of summer in the herbaceous notes of its blackcurrant sorbet sidekick.
Alongside the à la carte menu, Brazz also offers a good value set-menu at £30 for two courses and £35 for three.
Oh, and order the bread to nibble as you sip your aperitif: the slices of bouncy sourdough served with a collection of homemade butters (including flavours such as café de Paris and roast chicken skin) are delicious.