Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Old Spot - Wells

Former Bibendum chef, Simon Hopkinson holds something of a revered status among those who cook or like good food. His cookbooks, including Roast Chicken and Other Stories and Week in-Week Out are considered to be modern classics, that many (including me) regularly turn to again and again, because his recipes are delicious, so well written, so well judged, they almost never fail. That he retired from the professional kitchen in 1995 and I never got to eat his food will always be something of a regret.

But, as with many talented head chefs, Hopkinson’s legacy continues to deliver. The rather impressive list of protégés who passed through the Bibendum kitchen and who have gone on to have fantastic careers in their own right include Henry Harris of Racine, Bruce Poole of Chez Bruce, Phil Howard of The Square and Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis. Closer to home in the South West, another former member of ‘Hoppy’s’ kitchen brigade is doing the business, Ian Bates at The Old Spot in Wells.

I’d heard a lot of good things about The Old Spot, from people whose judgement I trust, I was just biding my time and waiting for the opportunity to get my ass to the rather attractive cathedral town of Wells for a visit. That chance came about last week and I was tearing the phone off the hook and booking a table for lunch with a sense of haste verging on the obscene.
Walking into a somewhat disconcertingly empty restaurant, we were the first punters to arrive for lunch at 12:30. On the upside, this meant we got to choose any table we fancied. We instantly grabbed one on a raised area at the back, with incredible views across the green to the Cathedral and a grandstand perch over the entire room.

Bread and butter arrived, Bertinet sourdough, no argument with the quality there. ‘E’ and I munched away and studied the concise lunch menu, four starters, four mains, three desserts and cheese. Meanwhile the restaurant had started to fill up.
I’d chosen a starter of Cider-Cured Sardines with Pickled Vegetables and Crème Fraiche, purely because I’d never seen cider cured fish on a menu before and I was intrigued. In fact, it worked well giving the fresh sardines a sweetish tang offset nicely by the sourness of the crème fraiche and the sharpness of the crisp pickled veg. It was a beautifully balanced plate of food and I enjoyed stuffing every last bit in my gob.
‘E’ meanwhile was shovelling up forkfuls of Root Vegetable Salad with Hazelnuts and Creamed Goats Cheese in an obviously lady-like manner and admiring the food and the classic plating style. She had a point, from what I’d seen in books, the same dish could have happily been transplanted to the Hopkinson era Bibendum
Ham Hock and Morteau Sausage with Mustard Sauce arrived, reinforcing a growing feeling that this was the closest thing to experiencing ‘Hoppy’s’ style of cooking and food possible, not entirely unsurprising, considering Chef, Ian Bates’ background. The whole dish was so beautifully and precisely cooked, so unfussy in style, I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed eating something quite as much.
‘E’s Grilled Mackerel with Beetroot, Horseradish and Parsley Puree appeared an incredibly attractive proposition. The beautifully cooked fish framed against the vivid green puree and the scarlet beetroot. ‘E’ loved it, the fish was crisp, the classic flavour pairings working just as you’d expect. It was another cracking plate of food.
I solicited the opinion of the restaurant manager for my choice of dessert, a simple Rice Pudding with Plum Compote. It was a bloody fantastic choice, rich, creamy and flecked throughout with vanilla seeds. I huddled in the corner and made embarrassing sensuous cooing noises whilst scarfing the lot.
Almond Tart with Mascarpone, proved to be a little pedestrian for ‘E’. Not that it wasn’t delicious, oh no, just not as damn sexy as my choice!

So, a 3 course lunch produced by a protégé of Simon Hopkinson, all so beautifully judged, subtle, unpretentious and perfectly cooked if they’d told me ‘Hoppy’ himself was doing the cooking, I wouldn’t have questioned it. £18.50. Incredible.

I would crawl over broken glass and flaming coals for The Old Spot and Chef Ian Bates to be located in Bristol and not Wells. I frigging loved everything. All of it, so much so I was scanning the menu to check if there was anything else I could order, a side dish or suchlike just to see if it was as beautifully prepared as the other grub I’d experienced.

Go to Wells and eat at The Old Spot. Don’t have a car? Get the bus like we did, they run regularly from Bristol Bus station, it takes an hour and costs £7 for a return. You will not regret it.

Me? I’m already planning on going back in the evening to try the a la carte.

The Old Spot
12 Sadler Street

Telephone: 01749 689 099


bodessa said...

It's a proper restaurant, isn't it? In that you leave feeling...restored. Generous portions, nothing jarring, wonderful value.

Dan said...

Bodessa - Indeed, it's a 'proper restaurant' in exactly the way you describe. Easily one of the best lunches I've had for quite some time.

Steve Gale said...

Ive been meaning to go for ages dan but must now get around to it. Cheers!

Dan said...

Steve - You should definitely go. Would love to hear what you think.