November 5 2015

Pig Guide review: a seasonal blow-out at the hare and hounds

While winter may not have started to bite too viciously just yet, we know it’s just around the corner. But if there’s one element to the dreary, dank weather that makes the long, cold nights ahead bearable, it’s British seasonal food. Right now, the last of this year’s soft, succulent aubergines and the sweetest, ripest figs can be rocked by a roasting. Kale, cabbage and parsnips are at their earthiest best, venison and duck are at at the top of their game and cod is at it’s meatiest, while a welcome return to the necessity for creamy mash, hearty soups and slow-cooked ‘forgotten’ cuts (well, forgotten during the summer months, anyway) put the cosy into comfort food.

But despite the fact that Bath is perfectly situated for easy access to the very best locally-sourced, fresh, seasonal grub, it’s amazing how some city centre menus are still stoically refusing to move with the times, continuing to promote sad, imported ‘summer’ berries, depressed Dover Sole and even defrosted asparagus as key superstars on their ‘winter’ menus. But the Hare and Hounds kitchen is so far from being dumped in The Pig’s offender category for such sins that it’s earned itself Seasonal Superstar Status on our charts: all of the produce name-checked back at the start of this review before I began my mini-rant about restaurants who are seemingly totally unaware that the sun has taken its hat off altogether are flaunted and made utterly fabulous use of on their current menus, alongside all the perennial classics (boisterous burgers; perfect fish and chips; legendary H&H steaks) that make this glorious, semi-pastoral (oh, get those views!) gastropub hotspot so perennially popular all year round.

Our tantalising trio (yup, we were a table for three this time around, with Lord Percy coming along for the ride) started our trek through the H&H early winter wonderland menu with a moist game terrine that didn’t hold back on delivering those all-important flavour punches, perfectly complimented by a pear and fig chutney buoyed up with warm spices and walnut bread that easily usurps the fickle charms of the over-exposed brioche. Lord Percy (who, as a former chef himself, isn’t always the easiest guest to please) waxed lyrical over his smoked duck salad, while I had to work very hard to protect my starter plate of rich, succulent honey baked figs, smooth goats’ cheese and sweet, crunchy candied walnuts from my fellow diners in order to enjoy it all (well, mostly) to myself – I have to say, though, I can’t blame them for experiencing food envy, as good as their starters were; if you follow our lead up the hill anytime soon, put this starter at the top of your wish list. Next up, venison shepherd’s pie that Mr Pig declared to be the best shepherd’s pie he’d ever encountered (okay Mr Pig, so you try cooking dinner at home next time, then) with spicy, velvety red cabbage and moreish crispy parsnips, alongside a BBQ pulled pork burger served with sticky ribs for Lord Percy – oh, you know how former chefs can be; they know what they like, and they like what they know… although in this instance, LP took the Mr Pig descriptive route too, saying he’d never had a burger like it (in a very good way, you understand!) I, meanwhile, opted for the tantalising prospect of cod served with a bacon, crab and spring onion croquette, lemon butter sauce and kale… and I’m very glad I did, for this was a dreamy dish indeed, with a massive slab of softly-roasted, creamy cod rightfully taking centre stage while the supporting characters artfully danced attendance at all the correct junctures, complimenting each and every forkful and keeping attention levels up from start to finish.

As we also opted to share a Bar Bite (which turned out to be far more generous than the word ‘bite’ implies) of black pudding fritters with chilli jam at the outset, we all agreed that we wouldn’t pig out on pudding, only to do the fastest U-turn ever witnessed when Lord Percy and I spotted toffee, pecan and banana sundae on the menu and took the 2-spoon route all the way back to the tastes of our childhood in the very best grown up way. Mr Pig, meanwhile, can never resist a sticky toffee pudding, which managed to be at once light, rich and soporific, as all the best STPs should be – try that one at home too, Mr Pig?

With wine, our early winter wassail for three people came in at less than £100, with very generous portions and absolutely lovely service as standard. The sky may seem to be getting lower by the day, the dark nights are already way too long and the frost is nipping at our heels with a vengeance – but at this time of year, the Hare and Hounds makes the cruel vagaries of a British winter bearable.

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