The Bath Priory

The Bath Priory.

The surroundings for this Michelin awarded restaurant is bold. I mean a retirement home come antiques hoard is an acquired taste. But at least they have stuffy service to match.

It’s not that their target market is retired is really the issue. Why would I care? The age of the diners has no impact on me really, but it does filter through to our experience in a few ways. And it’s less a bad thing, and more of a warning of what to expect.

We had a glass of English sparking wine on the patio over looking the gardens, and this was without a doubt the best part of the experience. It was serene, and the warm summer air, muddled with cool fizz and the faint waft of flowers is enough to make any Brit go weak at the knees. We do love it when our summer comes up trumps. And over looking the croquet lawn, I thought we might have stumbled onto Downton. The house itself is gorgeous, and with a perfectly manicured exterior and gardens, it’s a shame the interior is how it is. The main lounge/study area is nice, and while the artwork is dry and uninteresting, the feel is in keeping with the house’s history. I’m down with that, and it adds to the experience. But the bar area had a catastrophic collection of art, and the restaurant itself, in all its peachy glory, is dull, dated (despite a recent refurb), and doesn’t make the most of the picturesque surroundings.

After some distinctly average amuse bouches ‘on the lawn’, which consisted of cacky hummus, tasty salmon and un-delicious cucumber/apple concoction, we were ushered into the dining room. It was quiet in this plush carpeted room. There was a quiet murmur from neighboring tables, but it seemed exceptionally devoid of any atmosphere. Maybe that’s what they’re paying for. Silence. This stiff ambience is added to and accentuated by the staff. After such a warm welcome and friendly disposition from The Ledbury last month, we were hoping for much the shame. Sadly, despite asking for recommendations on wines and attempting to spark a rapport with the waiters, we were met with flummoxed faces and short answers. It’s a shame, I’m sure they’re lovely people in real life, but it seems working in somewhere with such a strict adherence to some outdated standards means their staff are out of touch and cold.

We had matched wine, and whilst they were tasty, especially the dessert wine that was paired with the vanilla mascarpone parfait, none of them matched the eye-watering price attributed to them. Eating out as we do, and seeing the same wines for three times the price here as say Flinty Red or Bells Diner really reinforces the underlying ethos of The Priory: A lot of money for something you can get elsewhere, for half the price. You’re paying to be ‘there’, and unfortunately ‘there’ isn’t somewhere I’d want to be.

So, other than the expense and the staff, we should spend some time on the food. We had a good tomato soup as an appetizer, which was, yeh, good, fine. And the starters also were good. Actually, the raw mackerel was delicious. A simple dish with caviar, cucumber, radish and horseradish, it was fresh, clean and well balanced. Simple, yes. But pulled off. The Innes goats curd mousse with pinto peppers, dressed with thin croutons and fresh basil was again simple, but again, worked. Nothing wow, but good, and I’d eat this again.

For mains we had saffron linguine, soft poached egg and hake. This was bizaree, and the presentation hindered the dish from gelling. Whilst everything was cooked to perfection (other than a slightly heavily salted bit of fish), it was good. It was just confused, and small. The lamb galette, sweetbread, asparagus, pearl barley and carrot purée was much the same. Disappointment I think is the word.

Pudding was exponentially improved by the banging dessert wine. But as it was, was rather underwhelming. The parfait was good, but the slightly burnt honeycomb hindered the dish, and it was just a bit of a non-event. The soufflé was tasty, but again, just fine. Even the petit fours had their highs and lows. With highs from the chocolate praline truffle and tuilles, and lows from the cheesecake shot glass itself. We’re still undecided about the Turkish delight. The jury is out.

So how would I summaries the experience? The service and interior had no personality, whilst the food was OK. Some courses were great, others off the mark, but nothing stuck out as remarkable, in a good or a bad way. It’s a bloody quick way to blow the best part of £200 though. (Unless you can eat the £27.50 set-lunch, and not have wine or coffees – if you can, you’re a better person than me). For me, it’s all a lot of pomp and circumstance, with no delicious food to fall back on. (Go and have a glass of something sparkling and wander round the lawn though.)

— I decided to include the photos as some of the dishes were pretty, but apologies for the dim lighting and bad quality of the images!!!!! —-

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English Fizz.

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Amuse bouche

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Soup

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Innes goats curd starter

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Mackerel starter

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Lamb main

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Hake main

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Vanilla mascapone parfait pudding

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Passion fruit souffle with coconut sorbet pudding

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Petit fours

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Bruton (& At The Chapel)

BRUTON

The Bruton train station immediately plunges you into deepest darkest Somerset. With naïve and simply un-googled views of Bruton being ‘just past Bath’ on the train from Bristol Temple Meads, the hour and a half travel time was quite the shock – but at least we had the Sunday papers to keep us occupied. Although, with a table booked for 4:00, and breakfast fast becoming a distant memory, the abundance of food images in said papers was abhorrent. Hunger fully developed, we set off from the tranquil station into the ‘high street’, past the impressive church with it’s forever chiming bells through the Midsummer town. A town I highly suspect was entirely curated by the National Trust or English Heritage.

My first impression of Bruton was its quaintness and charm. With character rich stone houses, dating from way back when, it really is beautiful to look at. And as if to rub its perfection in our faces, it even has a babbling brook trickling through (River Brue). With gorgeous banks on either side, dotted with wild flowers and looming trees. It reminded me of similar dated towns such as Lewes in terms of the architecture, and eclectic mix of old dilapidated building next to tasteful (and expensive looking) conversions and restorations.

Bruton appears to have heaps of character, in the winding alleys snaking off from the main artery, reminiscent of old villages and towns such at Port Issac yet with the grandeur of Bath. However the second big impression was the vacancy of the place, almost death life silence smothers it save those infernal church bells. Walking along the main streets of one of the the smallest towns in England it is clear it is no ghost town, the odd range rover rolls on through. But many shops are closed, other than the obligatory pub, convenience store and the main restaurant. Walking through the back streets and across the river, we never passed a soul. So if you want to really see Bruton, I’d recommend going for one night. You can spend Saturday relishing in the craft shops and cheese peddlers, and getting a better taste for the retail, food and life it offers, while Sunday you can appreciate the serenity that comes with the holiest day of the week.

And oh! What a food haven it seems to be! Given it WAS a Sunday, many of what I can only hasten to assume are the local delicacies were shut. Matt’s Kitchen, a restaurant right in Matt’s home has a daily changing menu that reads fantastically. Truffles Brasserie looked equally if not more appealing, promising a refined and delicious dinner, while Bruton Wholefoods stores looked like the most authentic and interesting organic store come café that I’ve seen in a while. All of these places within basically 100 metres of each other really reinforced a lasting memory of Bruton as being not ‘foodie’ but tasteful. See ya later chains, there no room for you in this little Somerset idyll.

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I took no other photos other than the roast. Apologies!

AT THE CHAPEL

So as unfortunate as it was that we couldn’t spend more time in Bruton and explore these promising eateries, our table was booked ‘At The Chapel’, and it did not disappoint. As you walk up to the restaurant desk, you are immediately taken aback by the size of the place. Not in square meters, but the height of the ceilings leaves a beautiful and open building. The décor itself is refined and tasteful. It boasts a minimalist tone, with streaks of wilderness and modernism helped along by the gallons of natural light filling the room. It’s mainly white with accents of natural tones, exposed wood and glass leaving an impressive finish. And despite much of the modern art on the walls being rather ‘unimpressive’, the splashes of vibrant colour they give the room are welcome.

The meal itself was delicious. Really super delicious. The English Laverstoke Park Farm buffalo mozzarella was a highlight for me, mainly as a novelty more than anything else. In texture, it was unusual, and unlike it’s Italian counter-part. It was soft, but not gooey, yet still melts in the mouth. Not as good as Italian? Maybe not. But delicious in its own right. Hell yeah.

I’d have to say the best dish was probably the asparagus and poached egg though. In the main part because of the ingenious brassica pesto that accompanied it which lifted the simple asparagus dish to another level, complimenting all the flavors and giving you a different taste to your more run of the mill asparagus expectations. Executed beautifully, it is the best asparagus dish I’ve had in a while.

The roast was also a hit, and one of the best we’ve had in a restaurant for years. With perfectly cooked beef, buttery squash mash, cauliflower cheese, well-cooked and seasoned veg, there wasn’t really anywhere to go wrong. The Westcombe ricotta gnudi was also brilliant, perfect in texture and taste, highlighted by the sage, wild garlic and pea shoots, which adorned it.We drank Picpoul, which worked well with the intense flavours of basil & tomato starter and garlic splattered gnudi, but would have been too sweet with the fish. The house red worked well with the beef.

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We were too full for pudding, but did indulge in some take away treats from the in-house bakery. Their brownies were not as good as mine (ahem), but the lemon drizzle was pretty tasty.  At The Chapel has an in-house bakery and wine shop, which is immediately a win for any self-respecting hotel.

Any qualms? Potentially the unfinished nature of the dishes, in that I was recommended sides with everything that wasn’t the roast. Also the puddings didn’t SOUND delicious enough to order despite already being uncomfortably full, which is saying something. The service was temperamental, which tainted it slightly. And the biggest regret was not trying the pizzas. But i’m just picking holes.

In the immortal words of Arnie, we will be back.

Blunos.

This post has encountered a few hitches along the way.

Number One: It is about 4 months tarde.

Number Two: I lost my phone for 2 months in-between eating and writing this post, so the photos have since been lost. iCloud conspired against me and all. So you’ll have to use your imagination for this post. Which is tiresome, I know.

Fear not though, as I did write this the old fashioned way on the train home from bath when I did make the trip to Blunos, so the words are as fresh as the fish we were served. So here’s my take on Blunos: From Water to Waiter (in a matter of hours).

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Given the proximity of Bath to Bristol, it’s  trip I often make, but the food scene there has always seemed slightly disheartening. This is a mix of unfortunate experiences at the places that make the food headlines there, such as Chequers, but equally my own lack of insider knowledge. Blunos however, has shown me the light. Maybe it’s the magnificent moustache on the 90’s cooking star that lured me to his new establishment, or the whispers of greatness that drifted around it’s opening. Whatever it was, a rare saturday off combined with some crisp October sunshine meant and trip to Bath was on the cards and Blunos was quickly booked. Sunshine which once inside Blunos was sadly quite elusive.

Blunos is slightly off the beaten track, which is bonus for me, as it meant I could explore and escape the crowds which I often associate with weekends in the historic city. The restaurant itself though is rather bizarre. With few indications of the best way to get there, we wandered through the car park of the hotel it is within, past some aluminium garden furniture strewn across a paved area… Where we then found a ‘tunnel’ style entrance, taking us away from the stunning view, into a window-less room. The lack of natural sun-light and dedication to synthetic materials and colours was somewhat frustrating in a restaurant that prides itself on fresh fish and local produce. Any indications of it being in Bath were absent, and you could easily be inside a dodgy London establishment that self confesses itself as ‘modern’ or ‘metropolitian’. The lurid orange and lime with metallic highlights combined with school white board with today’s special all combines to create something unimpressive.

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Photo credit: Left: Western Daily Press, Right: Trip Advisor

Let’s skip along to the food…

To start, well, it started excellently, with the moustached man himself presenting us with wafter thin bread crisps and mackerel pate, as well as a whole mini loaf of crusty bread (complete with engraved heafty bread knife). So as far as starters go, those which combine free things, and the appearance of 90s star chefs, are usually some of the better.

To start properly I had D.I.Y smoked salmon Bellinis. With the perfect little rounds of Bellini tucked in a warn napkin bed. Shallots and capers to sprinkle, cream cheese to spread. Yes. This was The One. And, MASSIVE. OK, so the A’la Carte isn’t cheap by any means, but we weren’t given any ‘delicate’ portions. We were given real sized amounts.

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Speedy impression of the starter – to get an idea of the size and cute-ness. Does it come through?

We both had perfectly cooked fish (Salmon and Monkfish). Both dishes were simple but executed brilliantly and to an extremely high standard.

I know i’m skipping over the mains, but how our meal started and ended made it so notable. (Other than the general great food.) And this meal ended with a Signature Egg. A fun, creamy and fruity end to the meal. The sweet cinnamon ‘toast’ soldiers and ‘pepper’ completed this. And managed the impressive task of being stylish and silly at the same time. This is usually given to guests as a pre-dessert, so fear not if you don’t see it on the menu.

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This photo got saved in iCloud-gate…

Maybe I shouldn’t focus too much on interior design. But no matter how great the food is, it should be remembered that you have to sit in their for the whole meal, even when there isn’t food there to distract you. So make it somewhere people want to sit, and want to come back to. Oh but come back I would. Despite it’s resonably high price tag, it was delicious, so yes, I would. I’d make the trip to Bath again and again for this hidden gem. But I’d sit in the car-park.