October 30 2014

New season's eatings at the Hare and Hounds

Generally speaking, I try my best to leave phrases such as “eat the seasons”; “British food at it’s very best”; “the true taste of spring/autumn/Christmas” etc to the copywriters behind the big advertising campaigns – you know, the sort of folk who come up with slogans such as “This Is Not Just Food” in an attempt to make the mundane sound marvelous. But a recent foray into the new autumn/winter season menu at the Hare and Hounds sent me into descriptive cliché meltdown so severe that I almost used the word ‘delicious’ when making notes about pudding, and nearly ended a sentence “nom, nom, nom” – yup, I was resorting to the final bastion of the food writer lost for words. Lost for words…or eating them? Hmm…

The fact is, there was no better way to describe the cranberry, plum and ginger fool that finished our meal than delicious. And at the very start of our dinner, pan-fried scallops really were transformed into a true taste of autumn, accompanied as they were by squash puree, roasted chorizo and crispy Parma ham that added myriad flavour twists and turns to keep attention levels up all the way through to the very last mouthful. A second starter of chicken liver and brandy parfait really was a true taste of Christmas: smooth, and rich, and fruity, and served with flaky wedges of airy, buttery, toasted brioche, and just…well, nom, nom, nom. And then I had a huge, creamy slab of roasted cod that came resting on a bean, bacon, chorizo, smoked ham hock and spinach cassoulet that really did taste like the season of mellow fruitfulness in a bowl, while Mr Pig’s braised beef shin with horseradish and tarragon dumplings, bourguignon garnish (nom, nom, nom again) and red onion marmalade really was…yup, you guessed it: British food at it’s very best.

Okay, I’ve used all those clichés up – and I hope you agree that I haven’t wasted a single one. But here’s the stuff that really lifts this gastropub blowout to extravaganza heights without a single old chestnut in sight: the Hare and Hounds – known to many as the pub to set the SatNav for when the sun comes out, as this handsome inn boasts what’s probably one of the best beer garden views in Bath – is as picture-perfect when the leaves are turning golden as it is when the blossoms are just starting to come into bloom. It’s spacious but cosy, funky without being pretentious, and thoroughly British without being tub-thumpingly flag-waving about it. In the semi-open kitchen, head chef Emma Carpenter presides over a cheerful brigade who, on the evening of our visit, were more than happy to share tips on cooking beef brisket to their level of perfection (I tried – but sadly failed – to replicate Emma’s shin at home), and the staff do that clever tightrope-walking trick where they just seem to know exactly when to appear at your table and when to leave you to get on with things on your own. In other words, the Hare and Hounds is a bit of a… aaargh, I was going to resort to yet another overused idiom and call it a bit of a home from home. But it isn’t. Instead, it’s the place to go when you feel like a blast of downhome, upmarket grub at thoroughly decent prices… and a true taste of a British autumn.

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