October 30 2017

Pig Guide review: Bar+Block

The gleaming Apex Hotel has finally opened its doors. There’s a brand new kitchen supplies shop thriving just down t’road. Myriad events at the Bath Brew House fly the flag for the local music, comedy and sports scene, the polish delicatessen offers the best kiełbasa to be found without paying a visit to the tiny little street vendor’s van that parks up outside Hala Targowa in Kraków, and even the Wetherspoon’s (sorry, the King of Wessex pub) has undergone a bit of a spruce up; overall, there’s something about the recent developments on James Street West that puts me in a Charing Cross Road, London frame of mind.

Charing Cross Road acts as a sort of midsection thoroughfare through London’s west end, running north of St Martin-in-the-Fields to the intersection with Oxford Street. It’s an eclectic, busy, buzzy road, home to all manner of businesses, shops, restaurants and more. Now our very own JSW isn’t, thankfully, anywhere near as congested as CCR. But it has a similarly diverse, continually regenerating vibe about it, and the streets that lead off to the north sorta take you into the heart of Bath’s very own west end experience. Anyway…. it was on CCR that I had my very first steak house experience, decades ago, at an Angus Steakhouse that, were it to still be on the site today, would be around the same age as I am now. And it was on JSW that I had my most recent steak house foray at Bar+Block, a shiny new restaurant tucked away in the far corner of the Premier Inn hotel lobby.

Yes, that’s what I said: tucked away in the far corner of the Premier Inn hotel lobby (the link being that B&B is owned by the same company that owns Premier Inn – that being Whitbread – but remains to be a stand-alone venture in its own right). Were it to be located, say, over the road in the building currently occupied by the Bathstore, or wrapped in the arms of the Kingsmead Square quarter (yup, Kingsmead Square is apparently a ‘quarter’, now), you probably wouldn’t be able to get a table at B+B at peak times for love nor money, for it’s an absolute contemporary gem of a place, all super-cool fixtures and fittings (exposed brick work; NY-style bar; chunky wooden furniture and banquette booths; general industriala…. oh, and a neon cow flaunting its flanks on the wall), all of which provide a suitably hip-but-friendly backdrop for flexible, largely meat-centric menus that run the whole daily gamut from big breakfasts and lazy brunch to cocktails at sunset and wine-pairing suggestions for bespoke cuts at dinner time by way of express lunch options and kids’ menus, too. Phew!

Having said that, the selections are all still concise enough not to tread anywhere close to ‘overwhelm’ panic, and direct views into the open kitchen add further reassurance that we’re most definitely not on freezer-to-TurboChef territory here. You can, if you so wish, go totes bespoke with the size and cut of your steak as they’re all hand-cut on site, and menus include insightful descriptions of the distinct personality of each cut, the optimal cooking time recommendation and what wine to drink with it. The Butcher’s Block special cut of the day acts as a supplement to the standard array, and there are plenty of chicken, fish, lamb and veggie options for those who want to take that kind of detour. But in the main, we’re on steak turf here – and that’s exactly where we pitched our tent.

We started off with three grazing plates to share, as per our servers’ recommendation (and it’s vital to flag up here that the B+B staff are absolutely lovely, in a properly welcoming, helpful way): exceptionally moreish hoisin/spring onion/chilli/coriander-tinged Asian crispy beef; delectable salt and pepper squid in a light batter, dotted hither and thither with chilli and parsley and served with a creamy garlic mayonnaise; mixed wild mushrooms in a truffle-infused shallot sauce served on buttery ciabatta and topped with a poached egg and tarragon – yum on a plate, and a dish I’d be very happy to revisit any time for lunch. But this time around, we were all about dinner.

My sirloin was the silkiest, juiciest, most flavoursome incarnation of the genre I’ve encountered in a very long time, beautifully caramelised on the outside and velvety-soft within. Mr Pig, meanwhile, eschewed his usual rib eye in favour of the lesser-spotted spiral-cut fillet, which is cut fairly thinly, slathered in garlic and parsley, rolled up (hence the ‘spiral’ part of the description) and left to marinate for 24-hours, thereby creating a uniquely moist blanket of extra-added tenderness and flavour to the whole affair. The beef dripping, triple-cut chunky chips that accompany all the steaks (you can opt for house salad, but hey, y’know…) were as good as the description suggested they would be, and we chose sides of garlic spinach (highly recommended) and charred tandoori cauliflower (the only dish that still needed ‘a bit of work’) too. We didn’t, however, even squabble over a pudding, despite the fact that there are churros on the menu, and Toffee Apple Cheesecake, because we’d chosen to go large with our steaks. But we did have an Espresso Martini each, just in the name, y’know, of research n’all…. and research proved that it’s well worth making time for a cocktail here either before or after you hit the block.

All this is going on without having to make the hike all the way to Charing Cross Road, let alone take a trip back in time to an Angus Steakhouse; just make a short detour off James Street West and through the Premier Inn hotel lobby, and you’re there.

The small print: for a feast similar to ours, expect to pay circa £80, inc. wine and cocktails. Sunday lunch: minimum 2 people, £13.50pp, puts the intriguing South American cut Picanha in the spotlight. Express lunch menu: £10, freshly prepared and guaranteed to be served in under 10 minutes. To receive regular news, deals and promotions from B+B, sign up here.

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