Review: Allium, Best Western Abbey Hotel, North Parade, Bath

The spices on the quail left my tastebuds buzzing like hornets

Last time I looked, Bath was pretty disappointing when it came to recommendable restaurants. It also suffered an inexplicable dearth of off-licences, and the people in the street were all wearing beanie hats. A year later, there's a new off-licence called Independent Spirit, specialising in posh malt whiskies, and the locals in the street are now all wearing BacoFoil shawls (I found out later they'd been running a marathon and were equilibrating their body-heat) – and there are now three brasseries to choose from – Bill's, The Tramshed (no relation of Mark Hix's chicken-or-steak joint) and Brasserie Blanc. But the happiest surprise is that when the Abbey Hotel changed hands last summer, the new owner installed Chris Staines to run the restaurant, which is re-named Allium, the genus which contains onions, leeks and garlic.

Staines is a top choice: he was Chef de Cuisine at Marco Pierre White's Oak Room, then head chef at Foliage, the fine-dining bit of the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge where I can still remember, years ago, eating raw tuna with crab slathered with wasabi ice-cream and, get this, crunchy flying fish roe. Staines likes to give his diners little surprises. So I took three friends there with anticipation.

The Abbey Hotel isn't a glamorous venue; the bar is small and spasmodically staffed, and the restaurant remains as bland as before – the tables formica, the chairs an inoffensive lavender – although the decorators have added some would-be-edgy art (Warhol's Marilyn Monroe, a couple of sub-Jackson Pollocks) and two gigantic neo-Etruscan pots standing in alcoves. No matter. The menu holds the attention from the start, with its eccentric line-up of co-star ingredients.

Take the miso-cured Loch Duart salmon: the softest salmon that's ever touched your lips, it came with a hundreds-and-thousands shower of seasoning, plus a fried oyster fritter for spiky contrast. Also featured was pickled cucumber, grapefruit and a smear of wasabi dressing – a stunning mini-banquet of zingy flavours. Butternut squash soup with sage pesto tortellini and a wand of crispy prosciutto was accompanied by a millefeuille-sized Welsh rarebit. It was, said Marilyn, "velvety and piquant, very comforting".

Quail glazed in chilli caramel was irresistible, but there was more to it than chilli and caramel – how about random additions of Chinese cabbage, roundels of palm hearts, lychee, peanuts and coriander? "I'm surprised by the peanuts," said James. "They're too assertive. But the quail's fine and the salad items cool down the chilli." I found the glaze on the quail too close to teriyaki sauce, but the spices left my tastebuds buzzing like hornets. Aminatta's salad of salt-baked beetroot looked a treat, the white and red beetroot echoed in the ruby endive, even if the goat's cheese failed to deliver pungency.

The main courses promised more heterogeneous shenanigans. Poached fillet of Atlantic haddock was surrounded by tugboats of Cornish mussels and (excellent idea) chorizo with butternut squash – a very orange plateful, but intensely satisfying. Slow-cooked belly of pork was soft but al dente, given a blood-and-ashes kick by salty black pudding, the piggy earthiness of both balanced by crispy carrots and curly kale.

The nearest the chef got to everyday cooking was my breast of corn-fed chicken, with crushed Jerusalem artichokes, purple sprouting broccoli and truffle cream sauce. But what a plateful! Were I enough of a hipster to photograph my supper, I'd have Instagrammed it: a great tranche of chicken surrounded by lumps of artichoke, chicken thighs stuffed with duxelle mushrooms, pickled radish… It was welcomingly hearty and filling for a cold March night.

The only dish that disappointed was the sea bream. See if you can spot the odd man out in these ingredients: sea bream with sautéed potatoes, violet artichokes, octopus, salsa verde and lemon curd. That's right – lemon curd. "The fish is perfectly cooked," said James, "but there's too much of a fight between the artichoke, salsa verde and lemon curd. It's too noisy." I had to agree. The chef said he thought the fennel might cut through the sweetness of the lemon curd. Sorry, it didn't.

Puddings were mostly delicious. My lychee panna cotta was a dream of South Pacific sweetness, and lifted to the blue empyrean by a wonderful lemongrass granite. Muscovado sponge with mascarpone cream and a pear poached in brown sugar syrup was joy enough without the addition of caramelised hazelnuts and white coffee ice-cream. The meal ended as it began, with dishes that offered a slightly crazed generosity of textures and curlicues of flavouring. Not all of it worked, but I hope you get to experience Staines's liberality and boldness of ambition when you're next in the badlands of Bath. He's a chef in a million.

Allium, Best Western Abbey Hotel, North Parade, Bath, Somerset BA1 1LF (01225 805249). Around £140 for two with wine

Food ****

Ambience **

Service ****

Tipping policy

'No service charge. All tips go to the staff'

Side orders: Scrummy Somerset

The Pony & Trap

Josh and Holly Eggleton's one-Michelin-star gastropub serves dishes such as marinated pork fillet with Parma ham, black pudding, apple and celeriac (£15).

Knowle Hill, Newtown, Chew Magna (01275 332627)

Bath Priory

Slow-roast loin of local rose veal with caramelised cauliflower, confit carrots and veal jus is typical of Michael Caines' ambitious cuisine at this luxury hotel restaurant.

The Bath Priory, Weston Road, Bath (01225 331922)

Lord Poulett Arms

Try the pheasant breast Kiev with mash, Savoy cabbage and truffle sauce (£14) at this award-winning pub.

High St, Hinton St George (01460 73149)

Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
UK Border Control
i100
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn