Eating out: Bath time for Lettonie

LETTONIE; 35 Kelston Road, Bath BA1 3QH. Tel: 01225 446676. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch from noon to 2pm and for dinner from 7pm to 9.30pm. Set lunch, pounds 25 for three courses; a la carte menu, pounds 39.50 for three courses (drinks not included). Credit cards accepted

A WORKING trip to Bath a few weeks back saw me blessed with a room in a small, sleek, soothing hotel called the Queensbury. When I quizzed my local chum, antiquarian cookery book specialist, Janet Clarke, about good places to eat, she didn't hesitate. "In-house," she said firmly, "at the Olive Tree, in the basement of the hotel." It was not to be. The Olive Tree had already been reviewed, and I had to look further afield. A pity, I thought, as I nibbled at one of the most delicious chocolate brownies imaginable, over tea in the tiny paved garden at the back of the hotel.

We ended up, Janet, my publishing companion, Ros, and I, at an eaterie that my co-reviewer Hugh had already semi-marked with his signature. Almost exactly a year ago, he wrote a rave review of a small restaurant in the backstreets of Bristol. Lettonie was something of a cult place for those in the know, unexpected, snuck away, and astonishing. In his piece he noted that those responsible for it were on the up, with ambitious plans to move outwards and upwards to the ranks of country-house grandeur.

Aspirational it is too. Though Lettonie has merely exchanged the suburbs of Bristol for those of Bath. The house itself, however, hidden away behind a wall, lends itself well to the grandeur of the country establishment. If the sweeping drive is stunted, never mind, for the curtain swags, and glimmer of burnished antiques make up for any shortfall. Undoubtedly luxurious, like something from the heyday of Eighties county-house hotels (Americans probably adore it) with few obvious distinguishing features. Until that is, the amuse-gueules arrive. This moment reassures that there is something unique and interesting to be relished here.

On the plate in front of us, a red sea of exquisite sweet-potato crisps, twisting and curving in tortuous waves, parting for the crossing of a troop of saintly cheese biscuits, bordered with dark rims of poppy seeds. Promising, very promising indeed.

Intrigue and mystery follow discreetly, snuck away on the back of the elegant menu. "Tevzemei un brivabai" it reads. That's Latvian. Well, of course it is, for our chef/patron, Martin Blunos' parents are from Latvia, though he himself was born here.

Glimpses of Eastern Europe surface here and there - borsh terrine with beef piragi, caviare and blinis with scrambled duck eggs. I've always been led to believe that it is inviting all sorts of problems to only softly cook duck eggs, since their porous shells can absorb heaven knows what pernicious muck, but maybe these are of enormously hygienic and pristine pedigree. Anyway, I played safe with the borsh terrine, and was blessed in my choice. Well, I'm a sucker for beetroot. Just can't resist the stuff. The terrine was as elegant as the surroundings, with slivers of beetroot and carrot set in a well-flavoured purple beetroot jelly - an impressive display for a vegetable that is so often maligned. A little soured cream to sully the purity of the terrine in the most seductive fashion, and then the added bonus of a separate bowl of miniature beef pastes - the piragis - adding a good, savoury note as counterbalance to the natural sweetness of beetroot.

Much as I loved my first course, I had to admit that Ros's ravioli of crab was even better. The small but perfect quantity of cognac cream sauce, which had not much appealed to me on paper, was light and delicate. The crab hidden inside the ravioli married divinely with just the right amount of saffron. Lucky girl. Janet, meanwhile, was having a tedious time. Quite how it is possible to make boudin blanc (white "pudding", usually made with veal and/or chicken) so utterly tasteless and watery, it is hard to imagine.

The rest of the menu proceeds in a classic French manner. Our main courses confirmed without a shadow of a doubt that Martin Blunos' tour de force is fish. We all three turned seawards, and sweet, succulent chunky scallops made star appearances. (Scallops are big in Bath today - the superb fishmonger in the centre of town had already whispered to me confidentially that he had landed a haul of prime scallops - perhaps these were from the same batch.) My boned steak of seatrout arrives embracing a fat round pearly scallop, and more nestle around the fish. The light butter sauce and the delicate nuggets of vegetables turn this into a dish that conjures up the sheer joy of this time of year, when all is fresh, when days are lengthening, the new season ushers in our most delicious fish, and the most perfect young vegetables, miles away from the heavy foods of winter.

Rapt though we were by our various dishes, I couldn't help letting my attention be distracted every now and then by the gentle swish of the magnificent cheese trolley as it rolled past. None of that modern three teensy portions arranged artfully on a plate. Here was cheese in full glory, dozens of them, mostly French, in prime condition. Ros fell even more deeply for its allure, and settled comfortably, with considerable encouragement from the pair of us, for four or five morsels, including pencil shavings of tete de moine, and a piquant aged mimolette. With them came a small helping of pickled shallot to tease the deep flavours out even further.

The cheese was, I think, a wise choice. In Janet's pretty mousse it was well-nigh impossible to detect the eponymous pear, while my gratin of oranges with walnuts suffered from over-sharp fruit and slightly bitter walnuts. We gazed, not a little enviously, over at Ros's plate.

A patchy meal, then, but one with tremendous highs, most obvious when it came to fish, and well above average lows. And call me new-fangled, but I couldn't help but long for some little spark of modernity to creep in among the rather dated luxury. I itched to drop a chilli or an explosive bunch of coriander onto a dish or two. Or, less radically, to see more obvious traces of the nostalgia that puts Milda, the statue of Mother Latvia onto the cover of the menu, or uncle Harijs paintings of Latvian country scenes on the walls, appearing in the food.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas