Enjoying the remains of the day

Brunch drifts into tea and on towards dinner at a restaurant inspired by a costume drama. <i>Jemima Hunt </i>tries life at a more civilised pace
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COLLINGBOURNE DUCIS 12 George Street, Bath BA1 2EH, Tel: 01225 333303

COLLINGBOURNE DUCIS 12 George Street, Bath BA1 2EH, Tel: 01225 333303

The drive from Devon is a long one, especially when you're behind the wheel of an old car. The prospect of returning to London was daunting, and the stop-off at Bath, although something of a detour, was a welcome one. Bath is always pretty, particularly on a sunny day, and today packs of tourists roamed streets that were awash with summer light.

Collingbourne Ducis is located on George Street, bang in the centre of Bath, and part of a Georgian terrace. The restaurant opened a month ago. I knew nothing about it and didn't known what to expect. When we arrived, it was immediately clear that Collingbourne Ducis was exactly how you would imagine a Bath restaurant should be. A glorified tea room-cum-restaurant with high ceilings and a library complete with a panel of heraldic, stained-glass shelves crammed with silverware and crockery and a long cushioned bench to sit on at tables. It was plush in a comfy-casual way.

I met up with my lunching friend, complete with her one-year-old, my god-son Gabriel. We were ushered in by a friendly waiter who made room for the pram and showed us to a corner table. Gabriel was given a prime viewing spot and a box of toys appeared from nowhere. Always a good sign. Then came the tricky bit. Time to decide which meal we were having. It was 2.30pm, going on 3pm. The tail end of brunch; all inclusive £8.95 eggs benedict, smoked salmon and muffins was on offer, as was the onset of £9.75 afternoon tea. On the counter behind us were mountains of flapjacks and gingerbread men, and an array of sticky cakes. There was also the option of lunch, which generally works out at around £35 for two: gazpacho, tomato and mozzarella salad, lobster club sandwich or seabass with chargrilled vegetables. In keeping with slightly muddled décor, we happily opted for a bit of everything: smoked chicken salad, scrambled eggs, coffee and a celebratory glass of champagne.

Unable to work out what to make of the place, I asked the waiter for an explanation. As the story goes, the restaurant is named after Collingbourne Ducis, a village outside Bath which is home to Andrew Mellon, the proprietor, and, more revealingly, which features in the novel The Remains of the Day. Suddenly it all made sense. The light fittings designed as crowns were a homage to the Windsors (The Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson visit the house in the story), the clotted cream walls were the kitchen, and the library with its leather sofas and books and lone man reading the newspaper was, well, the library. The only thing missing was Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson playing cat and mouse among the potted ferns.

The restaurant was filling up. Where previously we had been accompanied only by a good-looking couple eating BLTs, we now had a Japanese family slowly making their way down a cake stand. Which way round, they wanted to know, splitting open their scones? Cream then jam? Jam then cream? Our food soon arrived. The chicken salads were generously portioned with mixed leaves, aubergine, red peppers, and deliciously smoky strips of chicken in a mustardy dressing. The scrambled eggs were light and fluffy. Vivaldi's Four Seasons played in the background and everyone was happy, in a Sunday sort of way.

Our gaze drifted back to the cakes. How could we resist? We ordered a slice of lemon zest cake, a slice of Bakewell tart and a pot of mango tea. The tea list is impressive. China teas, Russian teas, Japanese teas, South African and Kenyan. The tarts were less so. The Bakewell was richly flavoured with almonds but could have been more moist. The lemon tart was floury with a paste of lemon curd. Both could have done with being covered beneath glass domes.

Meanwhile, my friend regaled me with stories of a misspent youth in Bath, and we were having such a nice time we toyed with staying for dinner. A glance at the menu revealed organic salmon and braised duckling, all turned by the fine hand of Raymond Blanc protégé, Stuart Busby. We were tempted by a fine list of wines to make a night of it. But sadly, I had still to drive more than a hundred miles home.

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