Friday, 9 December 2016

Review: The Bath Cook Book

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I love Bath. I didn’t grow up here, which I think is why I never take it for granted and never stop appreciating how awesome it is. One of my favourite things about the place (and there are a huge number) is that it’s absolutely packed with fabulous foodie culture. Not only are there loads of brilliant restaurants and shops, but Bath and the surrounding area are also full of clever creative people making all sorts of delicious produce. It means the city is always buzzing with something new and exciting, and there’s a huge appreciation here for food and for independent business.

The Bath Cook Book is a glorious celebration of all of the above. Produced by Meze Publishing, who have created books for several other cities (and picked up Best Newcomer at the Independent Publishing Awards in 2016, no less), it’s a sort of foodie bible for the area, featuring restaurants, cafes, shops and producers, as well as recipes from each of them. Full disclosure, each business has paid to be included, and I was worried before I read it that this would make the book feel like a big advertorial – but to be completely honest, I think it really works.

Each featured foodie has their own two or four page spread, to talk about their backstory, their inspiration or whatever else they fancy, and they’re an interesting bunch. Beth, aka the Free Range Chef, talks about how saying yes to any cheffing engagement that comes her way has taught her to embrace adventure and opportunity, while the family behind New MacDonalds Farm describe their mission to educate their customers about animal welfare and how it makes for better food. Kettlesmith Brewing Company are all about getting foodies to take beer as seriously as wine, while my old chum Helen at Taste of Bath is passionate about rounding up Bath’s best produce all in one place, to fill her fabulous hampers – in fact, several of her carefully chosen producers pop up in the Bath Cook Book, including Honey & Daughter, a great Somerset cider company who also make my favourite thirst quencher, a traditional mix of cider and ginger beer called Stoney Bonk, the Bath Gin Company and In A Pickle (the clue to both of those is in the name).

As well as the origin stories behind Bath’s culinary superheroes, the book is also full of titbits of local history and foodie folklore, making it a brilliant coffee table tome for dipping in and out of. And you don’t get short-changed on the recipes either. I’ve already bookmarked several that I fancy having a go at – including The Beaufort’s gorgeously colourful monkfish and octopus curry (above), and The Bath Cake Company’s maple and pecan chocolate cake (below) - although I’ve also picked out several new restaurants to try when I don’t feel like cooking…

The quality of the book is lovely too, with a beautiful design and lots of gorgeous photos that show off not just the food but Bath itself. And there are some really thoughtful additions – I particularly like the section at the back by local company Novel Wines, suggesting a wine to accompany each different recipe. All in all, this is a lovely little package that I’m happy to recommend – you can get it directly from Meze Publishing, or you can buy it from the featured producers themselves, which is a great touch.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Restaurant Review: The Garrick's Head

Tis the season to eat heartily – cosy winter food is everywhere and I love it. And when you’re looking for a great meal on a frosty evening, it’s hard to beat a really good pub like The Garrick’s Head. You can choose between the bar, which has a lovely buzzing atmosphere and a menu of great classics (the fish & chips in particular are a bit legendary at the Garrick) and the restaurant, which is a little more intimate and romantic, with soft candlelight and a fabulous set menu, which offers 3 courses for just £20.95.

Roasted bone marrow with black garlic puree
On the evening we visited, the weather was horrendous, so we were more than ready for a bit of cheering up. We started with large glasses of red wine – the wine list here is great – I chose a lovely warming, spicy Malbec while my dining companion went for a mellow Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. To start, I ordered roasted bone marrow with black garlic puree and Bertinet rye dough (above) – classic winter food to keep you going through hell or high water. The flavours were wonderful, especially the black garlic, but I have to say I think my dining companion made the best choice here – the leek and artichoke tart was gorgeously rich with plenty of cheese (even if he would only let me have one bite).

The Garrick is happy for you to mix and match the set menu and bar menu in the restaurant, so for our main course, my companion went for the classic burger with cheese and homemade slaw. He’s a bit of a burger aficionado and happily pronounced this one of the best burgers in Bath – no mean feat. Meanwhile, I stuck with the set menu and ordered ham hock with champ (that’s mashed potato with spring onions, by the way), parsley sauce and a crispy hen’s egg. It was exactly what I wanted on such a cold and miserable evening – rich, filling, and full of great flavour, like ham, egg & chips dressed up to the nines.

Banana sticky toffee pudding
We were both too full to eat a whole dessert, but couldn’t resist trying the pudding menu, so we shared a banana sticky toffee pudding with lemon meringue ice cream, which was wonderful – a fabulous twist on a classic.

Overall, I loved the set menu and would definitely recommend it, but I also can’t wait to go back and try more of the bar menu – everything looked so good it was nigh on impossible to choose. On top of that, the atmosphere was wonderful and the service was particularly excellent – the Garrick is definitely going to become one of our regular favourites. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Chez Dominique

Chez Dominique has only been open a short while, and although I’d already ogled their menu on Twitter I hadn’t gotten around to checking it out in person – so when my good chum Helen (check out her deeply fabulous foodie hampers on the Taste of Bath website) told me we simply had to go there for lunch, I didn’t need much persuading. Chez Dominique is a lovely little French restaurant at the quiet end of Argyle St, across Pulteney Bridge. The décor is simple and elegant, with clean colours and lots of light, and the menu is short and sweet. It reminded me exactly of all my favourite lunch spots when I lived in Paris – family-run, a chef confident enough in his choices not to need a huge menu across which to hedge his bets, prix fixe at a seriously reasonable price, good service and great wine.

To start, I went for Cornish mussels, with cider and Ventreche bacon. I’m not always a huge fan of mussels, but I knew these would be fabulous and they were. The smoky richness of the bacon was the perfect addition, whilst I gladly soaked up the broth with fresh bread and demi-sel butter (oh, how I miss demi-sel butter). My dining companion, meanwhile, chose devilled lambs’ kidneys on toast, which she pronounced very good indeed. To wash it all down, we asked the waiter for his own wine recommendation, and he brought us chilled glasses of Viognier Cuvée du Brieu 2015, which made me think of apples and vanilla – lovely.

For our main, we both chose an onglet steak marinated with rosemary and thyme, served with a dressed salad, frites and Roquefort butter. Few things make me as happy as a really good steak frites – it’s comfort food with a bit of class – and this was really good. Served blue to make the most of this wonderfully tender cut, it was melt in the mouth and fabulous with the Roquefort butter. The chips were also fantastic – you might be tempted to think chips are easy, but it’s amazing how often they’re really quite bad.

I was feeling a little too full for dessert but couldn’t resist a spoonful of Helen’s (she said I could, honest) – a beautiful chocolate hazelnut mousse that was dark and rich instead of sweet, and served with a lovely flourish.

The prix fixe menu at Chez Dominique changes regularly, so you might not come across these exact dishes, but it always looks extremely tempting to me. As you would find in France, it’s extremely reasonable - two courses will cost you £13, while three courses is just £16, which is an amazing deal, particularly when you consider that you can also get it for an early dinner in the evening between 5.30 and 6.30pm. You can also check out the regular a la carte menu on the Chez Dominique website here. I have absolutely no hesitation saying I’ll be going back – everything was perfect, a proper little piece of Paris in the middle of Bath.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Restaurant Review: Thaikun

If you’ve strolled through Southgate recently, you’ll have noticed that exciting things are afoot - where there used to be a rather gloomy corridor, the space has now been transformed into two large units for new restaurants. One of these is Thaikun, unsurprisingly a Thai restaurant, which particularly celebrates the legendary street food of Bangkok.

I’ll freely admit I am a complete novice when it comes to the finer details of Thai cuisine, but what I’ve tried so far I love, and I always get excited about trying new places – so when the invite came through to Thaikun’s soft launch, I was happy to say yes. On first entrance, I have to say the effect is fantastic – a huge amount of effort has been put into giving this space serious atmosphere. As you enter, you’re greeted by a shrine with a golden statue of Buddha, decorated with fresh flowers and hung with bells. Throughout, the restaurant is packed with interesting artefacts of all kinds, in a rainbow of colours: painted paper parasols, old tin street signs, bright loops of neon, bicycle wheels, mismatched lampshades, enamelled pots, cans with indecipherable labels – all crammed into haphazard shelves or dangling from the ceiling amongst the exposed ducts and pipes. It’s like a fabulous junk shop, the sort of place in a story where our heroes would unearth a magical trinket, but find its immense powers a double-edged sword.

Eschewing grand adventures for the time being, we opted to settle at our table and peruse the cocktail menu instead. I ordered a coconut mojito, which is not something I’ve come across before – I was worried it might be too sweet but it was fabulous. To start, unable to narrow it down to just one dish, we ordered a Bangkok street platter (left), which was piled high with chicken satay, prawn toast, pork & prawn dumplings and red-curried corn cakes. I have to say that I enjoyed absolutely everything and would definitely order this again – it’s hard to pick a favourite but I think the pork & prawn dumplings might just have edged it.

For the main course, I chose barbecue pork belly, served with rice and soy sauce, while my dining companion went for sea bass baked in a banana leaf. My dish was tasty but not especially exciting in terms of flavour, so I think my companion made the better choice – the fish was beautifully tender and juicy, and really flavoursome. For dessert, I picked a sticky date pudding with sake ice cream (the pudding was yummy but the sake ice cream stole the show for me – highly recommended) and my companion went for a lovely chocolate & almond tart (below  one of several gluten-free dessert options).

All in all, I think the starter was probably the stand out dish for me – the platter was fantastic, full of flavour and really good value for two people – while the other dishes weren’t quite as exciting. However, it was really hard to choose from the menu so I shall definitely be going again to try a few other dishes that caught my eye. Thaikun also gives you the option of trying several different dishes in a traditional pinto, a set of stacking boxes a bit like a Japanese bento or Indian tiffin used by workers for their lunch, which I think is a really nice idea if you’re not sure what to choose or haven’t tried Thai before. The staff were friendly and very efficient, the atmosphere was buzzing and the prices were very reasonable, so I think this will make a great addition to Southgate’s restaurant scene. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Restaurant Review: Combe Grove

One of Combe Grove's private dining rooms
Regular readers will know that I never turn down an invitation from Bath’s independent restaurant gurus, The Pig Guide – so when I received an email a few weeks ago inviting me to try the autumn tasting menu at Combe Grove Hotel, I said yes even though I knew nothing about it. It turns out that this hotel, although once a rather smart & fashionable place, has spent recent years being passed around various unimaginative hotel chains, which accounts for why I’d never heard much about it. Recently though, it was rescued by some new, independent owners – and they’ve got serious plans for restoring its former glory.

Combe Grove is perched on top of Bath’s Brassknocker Hill, with 70 acres of gardens and woodland spread about it. The views are quite literally breath-taking - strolling through reception, we were all irresistibly drawn to a wide doorway, flung open to let in the night air, beyond which the gardens tumbled vertiginously into the glorious Limpley Stoke valley. The new owners of Combe Grove pride themselves on an exceptional collection of artworks, which are displayed throughout the hotel, but I must confess that I completely lost my heart to this view, like a living, breathing landscape hung on the wall.

With such a setting, the interior of the hotel has a lot to live up to, but Managing Director Rebecca Whittington is throwing herself into the task with all sorts of beautiful touches, from hand-painted ceilings to antique fittings and fixtures. We were shown into a gorgeous private dining room set for fourteen, softly lit by the most stunning lamps which Rebecca told us formerly graced the iconic Liverpool Central Library, built in 1860 and now Grade II listed. The décor was rich, gloomy and deeply stylish, from the beautiful gold and turquoise wallpaper on one wall, to the table set with painted candlesticks and ochre glassware. Full of anticipation, we sat down for a six course menu from award-winning chef Leigh Evans, paired with cocktails from expert bartender Shane.

We started with a cured tuna tartar, served with watermelon, cucumber, radish and wasabi, and washed down with a frozen shot of Jinzu, a spectacular new gin created in Bristol. The flavours were fantastically fresh and zingy, perfect to wake up the tastebuds, and although I wouldn’t normally drink gin neat (honest) it worked perfectly with this dish. Our second course was wood pigeon (left), with black pudding, granola and orange – I must confess I wasn’t so sure about this one, maybe because of the granola, although I did enjoy the accompanying Black Manhattan, made with bourbon and orange to really bring out the orange in the dish.

The third course, though, was probably my favourite one of all – stone bass, served with a BBQ chicken leg, sweetcorn, polenta and leeks (right). To be completely honest, it’s probably not something I would have ordered, but I loved it – the combination of the firm, juicy bass with the chicken was fabulous. I even loved the sweetcorn, which is not my favourite thing at all – I do love it when a chef makes me enjoy something I thought I didn’t like! To pair with this one, we had possibly the most unusual cocktail of the evening – the pepino fumar, or smoking cucumber, made with tequila, smoked ancho chilli liqueur and cucumber. It had a hell of a kick but it really worked with the dish.

Our fourth course was a lovely wintry recipe - venison haunch, with red cabbage and an incredible smoked garlic dauphinoise which frankly, I could have eaten a whole plate of. To wash it down, we had another really unusual cocktail made with beetroot, which was really delicious – I’d definitely order it at the bar – but in my opinion a little too sweet for the meal.

Doesn't this look like a
fabulous piece of modern art?
For our first of two dessert courses, we were served a gloriously tart and tangy passion fruit brulée with mango salsa (left), and my favourite cocktail of the evening, a basil daiquiri. My normal policy for a cocktail flight like this is to only drink half of each (and if you’ve ever tried to live tweet a meal after six different cocktails, you’ll know why) but I couldn’t resist polishing this one off.  Our final course was an iced parfait, with a blackberry & liquorice beignet and a tonka bean panna cotta, accompanied by cardamom lemonade. This was another really unusual idea that worked surprisingly well – I especially loved the beignet, and the parfait was gorgeously creamy.

Throughout the meal, I was so impressed by the creativity and originality displayed by both Leigh and Shane. There were some incredible flavour pairings and the presentation of all the dishes was stunning. I was also blown away by the setting, and chatting to Rebecca during the meal I was so excited by her plans for the future of the hotel. This is definitely one to watch.

To find out more about dining and staying at Combe Grove, visit their website here.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

A Student's Guide to Eating Out in Bath

Congratulations! You’ve got a place to study at one of Bath’s brilliant universities, and that means you get to live in this totally amazing city. Okay, so it might not have quite as many options for nights out (don’t worry – it’s fun because you’ll always see people you know in the clubs Bath does have, and you can always nip over to Bristol if you fancy a change) but what it does have is absolutely loads of great places to eat and drink. While you might be tempted to head to MacDonalds or Nandos (and I don’t blame you – sometimes you’ve just gotta do what you’ve gotta do) Bath is also full of small independently-owned bars, cafes and restaurants. They’re part of what makes the city awesome and definitely worth checking out. Of course, some of them are for fancy occasions only, but you’d be surprised how many are totally friendly to a student budget. Here’s my quick guide to three of the best independent places to eat lunch for less than £5, and four of the best independent places to eat dinner for less than £10. What more could you want?

Lunch for less than £5

Gyozas & tea at Comins Teahouse
Whole Bagel, 8 Upper Borough Walls
Forget supermarket sandwiches, this is the ultimate place to get your carbs on when you need lunch in a hurry. You can choose from seven different types of bagel, all freshly baked on the premises, and fill them with a huge range of amazing fillings from the traditional (Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese, my favourite) to their regular specials. Get lunch here from just £2 for one of their legendary pizza bagels, and keep an eye on their Twitter (@WholeBagel) for great limited time offers too. 

Comins Teahouse, 34 Monmouth St
This gorgeous café serves a huge range of special loose-leaf teas, which are really worth checking out, but it also has a great lunch menu, which includes Chinese gyoza and Indian momo dumplings for around £4, as well as some delicious breakfast options from just £2.25. If you fancy something a bit different, this is the perfect place.

Chai Walla, Kingsmead Square
This is a teeny tiny takeaway that has a huge following amongst the locals. Owner Niraj serves up a menu of fantastic Indian street food, all vegetarian and sometimes vegan too, from the most amazing bhajis and samosas to wraps and curries (I especially recommend the samosa chaat, which is an amazing chana daal with a whole samosa mashed into it). Prices start from just a couple of pounds, which is incredible value for how much food you get.

Dinner for less than £10

Schwartz Bros Burgers, 4 Saw Close/102 Walcot St
Schwartz Bros is a Bath institution – in 2017 they’ll be celebrating an incredible forty years in business. They sell the city’s best burgers, with all the trimmings you could possibly want, and are open until 3am on the weekends in their Saw Close location, so they’re also the only choice for late night munchies. Burgers start from less than £6 and they also do some great sides.

The Real Italian Pizza Company, 16 York St
Bath has some seriously good options for pizza, so it’s hard to pick a favourite, but this is definitely one of mine. The bases are thin and crispy, the toppings are generous, and pizzas and calzones start from just £7.95 so it’s really affordable. The Real Italian Pizza Co also have an ‘accept any voucher’ policy, so if you can track down a good offer from another pizza company then you can use their deals here. I’m also going to give a shout out to Yammo Italiano, another brilliant pizzeria on Walcot St – their menu is a little more expensive, but their margherita comes in at just under a £10 and to be honest, it’s so good, you hardly need extra toppings. /

Yammo Italiano's multiple-award-winning margherita

Yen Sushi, 11-12 Barlett St
You might not think to go for sushi when you’re on a budget, but this is a ‘kaiten’ restaurant, which is the technical term for the cool conveyor belts full of delicious dishes, so you can pick whatever you fancy and know how much it costs from the colour of the bowl. Dishes at Yen Sushi start from around £2 each and you only need a few, so this can be a seriously good bargain.

Bath Brew House, 14 James St West
This is one of my favourite Bath pubs – as well as their own in-house brewery, they sell loads of great independent beers, and they have a fantastic food menu to boot. Try one of their amazing baps for £6 (I recommend the fish finger butty) and add soup, salad or fries for just £1.50, to make a seriously hearty meal. Check out their incredible regular pub quiz too.

And finally: we need to talk about coffee. I know Starbucks is right by the bus stop, and I know it’s cool to carry a Starbucks cup. But Bath is absolutely rammed with amazing independent coffee shops and not only is their coffee better, it’s actually cheaper too. For properly good coffee, check out Society Café (also right near the bus stop, for maximum takeaway convenience), Hunter & Sons, Colonna & Smalls, Cascara (who also make awesome juices & smoothies) and Picnic Coffee among many, many others. With all these options it would be a crime to settle for the same old Costa & Café Nero.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Review: Sol Kitchen Supper Club

Broad bean falafel with tahini miso dip
One of my absolute favourite things about Bath is that it's so well-supplied with foodie experiences of all kinds - it seems there's nothing Bathonians like more than to eat & drink well. One of the trends which has really flourished in the city lately is the supper club, and I was intrigued to hear that Sol Kitchen are mixing this up a bit - their newly-established club serves a menu that is always vegetarian or vegan, and designed to nourish the body & make it feel good.

Sol Kitchen's current home is the Bear Pad Cafe up on Bear Flat, a cosy little space just big enough for two long white-clothed tables set with candles and fresh flowers in jam jars. Guests have the option of bringing their own wine, or pre-ordering from Wolf Wine - a little treasure trove of fabulous independent booze in Green Park Station - who provide vegetarian and vegan wines to complement the meal perfectly. Owner Sam chose a wonderful Spanish red for us, Gaznata Garnacha El Barraco, which was fruity, warming and a little spicy, and delightfully drinkable.

One of the nicest things about a supper club is that it feels more like a dinner party than a restaurant meal. Sky & Mirella, the ladies behind Sol Kitchen, welcomed everyone personally and came round to chat throughout the meal, as well as explaining at the beginning that tonight's meal would be geared towards boosting the immune system, with plenty of iron and vitamin B, as well as being vegan. I have to admit that while I love vegetarian food & frequently cook it myself, I'm always a little more wary of vegan cuisine, purely because it needs a bit more effort & creativity to be really good. In this case, however, I'm delighted to say my worries were unfounded. We started out with spiced roast chickpeas, served on crunchy celery with homemade houmous, which was full of spicy, fresh flavours, and followed that up with my favourite dish of the evening, broad bean falafel, with green salad and a miso and tahini dip. I've never had falafel made with broad beans before and I thought it was inspired - the dip was great too, full of really punchy savoury flavours. My dining companion actually ended up scraping out her dip pot with her finger to get every last bit, but I probably shouldn't tell you that, so I won’t.

Roasted vegetables with cauliflower couscous
Next up was something completely different - doogh, a savoury Persian yoghurt drink, made with mint and topped with cumin seeds, and I have to admit that while I loved the flavours I couldn't quite get used to the idea, although my dining companion loved it. Our fourth course was a mixture of Moroccan roasted vegetables, served with pistachios and cauliflower couscous, and harissa red pepper sauce on the side. I found this dish a little busy, with a lot of flavours going on, but I did particularly enjoy the cauliflower couscous.

Finally, for the dessert course, we were served a raw cacao brownie, thick with hazelnuts, and accompanied by plum sauce and coconut cream, which was extremely good - I'm not always a fan of chocolate and fruit but this combination was fabulous. We rounded off the meal with black tea and lemon - coffee I imagine being eschewed on health grounds - and both agreed that we felt much more full and satisfied than we might have expected from a vegan menu. All in all, I really enjoyed trying some dishes that were completely new to me, and it was a great way to shake up the usual meal out.

For more information on Sol Kitchen and future supper club dates (the club runs once a month on Saturdays, but not on a set date), follow Sky & Mirella on Twitter at @solkitchenbath or email them at Price per person is £30, and the wine we had retails for £10 a bottle - for more from Sam at Wolf Wine, visit or find him on Twitter at @wolfwines.