September 14 2013

Dinner at Gascoyne Place: highly recommended

Autumn is here and The Pig offers a big warm welcome to the new season and all it brings with it: an end (at last!) to the sticky discomfort of alfresco dining (the wasps! The stressed-out kitchens! The heat-exhausted, prickly staff!) and the beginning of a harvest festival that brings the very best Great British Produce to the table. It’s time to reacquaint ourselves with the joy of being cosy and purr at the sheer anticipation of seeing words such as “confit”, “cassoulet” and “crumble” on a menu without feeling obliged to opt for gazpacho and Eton Mess. In other words, it’s time to revisit the places that make chilly weather and dark nights bearable – and Gascoyne Place is one such haven. For a start, there’s the Snug: an inviting street-level dining room with a log fire on one wall and large windows on the other offering a vista across Sawclose that reminds you where you’d rather not be. Through the bar – GP’s glinting hub – the mezzanine offers an overview of the comings and goings; there’s even a row of plush bar stools pointed at the front door for serious people-watchers. Downstairs is the medieval walled basement, known to many as the place to be on a Sunday night when dinner is served with a side order of live jazz, while two chic, well-heeled first floor dining rooms bring a touch of elegance to the whole shebang. So, that’s the scene set. Let’s eat…

In recent weeks, Gascoyne Place has welcomed new head chef João Paulo – JP to his friends – Oliveira to the hob. JP at GP has a nice ring to it, and he’s brought all manner of subtly flamboyant treats with him. At two courses for £14.50 and three for £19 all the way up to 9.30pm every weekday evening, JP’s menu offers astounding value in terms of choice, portion size and quality alike.

The Pig table (we opted for a corner of the mezzanine, if you were wondering) started off with a salad of creamy swirls of goats’ cheese thoughtfully teamed with salt-baked beetroot, sticky candied walnut and slivers of gingerbread. Gingerbread! Now that’s a flourish that The Pig calls inspired. Meanwhile, a second starter of huge, sweet panfried Cornish scallop came with soft confit potato, with crispy ham, apple and celeriac adding crunch’n’contrast to every forkful.

So far, so very good indeed – and the precedent set (that’ll be bold flavours, modern Michelin presentation and vibrant pairings, for those who aren’t keeping up at the back) continued with the mains. I’m sorry to report that our dish of belly of pork served with intense boudin noir (on the autumn food fashionista catwalk, boudin noir is most definitely the new black), sweet potato puree and vanilla mash is due to give way to a brand new dish, so may not be on the menu when you drop in, although with the game season upon us, the replacement promises to be something even more intensely meaty. Our other main course, however, will be around for some time to come, and deservedly so: herb-crusted rump of lamp with pavé potato, a neat little sweetbread mousse-y mouthful, red pepper puree and an intense Pedro Ximenex jus that you’d think may dominate the subtleties of properly-cooked, tender lamb but actually only serves to highlight those earthy, grassy flavours. At this point, The Pig also sampled a taster of the panfried gurnard fillet, not least of all because I suspected that the warm octopus and chorizo cassoulet that accompanied it might have been a superstar combo in its own right – and my suspicions were correct.

And so it came to pass that desserts of subtly scented elderflower pannacotta served with the last of the jammy British strawberry crop, lively lime sorbet and deconstructed shortbread, a sexy dark chocolate mousse topped with a sharp passion fruit espuma and coconut crumbs and a neat sliver of heavenly baked vanilla cheesecake teamed with dinky little cubes of poached apple and rhubarb brought the curtain down on a sublime seasonal feast at no-fuss prices served in seductively laid-back, welcoming surroundings. Do it, Piggies!

**Hot ticket: Thoroughly British Roman Feast at Gascoyne Place (part of the Great Bath Feast) 3 & 17 October – click here for further information**

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