When I first moved to Bristol, its proximity to the rather beautiful city of Bath astounded me. I had no idea it was so close. I mean, I can almost throw a stone out of my living room window and hit it. OK, slight exaggeration but it’s just a 20-minute train journey away. As a result, I've spent a fair bit of my spare time wandering the splendid Georgian streets, gawping at the architecture and generally being a general nuisance to the residents as they walk into the back of me. Those tourists, entirely oblivious to their surroundings, fouling up the pavement flow and blocking doorways, the ones I used to glare hatefully at when I worked in London all those years? Yeah, in Bath I become one of them. That’s why I won’t be begrudging any gentle, educational pummellings that may come my way from the frustrated locals. I almost certainly deserve it.
Anyway, apart from beautiful buildings and dumbass tourists, Bath also has some rather cracking restaurants. There’s one in particular I like, right in the centre, Allium.
The head chef, Chris Staines, formerly held a Michelin star at Foliage in the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London (where Heston’s Dinner is now). He has fairly recently made a move to Bath, achieving some rather impressive reviews from national newspaper reviewers, including Jay Rayner of The Observer and John Walsh in the Independent. As such, it’s hard to believe the restaurant is located in a Best Western hotel, but it is and it’s cracking.
OK, to be fair the dining room is maybe lacking a certain something; hotel dining rooms nearly always seem to have a corporate feel about them, but the views of Bath and the surrounding hills are cracking and it’s pleasant enough despite being a bit ‘hotel’ but then, I guess that’s exactly what it is.
The food however, is what it’s all about, much as I would love to spout alles uber da platz on interior design.
Eating from the set lunch menu, the descriptions have been quite obviously underplayed, each dish that emerged, surpassing any expectation I had and actually surprising me with how the listed elements had been put together on a plate. Also, I have to mention the seriously beautiful plating and presentation.
So, refined gentleman that I am, to begin, I stuffed a whole load of excellent rye sourdough bread, baked on site and heavily smeared with butter while delicately quaffing some plonk.
Lunch partner, Elly had chosen lightly smoked mackerel rillettes, potato blinis, pickled cucumber, apple and watercress salad as a starter. She reckons it as being one of the nicest things she’s eaten in ages. The contrast in textures and flavours of the creamy mackerel rillettes, crisp potato blinis (which turned out to be crisp-like very thin slices of potato), sharp pickled cucumber and cold apple was absolutely gorgeous.
My pressed terrine of chicken ‘Coronation’, lightly curried mayonnaise, pickled carrots and mango was equally bloody delicious. I have a real soft spot for coronation chicken and this play on a classic was lovely.
It’s hard to believe that a dish like poached fillet of haddock, roast parsnip puree, lightly curried mussel and autumn vegetable ragu features on the set menu. It was so astoundingly good and the portion was whopping. Often you can see where the kitchen has trimmed costs, either in ingredients or size, but I’d have been happy with this off the a la carte. A beautifully cooked piece of fish, crowned with a pile of parsnip crisps with the rich vegetable ragu. Banging.
Meanwhile, Elly had also gone for fish, pan fried pollock, crushed new potatoes, red pepper coulis and black olive tapenade. As with my main, the fish was superbly cooked. Pollock itself isn't the strongest flavoured of fish so worked really well combined with the punchiness of the red pepper coulis and black olive tapenade.
As you are no doubt well aware, I’m an unapologetically greedy bastard and ordered dessert without question. Elly who had an afternoon tea and cake appointment elsewhere, declined, foolishly as it turns out.
Lightly poached plums with vanilla creamed rice, sugared almonds, mint syrup and plum sorbet was frigging sublime. The rice, served cold, had a hefty vanilla kick and worked incredibly well with the fruit, plum sorbet and the mint. The sugared almonds throwing a bit of crunch into the mix. Honestly, I thought this was a phenomenal dessert.
So, how much for three courses of faultless cooking, which is so beautiful to look at it almost feels like a crime to eat it?
Yeah, that’s right, the set menu is an absolute steal.
The a la carte, however is obviously much pricier, and I'm now seriously intrigued, so I may give that a go next time.
I had a stonking lunch at Allium, in fact it was one of the nicest lunches I've had in ages, this despite due to a wedding reception being held in the restaurant, it meant having one of the worst tables in the place. It just didn't put a dent in it at all, the food and the service were top drawer and I couldn't have been happier.
If you’re in Bath, eat here.
Best Western Abbey Hotel
Telephone: 01225 805245