All posts by Melissa Blease

The Middle Eastern Harvest Feast launches Bath Supper Club Collective at The Grapes Bath, Wednesday 6 October

The Pig Guide is super-excited to be collaborating with two of Bath’s most fabulous foodies to present the first in a series of Bath Supper Club Collective events at The Grapes Bath on Wednesday 6 October.

The Middle Eastern Harvest Feast will be curated and delivered by Bath-based cookery writer, teacher, organic allotmenteer and Supper Club hostess Simi Rezai, who many of you already know as the force behind Simi’s Kitchen. The BSCC launch is timed to coincide with both The Great Bath Feast and British Food Fortnight, and the event will take place in the uniquely beautiful, lovingly restored, intimate Jacobean Dining Room on the first floor of The Grapes.

I was originally inspired to start up the Bath Supper Club Collective because seasonal produce and the ability of food to bring people together is one of the great pleasures in life,” says Grapes’ landlady Ellie Leiper. “Since moving to Bath from the countryside where we grew our own produce for decades and had our own flock of milking sheep, heritage pigs, goats and poultry, I have been struck by a powerful need to reconnect to the changing of the seasons through dishes that delight. Simi’s love for the land and how that translates in her native dishes is joy on a platter for me, as this was the food I grew up with in Nigeria, sharing meals with many Middle Eastern family friends. Meanwhile, Melissa of Pig Guide ‘fame’ was an obvious choice in terms of getting the wheels on this wonderful project rolling!”

Simi enjoys and cooks food from across the world but is best known for her native Persian Azeri dishes. For the past 11+ years she has facilitated and hosted cookery classes inspired by seasonal fruit, vegetables and herbs, sourced from her own allotment when possible and championing local producers. In 2019, Simi launched her successful Lockdown Supper Clubs and she is now looking forward to receiving guests at The Grapes for a feast that she describes as “celebrating the harvest bounty synonymous with this time of the year” (you can check out that fabulous menu here.)

Tickets for the inaugural Bath Supper Club Collective cost just £45pp to include, of course, a fabulous feast and a welcoming seasonal cocktail; to make that all-important booking click on this link… but be warned: numbers are strictly limited to a maximum of 24 guests and are expected to sell out fast, so move now to guarantee your place at the party.

Can’t make the date? Ellie, Simi and Melissa will be hosting regular events throughout the year celebrating high days and holidays such as a Fireworks Night Supper on Wednesday 3 November and Burns Night on Tuesday 25 January.

Pig Guide review: Bandook Kitchen, Milsom Place

If you’re looking for pretty, you’ve come to the right place – Milsom Place, in fact: a super-pretty, characterful, split-level urban sanctuary based around a historic cobbled courtyard, today home to a variety of independent businesses and high street flagship stores. It’s also home to Bandook Kitchen, a key member of the highly-acclaimed Mint Room family who have branches of both restaurants in both Bristol and Bath.

While the Bristol incarnation (at the heart of Wapping Wharf) may have fashionista funk on its side, the Bath location has inherent grace and style; it’s all kinda ancient-meets-modern (Milsom Place dates back to the early 18th century, don’cha know), and there’s something magical about the whole complex before you even set foot in Bandook Kitchen itself.

Once inside the restaurant, it’s pretty magical too. Owner Moe Rahmen says he took inspirational cues and clues for the restaurant’s sophisticated but eclectic design flourishes (think, colour, colour, colour, working together in bold/subtle harmony; plush banquette seating; striking statement lighting) from the Hindustani cafés where the British and Indian army used to gather to eat together. Gosh! Those guys certainly had a keen eye for stylish detail. Moe’s looked back in order to look forward in terms of the menu too: from street food and small plates to full-on big dishes with a big history taking in dosas, chaats, pavs and all kinds of tantalising gotta-try-thats along the way, there’s something for everybody from the timid to the temerarious here, while the drinks menus (and take note that the cocktail list is a thing of beauty to behold) puts paid to the recent social media ‘outrage’ regarding restaurants hiking up drinks prices since reopening after the pandemic.

Despite that seductive interior, we enjoyed our most recent Bandook supper at a heated alfresco candle- and fairy-lit table that gave the whole experience a chilled out holiday-style vibe. The only stressful part of our evening was ordering: so much choice on the menu, all of it appealing, and every dish distinctly affordable. What to do? Start with a small’n’street selection, move on to Raj-syle feasting dishes… and bear in mind that you won’t raise any eyebrows if you end up asking for a doggy bag for leftovers.

A Samosa Chaat – described as a “deconstructed Punjabi vegetable samosa” – was so pretty that the thought of prodding it with a fork felt akin to a criminal offence. But once prodded, prepare to have your senses arrested by flavours: soft curried chickpeas, waves of thick, cool yoghurt and layers of tamarind and mint chutney, all scattered by fresh pomegranate jewels, make this little dish a Great Big Hit. Glossy Squid Koliwada shimmied across the table bringing further style and substance to proceedings; crisp little goujons of Amritsari Fish – the subtle chilli heat in the batter tempered by a mellow blast of mint chutney – proved to be compulsively crunchy; and Delhiwale’s Pocket Kebab (a flaky, buttery layered paratha stuffed – and I mean stuffed – with softly-spiced, super-moist chicken) danced along to an altogether earthier tempo… I don’t know who Delhiwale is, but if this is the kind of street food that he keeps in his pocket, he’s definitely a friend for life.

So far, so very non-stop exotic cabaret; in all honesty, just four small plates down (plus a couple of those cocktails), we could have stopped there. But a very good Twitter friend recommended that I try the Lucknowi Parda Lamb Biryani, and it would have been rude not to, so I did. It turned out that my Twitter friend has excellent taste: puncture the crisp pastry lid, and you unearth soft – and I mean, soft – morsels of lamb in the kind of silky, aromatic, subtly sweet/spicy broth that you just know is the kind of concoction that only an expert in the biryani field could prepare. Meanwhile, arriving at Mr Pig’s platform: Railway Lamb Curry, originally developed by chefs working on the railways during the British Raj. Railway is a curry that can’t be categorised: not as bold as, say, a Madras but far less subdued than a Korai or a Bhuna, and relying (I’m guessing?) more on ginger and garlic than chilli for heat, with a distinctly sweet/sour hit adding fascination at every stop on the way to an empty bowl.

Ah, I love Bandook Kitchen. I love the restaurant’s style, audacity and overall vibe. I love how it’s filled a big gap in the Bath eating out scene by blending upper-crust Indian fine dining with a casual, welcoming – and again, I have to reiterate this point – affordable ethos. It’s effortlessly uplifting, and unselfconsciously soul-soothing. And if you’re looking for pretty, you’ve come to the right place.

Bao Buns: after 1721 years waiting in the wings, their moment in the spotlight has finally arrived.

For the past six or seven years, Bao Buns – those seductive, fluffy little pillows of steamed, yeasty delight filled with all manner of tantalising, deeply umami fillings – have dominated the fashionable foodie’s consciousness.

From hundreds of super-hip, Bao-dedicated eateries all the way down to most supermarket shelves (“now you can try the on-trend Chinese snack in your own kitchen!”) by way of multiple pop-up street food ventures or meal kits containing a bag of premixed flour, yeast and sugar alongside a sachet of barbecue sauce and a splash of pickling vinegar at a super-inflated price, nationwide Bao mania has reached a market saturation point that makes it clear that, this time next year, Bao Buns will be “last year” enough for KFC to introduce them to the menu.

The thing is, since Bao Buns were first made in China circa 300BC, I didn’t know they’d ever gone out of fashion.

I’m not of Asian heritage, but I was born and grew up just a stone’s throw away from Liverpool’s Chinatown, where a fully-laden Bao Bun was, in my very early days, a little something piquant to nibble on while we were waiting for our order to be cooked. This was circa 1968, before the Chinese takeaway was convenient, let alone ubiquitous; if we wanted Chinese food ‘to go’, we’d have to take our own bowls and containers to the restaurant with us, and sit on rickety little ex-restaurant chairs adjacent to a scarily hot kitchen while scarily hot chefs (probably) laughed at our Very British Order of Chow Mein, Sweet and Sour Vegetables and Special Fried Rice for 4 (“can we have chips too?” “We no do chips! This is Chinatown!”).

I remember gazing, partly in horror (I was bought up vegetarian) and partly in yearning-to-try fascination, at the whole, fluorescent red roast ducks that hung by their feet over the wok station, and watching in awe as the chefs effortlessly turned massive bowls of whole red peppers, onions and daikon into shreds in seconds. Our Bao Buns, packed with unctuous fatty globules in a thick, smoky sauce, would turn up unbidden while dad and I waited, and I watched. “What’s in it, dad?” “Probably pork, so don’t tell your mum.”

In the 1980s, Bao Buns were late night post-club snacks (3 for £1 from the back of the Yuet Ben) to eat while we waited in the taxi cab queue before giving up on a ride and tottering home on foot, high heels in hand, sticky sauce all over our clothes. In the 1990s, they were the familiar old friends that kept me sitting comfortably throughout a dim sum extravaganza at New York’s legendary Jing Fong, where the jellyfish, chicken claws and turnip cake were as scary as the prospect of David Bowie (allegedly a Jing Fong regular) taking a seat at the table next to ours (he didn’t.)

My Bao Bun friendship rolled right across the globe with me, taking in tofu Baos at Berlin’s Quà Phê, a satay version at Indochine in LA, and a really surreal Bao that arrived as a side dish, cold and naked, in a Swiss restaurant where my order was lost in translation. For decades, I’ve ordered them out at any and every opportunity and I make my own, at home, on a regular basis (they’re really, really easy to make; see pic for my most recent attempt.) But just yesterday…

Email from a fast food restaurant PR: “Hey Melissa, you’re probably not familiar with the Bao Bun – so let me be the first to introduce you to the new UK food revolution that’s guaranteed to Bao WOW your world!”

Bao Buns: after 1721 years waiting in the wings, their moment in the spotlight has finally arrived.

This feature first appeared in The Bath Magazine newsletter

Pig Guide review: Jars Meze

The sun was out, the sky was blue, and Mr Pig had the day off work. And so it came to pass that we skipped into town like a couple of kids playing truant and went for a late lunch in Jars Meze.

This joyful little taverna – a family-run business specialising in nicely priced, wholly authentic Greek Grub – opened on Northumberland Place around four (maybe even five?) years ago and swiftly earned cult status on the Bath foodie scene, thanks to all who’d done the JM thing waxing lyrical about the proper Politiki Melitzanosalata, the rollickin’ Rolo Gourounaki, the very special Spetsofai Voliotiko and all kinds of other delights that I can’t pronounce but all loosely translate as Grecian gorgeousness. Now I’ve never been to Greece, but I’ve watched enough food-related travelogues and devoured enough similarly-themed cookery books (this one being my very favourite) to know that a good Kleftiko is worth travelling for… but I have to confess that, before this visit, I’d never even travelled to Jars Meze.

What with it being a sunny day n’all, there was no room at the alfresco outside-inn; the tightly-packed little tables were tightly-packed with languid lunchers. We could have taken to our pre-booked table inside, but after a shortish spell of polite loitering we were shown to a coveted pavement table where we embarked on our voyage of Greek wine discovery (when in Greece, etc) accompanied by a very smooth pond of hummus served in a dinky little Kilner jar and perused menus that promised all manner of tantalising treats, eventually settling on Kolokithopitakia (two divine courgette and Feta fritters), Kalamarakia Tiganita (cornflour-coated fried squid, served with featherlight Taramasalata) and Gigantes Plaki: an utterly delicious herby butter bean stew, in this instance apparently cooked to a Prespan recipe; if you, like me, never thought you could be wowed by a butter bean stew, prepare to have your preconceptions challenged at Jars Meze.

After all our grazing, nibbling and picking (seriously, even the pitta bread is seriously good), I stuck with the meze menu for my main course and opted for a little dish of Garides Saganak: big fresh prawns in a fresh tomato sauce thrumming with chillies, herbs, garlic and (I’m sure) cinnamon, with oozy little blobs of Feta dotted hither and thither across the top. On t’other side of the table, the Chicken Gryos felt a little bit humdrum after our flavour-frenzy build up and the chips that came with it (good as they were) strangely out of place – but if kebabs are your thing, you’re unlikely to find one as flavoursome and succulent as this.

By the time we’d finished our feasting, the Jars Meze family were taking a well-deserved break and getting ready to refresh the scene for evening service. So, after a quick hit of thick, sweet, syrupy Greek coffee, we moved the party on and travelled around 800km in 3 metres, taking to another alfresco table outside of Rosario’s where Mr Pig tucked into a Sicilian Afternoon Tea (if you haven’t tried a Rosario’s canoli, you really haven’t lived la dolce vita) and I couldn’t refuse a mini bottle of Prosecco (well I could have done, but Mr Pig ordered himself an Amaro, and it would have been rude to make him drink alone.)

And so the day rolled along, ending up at The Garrick’s Head for too many sundowners and eventually rolling home at a ridiculous hour given that we’d only planned to pop into town for a quick late lunch. Yia mas, Piggies!

The small print, Jars Meze: Meze dishes £4.70-circa £8; main courses £12.50-£18; desserts around £5. Excellent Greek wine £23-ish per bottle. Booking highly recommended (but you can’t book alfresco tables.)

Pig Guide review: Portofino

Sitting at an alfresco table on the ancient, super-pretty little traffic-free thoroughfare that is Northumberland Passage sipping Prosecco and nibbling plump, glistening, supremely meaty olives, I found myself imbued with a distinctly optimistic frame of mind.

There was a sense of freshness in the air that had little to do with the recent downpour rinsing the day’s city centre fug away and everything to do with a glow of optimism all around us: in the faces of the tourists who are slowly but surely creeping back to Bath; in the bright smile of an old friend whom I hadn’t seen since way, way before we even knew what the word ‘lockdown’ really meant and who suddenly appeared from nowhere to say hello; in the sound of the chitter-chatter between business owners shutting up shop for the day secure in the knowledge that yes, they were definitely opening again for business tomorrow. And there we were, in the middle of the gentle hubbub, about to visit Portofino, a restaurant that bravely opened its doors in early in 2021 and has since proved that optimism is one of the most powerful states of mind of all.

