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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
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.

    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines