A slice of Bath: What did the Romans ever cook for us?
They know how to cater for guests here, says Andy Lynes. They've been doing it for a while
Saturday 28 September 2013
The Roman Baths (01225 477785; romanbaths.co.uk) in the shadow of the magnificent Gothic Abbey is Bath's main tourist attraction, drawing nearly one million visitors annually. However, the elegant dining room of the adjoining Pump Room (01225 444477; romanbaths.co.uk) best represents the reason I've come to a city that's most often renowned for its Palladian architecture. The Georgian upper classes used to frequent the Pump Room in order to take the reputedly health-giving waters (you can still sip a glass of the murky-looking liquid). Bath has long been a place of pilgrimage for devotees of fine food and drink.
The recent arrival of a trio of top-flight chefs (see "Fresh Cuts" panel) has put it firmly on the gastronomic map. In October, the Great Bath Feast (0906 06 711 2000; greatbathfeast.co.uk) celebrates local produce with cookery masterclasses, gala dinners, brewery tours and celebrity events including a book reading from local resident Mary Berry.
Begin the walk by heading east from the Pump Room along Cheap Street then turn left into High Street to the Guildhall Market (01225 460808; bathguildhallmarket.co.uk) where, under the 19th-century domed ceiling, you can root out local delicacies among the haberdashery and hardware. The Guildhall Delicatessen is one of the few places where you can still buy Bath chaps (cured and smoked pig's cheeks). And, for something less local but equally delicious, grab an Amaretto milkshake at the American- style, Fifties-themed Time Out Espresso Bar (07854 808849).
Head south, following signs for Bath Spa railway station to the new Vaults dining quarter at Brunel Square next to the station and opposite the Southgate shopping centre. The Bertinet Bakery (01225 445531; bertinet.com), run by local celebrity chef Richard Bertinet, serves great coffee and high-quality viennoiserie and pastries. The beautiful Graze Bar, Brewery and Chophouse (01225 429 392; bathales.com), run by Bath Ales brewery, serves beers from the in-house microbrewery and locally reared steak. A good spot for brunch too.
Follow the River Avon west around the edge of the city centre along Broad Quay and Green Park Road. If you're there on a Saturday morning, delve into the Farmers' Market (bathfarmersmarket.co.uk) held in the former Green Park railway station. It's full of enticing stuff such as Somerset wines and cider, local cheeses and a tempting display of cakes and cookies from The Great Cake Company.
Walk north along Charles Street and cross over Monmouth Street to Chapel Row for what might be the best cup of coffee of your life. With its white tiles and natural-wood bar, Colonna & Small's (07766 808 067; colonnaandsmalls.co.uk) is a delight for caffeine connoisseurs; its award-winning barristas are eager to guide customers through unfamiliar names such as the fruity Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.
Follow the road around and cross Queen Square into Wood Street and then back into the city centre to Quiet Street. Browse the cheeses in the well stocked window at Paxton and Whitfield (01225 466403; paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk) then pop into Kitchens Cook Shop (01225 330524; kitchenscookshop.co.uk) which has just about any bit of culinary kit you could wish for.
Keep heading east into Green Street to find the Tasting Room (01225 483070; tastingroom-cafebar.co.uk) which stocks an excellent range of boutique wines and local ales and which has a charming café . Turn the corner into the recently opened Milsom Place (01225 789040; milsomplace.co.uk) shopping complex of Georgian buildings, exit on to Broad Street and turn right into Saracen Street then left into Walcot Street (walcotstreet.co.uk). Dubbed Bath's Artisan Quarter, the street is lined with independent craft and antique shops as well as cafés and food shops including The Fine Cheese Shop (01225 448748; finecheese.co.uk), Raisin Wines (01225 422 577; raisinwine.co.uk) and Made By Ben (01225 319999; madebyben.com), an award- winning hole-in-the-wall takeaway. Stop at the wonderful Sam's Kitchen (01225 481159; samskitchendeli.co.uk) at No 61. With its flagstone floor, upright piano, large communal table and charming service, it's like popping round to a friend's house.
A 10-minute walk west brings you to the Circus, a ring of beautifully maintained Georgian townhouses. A few steps west on Brock Street is the upmarket neighbourhood restaurant The Circus (01225 466020; thecircuscafeandrestaurant.co.uk) where chef Alison Golden is praised for her skilled use of local, seasonal ingredients.
Continue along Brock Street to the Royal Crescent and finish at the restored Number One Royal Crescent museum (01225 428 126; no1royalcrescent.org.uk) where you can discover what 18th-century domestic life was like in one of the city's finest houses. You might envy the Georgians for their Regency surroundings, but I wouldn't swap Bath's 21st-century gastronomic scene for a brick of it. Bring on dinner.
Chef Gordon Jones performs culinary magic at Menu Gordon Jones (01225 480871; menugordonjones.co.uk), a converted butcher's in Wellsway that's a 10-minute drive south of the city centre. The surprise, no-choice tasting menu might include roast cod tongues, green lentils and aubergine caviar. At Allium Brasserie (01225 805244; abbeyhotelbath.co.uk), former Michelin-starred chef Chris Staines is cooking some of the most exciting food in the city. He combines Asian influences with classic French techniques in dishes such as quail glazed in chilli caramel with lychee and coriander.
Chef Chris Cleghorn worked with Heston Blumenthal before becoming head chef of The Olive Tree (01225 447928; olivetreebath.co.uk). The superbly crafted dishes here might include scallops with Alsace bacon, pea purée and shellfish reduction.
Bath Spa railway station is served by First Great Western and South West Trains; for times and fares, call 08457 484950 or visit nationalrail.co.uk.
The Queensbury, Russell Street (01225 447928; thequeensberry.co.uk), is made up of four interconnected Georgian townhouses. It has doubles from £125, room only.
The Mayor of Bath's Corps of Honorary Guides (bathguides.org .uk) offers free, daily two-hour tours covering the city's main points of historical and cultural interest.
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