The Bath branch of Patisserie Valerie, however, was, to me, one of the least uplifting experiences to be found in any city, anywhere: overpriced, underpowered and bearing no relation at all to the original, glorious branch in London’s Soho. Today, the expensive, gaudy fake cakes and tacky plastic that (badly) masqueraded as dark wood have long since been skipped; 20 High Street now boasts a dining room that puts me in mind of one of those cheerful seafood restaurants that you find on the seafront in, say, Portoferraio, or Positano… or indeed, Portofino. Decorated in Italianate coastal hues of aqua blue and turquoise with flecks of soft gold adding extra prettiness and chic lighting and polished mirrors bringing contemporary drama to the party, it’s spacious yet cosy, subtly glam without being flashy. Overall, it makes me feel like I’m on holiday, or about to embark on an adventure – and in one way, I am…

The Portofino menu reads like a paean to piscatorial perfection, from oysters to octopus, calamari to crab ink tortellini, sea bass, swordfish, mussels, prawns, fish soup, Risotto Marino, Fritto Misto… and Prosecco-battered (yes, Prosecco-battered) fish and chips too. Capeesh the USP? If you don’t (or don’t want to) dive in, there’s steak, or chicken, or mushroom risotto. But come on! Li’l ole landlocked Bath isn’t known for it’s fish-specific restaurants; if you don’t make a splash here, where else in the city are you going to do it?

I have to confess, I have a strong dislike for oysters; that coppery, gelatinous, slithery vibe is way too visceral for me. But my brave bivalve mollusc connoisseur (that’ll be Mr Pig, then) loves them so much that having to warn me to “look away now” as he slurps them doesn’t put him off ordering a brace whenever the opportunity arises… and according him to him, Portofino’s Porlock Bay oysters are outstanding. I, meanwhile, was more than happily distracted by my mussels: hu-u-u-ge, plump, meaty little/big morsels in a herby white wine broth to either dunk my herby toast in or slurp with a big spoon (I did both.)

On a similar theme to my oyster aversion, I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to whole fish too (I know, I know, I’m a wimp in food writer’s clothing.) Fortunately, the Portofino waiters – a cheerfully efficient, friendly bunch from un caloroso benvenuto to ciao – were on hand to expertly strip our truly massive sea bass from its central physiological structure, allowing Mr Pig to feast on shimmering piles of sweet, tender, buttery flesh while I inelegantly and over-enthusiastically slurped forkfuls of Spaghetti ai Frutti di Mare (more of those mussels, plus succulent baby octopus, and smooth, briny, fresh calamari tangled up with silky pasta in a rich tomato- and chilli-infused white wine sauce) at what was apparently “lightening speed” – but hey, when a SaFdM is this good, you don’t want to risk leaving too much to share, do you?

As it happened, I should have sacrificed more of my super-sexy pasta dish because, at the finale, not even the suggestion of Chocolate Mousse with Honeycomb Crunch and Salted Caramel Ice Cream nor the Sgroppino Portofino (lemon sorbet, Prosecco and Portofino gin) could tempt me from the path of righteousness that is, according to my sinful standards, a proper Espresso Martini to finish off our voyage around the Italian coast. We enjoyed ours at the same alfresco table that acted as our Portofino arrival lounge for our Prosecco/Manhattan pre-dinner tipple… and raised a glass to the optimism of new beginnings.

Review: Yuzu by Dan Moon

Duck glaze and kimchi; goats curd and dill oil; crab bisque, chicken tea, caviar: that doesn’t read like your regular weekend shopping list, does it? The ingredients do, however, take me back to a time long, long ago, when I used to browse Bath-based superchef Dan Moon’s Tasting Menus at his eponymous restaurant at the Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel online on a regular basis, not because I had an impending booking (although I often did), but just because, to me, Moon menus were the stuff that foodie dreams were made of. Never did I once imagine, back then, that one day I’d be browsing one of those menus… and putting the whole 5-course shebang together myself, at home.

Yuzu by Dan Moon is a new DIY Dining Kit venture launched by Dan during the pandemic. Want to know how, why, when? Read the back story here, and more about Dan while you’re there. Want to know more about the menus? See here; they change on a monthly basis, and include barbecue boxes for the summer months too.

The May menu fun (full rundown: Chicken Tea, spring cabbage kimchi, mustard cress, crispy chicken skin; Sea Trout, goats curd, asparagus, pea, Asian crab bisque; Glazed Duck, spring rolls, plum, sesame, pak choi, mooli, carrot; Buttermilk Panna Cotta, strawberries, vanilla, basil; Coffee and Coconut Chocolate Truffles – phew!) started with an enticing box of goodies delivered directly to our door.

All the ingredients/components were fully prepped, portioned out and ready to roll, from the slab of succulent sea trout, super-neat, tightly-packed spring rolls and chunks of duck for the two main courses to the dinky little pots of mustard cress, sesame, basil leaves and caviar that bring all the necessary cheffy twists to the party at the relevant junctures.

There were neat little bottles of dill oil and plum sauce for various drizzles, blobs and flavour-packed artwork to dress the plate at serving time. The goats curd for the sea trout came in a ready-to-snip piping bag. The fresh vegetables were neatly sliced; the chicken tea, duck glaze and bisque sleek and glossy in their own little tubs; a little sachet of fresh coffee for two sat happily alongside a little tub of truffles which had to be hidden immediately, stashed away for much later*. All the ingredients are locally (and impeccably) sourced; all the packaging is fully recyclable; all the cooking/serving instructions are included.

Having cleared the kitchen counters of all clutter (top tip: sort all the ingredients, bits, bobs, etc into course-specific sections before you start work – you don’t want to get your chicken tea mixed up with your crab bisque while you’re searching for the sesame, do you?) and put the posh crockery into the oven to warm up, we were off. And – considering how this was a menu far, far removed from anything close to anything I’d even dream of putting together at home – service went seamlessly.

Silky Chicken Tea, part-ramen, part-soporific broth, enlivened with kimchi and teased by shards of crispy chicken skin. Clean-tasting Sea Trout with creamy ripples of goats cheese, dotted with dill oil, luxuriated by caviar, and paired with a heavenly, velvety crab bisque. Succulent, gamey duck breast properly pink beneath the rich, glossy glaze, accompanied by crisp spring rolls (which can be deep fried but we did ours in the oven, which worked out perfectly), pak choi, mooli and carrot, with sesame to sprinkle and a divine duck sauce ready to elegantly drench across the whole lot (and yes, it is possible to drench a plate elegantly) just before serving. Panna Cotta for pud? Just unscrew the tubs, top with compote, meringue crumb and fresh basil… and tuck in.

Of all the courses, the Panna Cotta was the simplest to serve… but when that time came, we found ourself missing the thrill of the chase for prandial perfection. We really got into the pace and rhythm of our voyage of discovery, me executing at the pass (of course!), Mr Pig proving his worth as an outstanding Sous Chef. While you need to pay full attention to the instructions (and honestly, none of the stages are complicated, totally belying the end result) and your creative skills are pushed to the fore when it comes to presentation, Dan has done all the hard work for you; not a single frond of mustard, crumble of meringue or slick of oil has been left unturned in his quest to serve you his level of perfection at home, with him there in spirit to guide you.

Yuzu Tasting Menus for two people cost £95 – so yes, it’s costlier than your average takeaway or meal kit delivery. But this is not an average takeaway or meal kit; to look for comparisons or similarities between the two eat-in options would be doing a huge disservice to both. If you were to order a similar selection in a restaurant, you’d pay at least £95 per person without drinks or service for quality of this standard – and, let’s be honest, many folk don’t like the ‘fuss’ of the ‘fine dining’ experience. If you want to bring a bit of theatre to the experience, get theatrical about it; aware that this wasn’t going to be ready-to-serve dinner ready to eat in front of the TV, we dressed up a bit, selected wine to match the courses, put nice music on and set the table properly. We put each course together, together. We both agreed that we were far more thoughtful about the various components of each course because we were more connected to those components than we would have been had we been served the same menu in a restaurant. We had fun eating fantastic food at home.

Moon menus are indeed the stuff that foodie dreams were made of. Stop browsing online and live the dream.

*A note on the coffee and truffles: we had them for breakfast the next morning. Yes Chef!

Review: The Coconut Tree, Broad Street

Today, in restaurant world in particular, making up for lost time is where it’s at; doors have been flung open again, and we’re slowly but surely starting to remember what it’s like to choose our dinner from a menu rather than making the most of what we’ve got at home.

For me, being out-and-about again is a voyage of discovery – I’m revisiting the city centre anew, mourning the passing of the familiar landmark shops, cafes and restaurants who fell foul to the pandemic, reacquainting myself with fave (restaurant) raves and discovering, with mixed feelings, new ventures that have opened their doors while the day-to-day world around us fell silent. There’s a whole new post in the pipeline focusing on all the changes that have taken place while our social, shopping and merrymaking lives were on hold, but right here, right now, we’re celebrating a little ‘shock of the new’ tremor that’s subtly shaken our eating out options up.

The Coconut Tree is a small chain with a refreshingly non-corporate backstory that’s well worth familiarising yourself with, especially if you’re of the staunch “Say No To Chains” persuasion. I can’t say that I’m a supporter of the traditional restaurant chain model myself (hedge fund ownership and cooked-by-number menus do little for my palate, nor my consciousness.) But these days, not all chains are equal; the Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah ‘new’ chains tend to be far more base-level connected to their staff, sourcing policies and clientele than the cynical plastic high street Big Names… and you wouldn’t expect to discover that one of the guys who’s been bringing your food to the table at McAbsurdZitExpress was one of the founders of the restaurant, would you? But you can expect that to happen at The Coconut Tree ‘cos it did, to me, just last night.

Kotthu, Hoppers and Sambol; Parippu, Brinjals and Jaffna Goat Curry: it’s all going on here, in full on Sri Lankan stylee (and before anybody gets all prickly about cultural appropriation, the restaurant’s founders are Sri Lankan.) There are plenty of super-lively Cocotails on the menu too (Coconut Tree cocktails – see what they did there?), of which the Drunken Sri Lankan and the Sriki-Tiki in particular are highly recommended. The restaurant’s backdrop/vibe Kandyans along to an upbeat, beach holiday beat: bright colours, walls splashed with artful graffiti, candlelit tables, kitchen roll instead of napkins, beach shack furniture, bouncy (but unobtrusive) music. Young families with kids in tow mingle happily with smoochy couples, party animals and fizzy girls’ night out groups ‘cos it’s that kind of place: accessible to all, with an exceedingly accessible price bracket (generous tapas-style portions fluctuate around the £4-7 mark, with indispensable ‘don’t miss’ dishes such as amazingly fresh Hoppers a total bargain at £3.50) adding to the easygoing mood.

Oh of course we had Hoppers! Who can resist coconut milk pancakes dotted with three kinds of Sri Lankan sambols/salsa and a runny-yolked egg… especially when (in Bath, at least) they’re a lesser-spotted menu treat. We also had a huge dish of Chicken and Cheese Kotthu (a fascinating medley based around wok-fried chopped roti, laden with stringy cheese and juicy chicken); slow-cooked pork belly in depth-charge roasted spices (Black Pork; go for it!); cashew nuts softened by coconut cream and mingled up with peas (a fabulous combination); Hot Battered Spicy Cuttlefish (think, a chunky, rustic version of classic Calamari, with much more personality); proper Chicken Curry on the Bone (homestyle, and mellow, and totally lush) and – a real stand-out dish, for me – Stir Fried Chickpeas in coconut oil and a curry/garlic/chilli/curry leaf medley that sounds and looked simple but turned out to be a beautifully-balanced celebration of South Asian ebullience… which, all in all, is all that The Coconut Tree is all about.

In summary, The Coconut Tree serves happy food in happy surroundings at prices that make you happy – and you’d have to be a serious curmudgeon not to appreciate that. Shake it at your earliest opportunity, Piggies!

Mini review: A:ROAM:A

Okay, so going out is, once again, the new staying in again… what’s not to love about that? But home is still where the heart is – and one relatively new Bath-based home delivery business in particular brings a whole lotta love to your doorstep on those evenings when neither going out nor cooking at home are floating your boat.

A:ROAM:A is the brainchild of Jesse Davies and Ross Shaw, two local chefs with impeccable pedigrees, now poised to deliver “a world of flavour” to your door every Friday or Saturday courtesy of a weekly-changing menu inspired by global cuisines but wrought from strictly local produce.

Moroccan, Persian, Sri Lankan, Turkish, Cambodian, Keralan… who knows where the A:ROAM:A inspiration will land us on any given week? If you’re not au fait with social media, you can visit the regularly-updated website for details (and sign up for the newsletter while you’re there), but whichever far flung voyage you choose to embark on, the small print remains the same: each feast costs just £16pp (inc. doorstep delivery to BA1/BA2), all the food arrives in compostable containers ready to reheat, and failsafe instructions are provided. Just place your order by 10pm on the evening before you want your order to arrive, and your passport is stamped.

We jumped on the A:ROAM:A world tour for their most recent Korean excursion, when a sweet-sour, fascinatingly piquant Jjigae (that’ll be kimchi beef stew, then) gave our tastebuds a thorough rejuvenation, accompanied by fiery but mellow (yes, such a juxtaposition is possible, in the right hands of the right chef) Gochujang sesame broccoli; beautifully seasoned namul (greens with ginger and garlic); deeply umami, super-moist kimchi slaw and fragrant jasmine rice. Cooking time? 25 minutes start-to-finish, with little more to do than heat the oven, take a coupla lids off the boxes and allow the microwave to work it’s magic on the rice. Portions were generous to say the least (in fact, we had both vegetables and slaw leftover for a fried egg-topped brunch the next day), every morsel tasted super-fresh… and it was very clear that no stone in the search for upmarket ready meal perfection had been left unturned, nor any short cuts taken.

Roam if you want to; the world is, after all, set to become our oyster once more. But even when we’re getting out and about again, A:ROAM:A can bring a taste of that world to your home, in fine style.

Exclusive Taittinger Champagne Supper Club at Plate, Thursday 8 July

We’ve all got rather a lot to celebrate, right? So do it in fine, fizzy style at Plate (within the elegantly quirky confines of The Bird hotel, on Pulteney Road) on Thursday 8 July.

Celebratory parties of 2-8 people will raise a glass to all kinds of everything good while enjoying an exclusive one-night-only menu created by Plate’s Head Chef Leon Smith, using only the very best local produce from Bath and the very near beyond, served up in a fun, flamboyant setting and paired with a selection of top Champagne Taittinger tipples.

The fun starts with an array of canapés on arrival accompanied by a glass of Taittinger Brut Réserve NV. Once seated, expect delights such as Heritage Tomato, Ricotta, Olive and Basil Salad followed by Cornish Cod with Fennel, Broad Beans and Caviar before a Strawberry, Elderflower, Lemon Verbena and Meringue finale, with Taittinger tipples such as Brut Millésimé 2014, Prélude Grand Crus and Nocturne Sec especially selected to accompany each glorious dish.

The fun starts at 7pm prompt and all-inclusive tickets cost £80pp, but be warned: tickets are strictly limited to 40, so booking today is essential. To guarantee your place at the party, call 01225 580438 or visit www.thebirdbath.co.uk

Cheers, Piggies!

Review: Peking Restaurant takeaway

The Chinese New Year parties may be over for another year, but seriously, when do we ever need an excuse for a Chinese takeaway?

The Year of the Ox came early to Pig Guide HQ this year; not only did we start the celebrations a whole week early, but we did it all over again on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Why? Because we live in Bath, and we’re lucky enough to have The Peking Restaurant on our doorstep.

The Peking has flown the flag for Bath’s independent food businesses for over three decades now, making it not only the city’s longest-established Chinese restaurant but one of Bath’s longest-established restaurants, period. It’s one of my go-to hotspots when I know what I want, and I know what I want will be very, very good here; I don’t really even have to read the menu anymore, but I read it just because I love it, and then I order what I love. But this time around we took ourselves on a little adventure and put our order in the very capable hands of Peking proprietor Jun, who bought the business from his dad a handful of years ago.

In Chinese culture, the main focus for owning a business is about stability for the family, and the generations down,” says Jun. “I believe that the reason the Peking has remained so popular in Bath is because we still run it as a family. If someone else ran it I don’t think it would work as well; even if they did exactly the same thing as we do, it wouldn’t be the same, because it wouldn’t be ours.” Indeed, when ‘normal’ service (as in, eat-in) is resumed, you may well encounter the the legendary Mr Wong keeping a keen eye on proceedings during service, making sure that the business is still very much “theirs.” But The Peking is also still very much “ours” too. And so…

It isn’t easy to drag my focus away from my usual Kung Po King Prawns, Crispy Fried Shredded Beef with Chilli, Chicken Breast in Lemon Delight – but Jun had other ideas for us this time around.

We started with Crispy Aromatic Duck that totally lived up to its name: crunchy yet juicy, fatty but not cloyingly so, rich in divine Chinese spices and served, of course, with papery pancakes, spring onion/cucumber batons and the kind of plum sauce that you’d happily slather yourself in five nights a week.

We moved on to fresh, fat, tender scallops in a vigorously funky black bean sauce, spicy, sweet and salty but carefully balanced in order to allow the scallops’ vibrant personality to shine through. We had bracingly hot, chilli-laden Szechuan King Prawns: huge prawns, big flavours, totally, excitingly addictive. There was chicken in a sauce that’s become my latest obsession, too: pungent, earthy Yellow Bean, sweetly savoury, fascinatingly complex. Noodles? Singapore Rice Noodles, no less, curry-tinged and tumbled with fresh vegetables and shrimp. And of course we had Egg Fried Rice as well, because Jun obviously decided that it would be wrong not to – and he was very, very right.

I can’t wait to take to a beautifully-dressed table in the Peking again, nodding hello to Mr Wong and chatting with Jun about wine, and food, and all the good things in life. But thank goodness it’s still possible to have a taste of all those good things in life, at home, courtesy of The Peking.

Begin your own voyage of discovery by browsing the full Peking menu here. Or just ask Jun to put a feast together for you; you won’t regret it…

Review: Pies by Plate

After the last lockdown eased up a bit but before this one kicked in (walk with me on this one), I reviewed Plate: a then-brand new restaurant venture within the elegantly quirky confines of The Bird hotel on Pulteney Road. Oh, fond memories indeed! “If I could move in for Christmas, I would,” I said, at the time blithely thinking that I’d properly take up residence there for Christmas, New Year and beyond. And then… ah, we all know what happened next.

But beyond the closed doors of the restaurant, Plate’s kitchen is very much open for business every weekend when superchef Leon Smith dedicates his Fridays and Saturdays to making pies for all to click’n’collect from the hotel’s car park (complete with very inviting fire pit, which makes the whole occasion sorta extra magical.)

Okay, we all think we know all there is to know about pies. But personally, I relish the opportunity to be sent back to the drawing board for a rethink – and Pies by Plate definitely got me rethinking the whole genre. I mean, how often do you encounter moist, smooth chicken, the creamy sauce invigorated by just the right amount of tingly tarragon and tightly packed into a neat, super-short pastry crust, somehow lighter than a ‘traditional’ chicken pie yet still reassuringly, supremely, comfortingly familiar? What about a Sweet Potato and Lentil pie that brings depth-charge flavour, texture and total satisfaction to your, erm, plate and puts a vegetarian-friendly option centre stage for all? As for that old family favourite, the Fish Pie: Leon makes sure that the mashed potato topping – divine though it may be – plays a supporting role to huge chunks of cod, smoked haddock and salmon rather than turning the whole thing into a (tiny bit of fish) version of corned beef hash. That mash comes as standard with the pastry-wrapped pies too, and piles of freshly-steamed Bromham winter vegetables (think, hispi cabbage, and courgettes, and leeks, and yum yum yum) kick a hefty portion of your five-a-day straight into the back of the net without making you feel as though you have to eat your greens in order to eat all the pies. Talking of over-indulging (oh come on, we’re in the middle of a bitter UK winter, in lockdown – over-indulgence is all that gets most of us through the long weekends), there’s pud on the menu too: Winter Berry Cheesecake with Chantilly Cream… please trust me when I tell you that if you can’t manage it after your pie-fest, it makes a wonderful breakfast the next morning. Meanwhile, all ingredients used are sourced within a 10-mile radius of Bath, making Pies by Plate a win-win prandial party for all.

Partying on with Leon’s pies is simple: pre-order by 5pm on Thursday or Friday to collect your order between 5pm-8pm on Friday or Saturday (you’ll find the full menu and ordering contact details here.) All dishes cost £15pp, portions are very generous (to say the least!), everything is beautifully packaged and your feast stays hot all the way home without any of the dreaded takeaway sogginess setting in. Want to buy now, eat them later? There’s a reheat-at-home option available.

Who ate all the pies? You, as soon as you get your hands on them. Enjoy!

Lockdown Larder #3: the essential guide to food and drink shopping in Bath

Food First (for Takeaway/home delivery, Cafes, Treats & Gifts, Drinks and Community Initiatives, scroll down the page):

Thoughtful Bakerydairy, pantry and larder essentials, ready meals and, of course, the most fabulous bread and associated sweet treat delights for miles around available ‘live, (the shop will remain open throughout lockdown) or click’n’collect/home delivery. KLAXON! As well as those legendary pizzas available for click’n’collect every Friday and Saturday evening, look what’s been recently added to the Thoughtful Bakery menu: Thoughtful Brownies in gift box form (gift yourself, or somebody else – they’re available to collect from the bakery and/or order for delivery throughout the UK), classic Afternoon Teas with an add-on Prosecco or G&T option (Saturdays only; collect from the bakery and/or order for delivery to BA1/BA2) and – ta-daa! – Doughnut Selection Boxes (also for collection from the bakery and/or order for delivery to BA1/BA2, Fridays and Saturdays only).

Larkhall Butchers: Top notch, marvellous meat alongside fish, dairy produce and pantry goodies IRL at Larkhall Butchers (paying full respect to social distancing rules, of course) or via doorstep delivery

Lovejoys: delivery services to takeaway kitchens, farm shops, care homes and schools will remain unaffected. Meanwhile, a box delivery service will be available to the general public via the website

Goodies Deli (Larkhall): open for everything delicious deli-related, including Hobbs House bread (and related bakery products), chic charcuterie, charming cheese and much, much, much more, plus fabulous fresh soup of the day, every day. Home delivery service available; also hosts one of the most wittiest, most uplifting Twitter feeds on, erm, Twitter (@GoodiesDeli)

Darling Deli: home cooked fresh and frozen meals-to-go plus bread, fresh meat, coffee, cakes and more, including a fresh curry every week (available to collect from Wednesdays)

Newton Farm: home delivery service for those over 70 or those who are self-isolating as they (or someone they live with) fall in to the vulnerable category, plus those who are self-isolating as a household and NHS frontline workers

Ma Cuisine: French gourmet frozen meals in fresh and frozen format, all available for doorstep delivery or click’n’collect from their Larkhall HQ

The Warmley Bakehouse: the shop will remain open and retail, wholesale and home deliveries services are available

Arthur David: home delivery of all kinds of everything to domestic customers in the BA and BS postcode areas

Avellinos Italian Deli: an abundance of pasta, passata and tinned tomatoes lining the shelves, alongside pestos, jams, oils, Italian eggs, Italian sausages, ’00’ flour by the scoop and much more. Gloves and hand gel are available for every customer (no more than two at a time)

Nibbles Cheese (Guildhall Market): open 9am-4pm Monday-Saturday. Click’n’collect/delivery service (free over £50) and fabulous Cheese Gift Boxes also available

The Fine Cheese Co: fabulous fromage, chic charcuterie, wonderful wines and more. UK-wide mail order delivery services available too, free to orders £50+. See also Cafes.

The Refillable Shop (Cleveland Place East, London Road): stock up sustainably either ‘live’ or online at this big-hearted emporium of indispensable foodie fun on. Take your own container, grab a complimentary recycled brown paper bag or buy a glass jar to fill at your leisure – but whichever way you choose to do it, just do it: this is sustainable shopping at its very, very best

Bath Farmers’ Market (Green Park Station) will remain open every Saturday morning from 9am-1.30pm, just like it did throughout the first lockdown. Shop from myriad local traders all gathered together under one weather-proof roof in a super-safe environment

The Kingsmead Square Stall will remain open for business with the usual fruit and veg supplemented by eggs, pasta, etc. Current opening hours are Monday, Friday and Saturday only (8am-2pm) but proprietor Daniel Weisberg is happy to take click and collect/next day delivery orders via text on 07872 574513. Meanwhile, New Stokes (Moorland Road) are offering a next day delivery service (minimum order £20; £3 delivery charge) – and, as legions of Stokes supporters are aware, there’s a heck of a lot more than fruit and veg available; email bath@newstokes.co.uk or call 07838 943056 for details

Takeaway/home delivery

The Scallop Shell: reverting from eat-in only back to takeaway for the duration of the current lockdown. Hoorah!

The Oyster Shell: the ultimate comfort food available for home delivery/click’n’collect

Yak Yeti Yak: utterly fabulous home delivery service available for click’n’collect every Friday-Saturday between 5pm-8pm; read the menu here, call 01225 442299 from 5pm every evening to order

Thoughtful Bakerylegendary pizzas available for click’n’collect every Friday and Saturday evening

The Peking Restaurant: takeaway and home delivery service 6pm-10pm, 15% reduction on restaurant menu prices on website 

Yum Yum Thai: open for takeaway yum yum yumminess – order by phone or click’n’collect. Free prawn crackers with every order!

Seafoods Fish and Chips (etc!): both branches (Kingsmead Square/Combe Down) open for takeaway

The Longs Arms (South Wraxall): the most amazing burgers (fact!) including The Raymond, The Kenneth and The Gandhi; proper fish and chip suppers every Friday; pie and mash on Saturdays; veggie options available; all £14. Orders must be placed the day before collection – email info@thelongsarms.com or call 01225 864450

The Mint Room: home delivery and/or click’n’collect – call the restaurant direct on 01225 446656

Pies by Plate (The Bird, Bath): Plate Head Chef Leon Smith has created three beautifully-crafted pies (Chicken and Tarragon, Fish Pie and Sweet Potato and Spiced Lentil, all home made from locally-sourced ingredients, all accompanied by mash and veg, etc) available for click’n’collect on Friday and Saturday evenings – oh, and there’s Winter Berry Cheesecake with Chantilly Cream up for grab on both nights, too. All pies cost £15 per person (or choose a pie and that pud for £20); pre-order by 5pm the day before and collect between 5-8pm on Friday or Saturday. To book, call 01225 580438 or email plateathome@platebathwick.co.uk

Olio at Home, Homewood (nr. Freshford): drive-through click’n’collect service every Saturday from 5-8pm. Current menu includes fish/burger and chips, Chicken Malay and Halloumi Massaman curries. Preorder every Friday before 5pm to collect from the front door of Homewood, without leaving your car; call 01225 723731 or email reception@homewoodbath.co.uk

Ping at Home: freshly prepared ready meal extravaganza curated by MasterChef winner Ping Coombes – order by 6pm on Tuesday, collect from Larkhall Butchers on Friday afternoon/Saturday morning. Email athome@pingcoombes.com for full details and/or read our review here

Noya’s Kitchen: Dishes to Go available for collection every Thursday and Friday

Schwartz Bros: Saw Close open 12noon-9pm – click’n’collect via the website or order by phone on 01225 461726/07791 806717. Walcot Street open Sunday-Thursday 5pm-9pm; Friday-Saturday 12noon-9pm – click’n’collect via the website or order by phone on 01225 463613/07791 747264

The Pizza Bike: “The Smallest Pizzeria in the World” is poised for click’n’collect/home delivery from their mini HQ in the the back garden of The Bell (Walcot Street) every Friday/Saturday, 4pm-9pm

The Bath Pizza Co: click’n’collect (visit website for opening hours)

Simi’s Kitchen: unique (and super-tasty) virtual Supper Club for up to 25 people every Friday evening (£25pp) – the sociable part (via Zoom) is optional; the eating isn’t!

Demuths at Home: order by midnight on Thursdays and pick up an exciting, freshly prepared vegan meal on a globally-inspired theme (plus all the relevant sides and trimmings) from Demuths’ Terrace Walk HQ on Saturday afternoon (£20pp)

Bath Fish and Chips: click’n’collect/home delivery services (via Deliveroo) Tuesday-Wednesday 4pm-9pm; Thursday-Saturday 12noon-9pm

Cafes/Delis

Best of British Deli (Broad Street): open 9am-3pm Monday-Friday for takeaway coffee, tea, hot chocolate, bespoke sandwiches, freshly baked cakes and bacon butties

Mús Coffee Shop (Widcombe): open for takeaways, pick-me-ups and general bonhomie from 7.30am-2pm Monday-Saturday

Widcombe Deli: Widcombe, Larkhall and Abbey Green (city centre) branches all open for takeaway coffee and hot drinks, delicious deli-delights and all kinds of tantalising treats to-go every Monday-Saturday 8.30am-2pm

Larkhall Deli: open for takeaway Monday-Saturday 8.30am-2pm

Fox & Kit Cafe: open for takeaway toasted ciabattas, soup, sourdough rolls, children’s menu, cakes, hot and cold drinks etc Friday-Sunday 10am-3pm. Family friendly Lockdown ‘Kids’ Survival’ Boxes for local delivery and/or click’n’collect in the pipeline

The Good Bear Cafe (Bear Flat): takeaway sandwiches, cakes, drinks and more, Monday-Saturday 9am-2pm

Rosarios: takeaway soup, panini, arancini, coffee, cakes and more. Monday-Saturday 9.30am-3pm

Juicy Orange (Weston): open for takeaway hot drinks, milkshakes, smoothes, treats and essential foods Monday-Saturday. Coffee and other hot drinks at special rates for litter pickers every Saturday

The Fine Cheese Co: cafe open alongside the shop for takeaway coffee and related cafe-counter scrumptiousness-to-go

Treats, gifts and pick-me-ups

Thoughtful BakeryThoughtful Brownies in gift box form (gift yourself, or somebody else – they’re available to collect from the bakery and/or order for delivery throughout the UK), classic Afternoon Teas with an add-on Prosecco or G&T option (Saturdays only; collect from the bakery and/or order for delivery to BA1/BA2) and – ta-daa! – Doughnut Selection Boxes (also for collection from the bakery and/or order for delivery to BA1/BA2, Fridays and Saturdays only)

The Fudge Factory: mail order service available via the website

No 3 Cafe: Lockdown Boxes including Posh Ploughmans, Afternoon Tea, Vegan Grazing and Sweet Dripping Dipping selections for just £10, available for collection or free delivery to BA1 Monday-Friday; message @SarararaCoffee to order

Sugarcane Studio: open for superb, unique, supremely pretty sweet treats to takeaway, plus weekly selection box delivery

Sweet Little Things: daily afternoon tea deliveries and celebration hampers within a 15 mile radius of Lower Borough Walls; order online or email mail@sltbath.co.uk

The Wheat Free Kitchen: open for bespoke gluten free cake orders and deliveries throughout Bath

Cheers!

Chapter One Brewpub (also home to an independent onsite microbrewery, Verse Brewing): online shop offering a pre-order click’n’collect service including a Wolf Wines Refill Station from 3pm-7pm every Tuesday-Saturday, available to pick up from their London Road HQ **CURRENTLY SUSPENDED**

Abbey Ales: free delivery to addresses within a 10-mile radius of Bath every Monday-Friday

Novel Wines: free delivery (no minimum order) to BA1/BA2

Great Western Wine: wine (obvs) alongside spirits, veggie/vegan/low or no alcohol selection, plus great gifts (UK-wide delivery), olive oils and vinegars too

Independent Spirit: Independent Spirit is an Aladdin’s Cave of alcohol-based treasure – and their website is the Genie’s Lamp

Wolf Wines: exciting wines you’ll wanna wolf down, including fabulous vegan, organic and natural varietals, beers and ciders too

Community Initiatives

The Bath and NE Somerset Third Sector Group 3SG has bought a host of local partners, charities, residents, students and businesses together to create a Compassionate Community to support everybody during difficult times. On the food front (just one element of the incredible work that 3SG is doing), the team have collaborated with the Sustainable Food Partnership to generate a regularly-updated list of local providers offering food services to people across Bath and north east Somerset

FoodCycle Bath offers a free, nutritious, freshly-cooked meal for collection from Nexus Methodist Church (Nelson Place) every Wednesday between 7.30pm-8.30pm

Age UK B&NES are offering a lunchtime delivery of a hot meal for people living in B&NES direct to the person’s door, seven days per week. A main course and a dessert costs just £6.50; click on this link for the daily menu. Specific dietary requirements can be accommodated, including low sugar, gluten free, and textured meals for those who find it difficult to swallow. To order, email communitymeals@ageukwiltshire.org.uk or call 01793 687017

Bath Foodbank centres are closed until further notice, but e-vouchers are allowing people in need to have food parcels delivered to their homes via a contact-free delivery service. The service is currently in dire need of cereal, baked beans, tinned tomatoes/vegetables/meat/fish/soup/fruit/rice pudding, packet soup, pasta and jars of pasta sauce, UHT milk, long life juice, chocolate and biscuits, instant mash, coffee, hand wash, soap and shower gel

Pig Guide review: Boho Marché

You could easily be forgiven for not being aware of several brand new ventures that have opened in Bath recently; after all, few of us are getting out-and-about much, are we? Full credit where it’s due, then, to the brave new worlders who have set up shop in the midst of what’s possibly the most difficult trading circumstances known to several generations – Boho Marché being the case in point we’re focusing on here.

Taking over the space vacated by Brasserie Blanc at the Francis Hotel on Queen Square, Boho Marché is subtle in terms of signage while the big picture windows are designed more for looking out of from indoors than in from the street – a missed opportunity, perhaps, for a restaurant situated at the crossroads of major city centre footfall point? Beyond that classic hotel facade, however, the vibe subtly – and somewhat surprisingly – rocks along to a subtle Casbah beat, with Marrakech market-stye flourishes evident in both décor and menus in a dining room that was once been a ballroom but today pushes ‘smart modern brasserie’ to the fore, with inviting booths by the bar and smartly-laid tables (some with banquette seating, hoorah!) dotted hither and thither across the rather elegant space.

If you crave falafel and muhammara, or roast smoked harissa chicken, or Moroccan butternut squash curry, you’ll find those dishes on the menu here… alongside lobster and shrimp mac’n’cheese, the Boho beef and marrow burger, duck confit, truffled tagliatelle, and similar dishes on a pan-global theme that underpin the restaurant’s ethos of bringing Mediterranean, Moroccan, North African, Andalusian and French classics (phew!) together in one very busy kitchen. As a result, Turkish poached eggs with labneh and chilli oil leaps out at you from an otherwise classic hotel breakfast menu, and a fried chicken burger with barbecue mayo shares space with a vegan cous cous poke bowl on the main course selection; think Yotam Ottolenghi meets Antony Worral Thompson, and you’ll sorta get the mood. Eclectic? Yes indeed. But then again, what’s not to love about eclectic?

My starter of burrata with peach and chilli chutney was huge, and indulgent, and creamy; a second starter of pan-seared tiger prawns with garlic butter sourdough toast equally substantial. A main course of slow-braised beef with red wine jus and smoked mash was a perfectly executed, textbook rendition of the genre and, at the finishing line, the salted caramel chocolate fondant was divine, the vanilla crème brulee superb. The welcome was warm, service throughout was super-friendly, the cocktails are wonderful, the wine list extensive. But while the overall USP is slightly surreal and perhaps a tad confusing, that’s probably mainly because surreal and confusing are two elements that influence every eating out experience we can manage right now. When tiers stop dominating our table talk and lockdowns become a distant memory, Boho Marché has the potential to march right up the Bath hotel restaurant charts.

Why Going Out should be the new Staying In

Bath’s hospitality ventures have reopened for (limited) business and, slowly but surely, we’re all wondering… how will it feel to leave our own kitchens behind for the evening and let a restaurant cook for us again?

The simple answer to that question is that it will, or course, feel completely normal. No, not “new normal” – just straightforward normal; after all these months of Covid awareness, complying with the necessary rules and regulations put in place to make us all as safe and secure as possible should be second nature by now. In relation to livelihoods, though, safety and security are two words that have dropped off the menu completely for the hospitality industry.

Times are hard for the independent businesses who have worked so hard to keep afloat during both lockdowns. While many of us have endured hard times of our own over the past 10 months, we need to acknowledge the part that we have to play – the extra-added responsibility, if you like – in supporting Bath’s business community as best as we can; if we don’t, day-to-day life in the immediate world around us is going to change even more drastically than it already has.

It has to be noted, at this point, that this call to arms isn’t intended to blithely overlook the many folk who are struggling with cashflow issues of their own. But as Christmas is severely curtailed this year and the summer holiday fund untouched, might December be a good time to consider using a little bit of rainy day money to brighten up a pretty gloomy forecast? As a bonus incentive to such a plan, Welcome Back deals abound at Bath’s loveliest independent restaurants and gastropubs, including fabulous festive set menus at exceedingly wallet-friendly prices well worth cobbling some ‘mad money’ funds together for. But pounds and pennies aside, perhaps there’s a similarly serious issue affecting your decision around the ‘to book or not to book’ question…

Eating out in the highly controlled environment of a restaurant is, on many levels, “safer” than, say, travelling to work by public transport, or living in close quarters with school-age children, or shopping/working in a big supermarket – just three examples of daily life activities that many of us have continued to do throughout the most recent lockdown. If you think beyond all the scaremongering about clashing tiers and the ridiculous news headlines about whether or not a Scotch Egg constitutes a substantial meal and allow yourself to digest a main course of rationale instead (ie, take a look, online, at your favourite independent restaurant’s Tier 2 Customer Guidelines, which they’re all obliged to publish; here’s a great example from the Bath Pub Company), it becomes clear that a supper away from your own hob is nothing to be scared of. And here’s where our responsibility comes into play again: if you visit a restaurant that doesn’t appear to be following guidelines or managing the behaviour of their customers/staff properly (hugely unlikely, given the consequences for business who don’t stick to the rules), it’s up to you to leave that restaurant and explain your reasons for doing so to the owners of that business.

The independent restaurants, cafes and bars that we all love so much provide jobs for local people, support other local suppliers, producers and businesses and offer vital community cornerstones that makes Bath so unique. They don’t have the cushion of big buck investors to fall back on when times are hard; all they have is us. In readiness for reopening their doors this December, those businesses have, at extremely late notice, already done all the hard work for you in order to offer you a warm, relaxing welcome; all you have to do in return for making a safe return is to do as you’re asked when you get there, and enjoy being back.

This feature was first published in The Bath Magazine newsletter; sign up here!

Pig Guide review: Emma’s Restaurant at the DoubleTree by Hilton Bath

Built in 1972 as part of town planner Sir Colin Buchanan’s plans for redeveloping the southern end of Walcot Street, the brutalist concrete structure that is the Bath Hilton Hotel has earned itself local iconic status for all the wrong reasons. But not all pretty packages come beautifully wrapped – and if you venture beyond that hostile frontage today, you’ll find a gift box of very pretty treats to explore.

Earlier this year, the Bath Hilton hotel franchise was snapped up by Kew Green Hotels who invested mega bucks into a super-imaginative, totally transformational refurbishment including a chi-chi cocktail bar, contempo-elegant dining space (Emma’s Restaurant, complete with alfresco terrace) and an internal Secret Garden destination, and renamed the whole shebang the DoubleTree by Hilton Bath.

It’s difficult to imagine what one of Jane Austen’s most engaging protagonists might have thought of her namesake restaurant within the hotel’s brand new eat, drink and be merry zone. Would she, once seated in a spacious booth in full view of the glamorous bar, have allowed her first, frisky paramour Frank Churchill to have led her towards sharing a smoochy bread, cheese, meat, cheese, fish or charcuterie Sharing Platter (all of which look suitably seductive) along the route? Or would she, as I imagine her rather more conventional husband-to-be George Knightley would have advised, take a sturdily traditional route to satiation with homemade soup, proper pie and ice cream?

Having worn that particularly eccentric bout of speculation out rather quickly, we made our own merry way through a menu that, as you may have already surmised, takes diners on a whistlestop cruise around the globe, lingering long in southeast Asia – a clever plan considering that we are, after all, both on hotel territory and in the centre of a city whose residents are known for embracing far-flung foodie inspirations. So, passports firmly in hand…

To start, featherlight, well-stuffed Bao Bun with a deeply umami Pork Ramen; fresh, crisp Asian-style Crab Cakes with fruity/spicy mango chutney – our cruise was off to a flying start indeed. I stuck with the southeast Asian theme for my main course, too: lesser-spotted (in Bath, anyway) Nasi Goreng served with moist satay skewers and an impeccably seasoned sambal. Mr Pig, meanwhile, turned into Mr Knightley at this point, tucking into a juicy, tandoori-cooked 8oz sirloin with all the trimmings (fabulous thick-cut chips, juicy mushroom, fragrant vine tomatoes, etc) faster than Emma could say “I may have lost my heart but not my self-control” – Mr Pig, it seemed, lost both to that steak.

We had puds too: Sticky Toffee ‘cos we’re never allowed to say no to it, ever, and DoubleTree’s ‘famous’ Chocolate Chip Cookie Cheesecake, which is famous for a very good reason: it’s totally, utterly yum.

Emma’s Restaurant and all that goes with it – the bar, the Secret Garden et al – is an unexpectedly elegant addition to the Bath restaurant scene, in a controversial building that’s been given an unexpectedly elegant second chance courtesy of an impeccably well-considered makeover. Oh, and by the way: delightfully congenial Afternoon Teas go large here too – Ms Austen herself would most definitely have approved.