Water, water, everywhere. But then, I am in Bath, so it is not surprising. It starts with a 50p glass of warm spa water in the 18th-century splendour of the Pump Room, poured by a be-wigged and befrocked gentleman with a fruity West Country twang. Then I meander through the city's ancient Roman Baths, listening to Bill Bryson witter on - in my very flash audio-tour guide - about the brilliant aquatic-engineering skills of the Romans. I trail my hand through the naturally warm spring water streaming into the Baths, and wish I had time to go cavorting in the fabulous rooftop pool of the long-awaited, £40m Thermae Bath Spa. Then it starts raining.
No sooner do I ensconce myself in the mullioned window of a sweet little Georgian townhouse, home to the just-opened Blackstones Restaurant, than the waitress bounds up with a carafe of water.
"Is it spa water?" I ask.
"No, it's Bath water" she replies, for probably the 14th time that day.
We both have a giggle, and I move on to a more interesting liquid in the form of a honey-coloured Tanglefoot Ale (£4) from Dorset's Badger Brewery, which seems to me a fine and proper use of good water, as does a Luscombe Devon cider (£3.50), made from some of Britain's most deliciously named apples, including Slack Ma Girdle, Pig's Snout, Tom Putt and Sops in Wine.
Whether it was the waters of Bath that first brought Rebecca and Daniel Blackstone here is not known. I do know, however, that Daniel worked in some of London's finest restaurants (including Chez Bruce), while Rebecca was Delia Smith's food stylist for five years. They upped sticks for Bath after marrying in 2003.
The following year, they opened Blackstones Kitchen, a small corner shop and take-away just across the road. I almost wish I was reviewing it instead, because it's a lovely spot, with its eat-me-now menu of hot Wiltshire bacon rolls with ketchup, Lebanese lamb pies, and hummingbird cupcakes. While browsing, I pick up a jar of Blackstones Chilli Jam from the shelf and realise with a shock that it is still warm. OK, now I'm in love.
The new restaurant is a much more ambitious enterprise, spread over four whitewashed, wooden-floored dining-rooms linked by spiral stairs. It's all light and white, with lolly-pink and lime-green laminated tables and mushroom moulded plastic seating that cocks a snook at Bath's more traditional tearoom décor. The all-day menu, too, goes beyond Bath buns and quiche to explore what it calls "the kind of food you look forward to going around to friends to eat, or going home to mum for".
It's friendly and casual in an almost antipodean style, with a Blackstones full fry and a Brown Cow Organics beef burger mixing it with seared scallops with pancetta and pea puree, broad bean and ricotta ravioli, and warm, slow-roast shoulder of lamb.
Four quid gets you a spiffing bowl of ribollita soup that is as good-natured and full of beans as the hearty Tuscan original. Follow it up with the fish of the day, a lovely, fat, roasted fillet of brill (£11) draped over smooth but solid mashed potato with a light, creamy shallot sauce, and Bob's your uncle. Add a bottle of Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (£24) from a global-ranging wine list that keeps almost the perfect balance between price and quality, and you would be tempted to do a Blackstone and up sticks for Bath yourself.
It is only when the menu embraces more exotic influences that the cracks show. Oriental food has become de rigueur for modern British kitchens, but the results so often show very little understanding of the complexities and flavour balances involved. A starter of Thai beef noodle salad (£7) neither looks nor tastes particularly Thai, with characterless noodles and a thin, sharp lime dressing that lacks the Thai balancing act of salty fish sauce and soothing sweetness. A generous pile of sweet, light Cornish crabmeat (£7.50) comes with grilled bread, needing only lemon juice or aioli to perk it up. Instead, it gets an assertively hot, brash and bullying chilli, lime and mango salsa, which does it no favours.
The mum factor then kicks in with what Blackstones does best: cake and pud. A wedge of freshly baked plum crumble cake (£3) and a bubbling blackberry, apple and lemon cobbler (£4.50) effortlessly hit the spot.
Local shopkeepers and office workers come and go, lunching on onion tarts and fish cakes, while silver-haired day trippers gossip over pots of tea and muffins. Only restaurant critics trying to stay out of the rain do the full three-course thing with wine and stay for hours.
Blackstones is fresh, modern and good value, with easy-to-love staff, easy-to-take prices, and easy-to-eat food from a slightly inconsistent kitchen. It is not sophisticated, or overly professional - heaven forbid - but a few more places like this in town, and we'll soon be going to Bath for more than just water.
Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 OK 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
Blackstones Restaurant 2-3 Queen Street, Bath, tel: 01225 444 403 Dinner served Tuesday to Saturday 10am-10pm; Sunday 10am-4pm. Around £65 for two including drinks
Second helpings: More husband-and- wife restaurants
Le Champignon Sauvage 24-26 Suffolk Road, Cheltenham, Gloucs, tel: 01242 573 449 Last year, Helen and David Everitt-Matthias enlarged and updated their two-Michelin-starred restaurant, so now more people can enjoy David's divine roast pigeon with cockscombs, and sweetbread and oxtail lasagne.
The Box Tree 35-37 Church Street, Ilkley, West Yorkshire, tel: 01943 608 484 Simon and Rena Gueller took over this landmark Ilkley restaurant in 2004, breathing life into the old girl with the likes of Simon's sea bass with aubergine caviar, and lobster and tarragon risotto.
Braidwoods Restaurant, Drumastle Mill Cottage, Dalry, North Ayrshire, tel: 01294 833 544 Keith and Nicola Braidwood have transformed this old Ayrshire cottage into one of Scotland's most consistent restaurants, with refined cooking based on top Scottish produce.
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