January 2 2018

Pig Guide review: The Mint Room, Bath

If you go by location alone, a trip to The Mint Room – situated as it is at the heart of an urban axis defined by a Holiday Inn Express, a Sainsbury’s garage forecourt and a Homebase car park – doesn’t initially look very promising. All credit to the Mint Room’s head honchos, then, for turning what’s ostensibly a breeze block box into a subtly glamorous, urbane experience that can’t really be likened to any other restaurant in Bath… let alone any local establishment that adheres to an Indian theme. Offering yet another surprising twist, the restaurant’s charms have recently been supplemented by the addition of a super-smart, super-cosy (yes, even in this weather) rooftop cocktail terrace, specialising in Champagne/premium liqueur-based mix-up magic-in-a-glass – and it was a pre-dinner drink here that really shook up those “are we really in Bath?” sensations.

The Mint Room’s rooftop cocktail terrace is an instant instagram hit: the artificial grass carpet picks up extra sparkle from the fairy lights, while the candles artfully scattered hither and thither give an upmarket grotto effect. Monogrammed cushions strewn across plush sofas and armchairs add an ‘exclusive club member’ vibe, the service is impeccable, and the bar staff friendly and well-informed. If, once settled at your table with a drink in front of you, you sent a pic of yourself to a friend in Bath and asked them where they thought you might be, they’re more likely to take a guess at Kowloon, or New York, or even Berlin, than just down the road. You’re elevated above the prosaic, street level thoroughfare around you, and offered a totally different perspective of the ever-developing Lower Bristol Road vicinity (oh, it’s bound to become a Quarter soon!) than the one you thought you were becoming familiar with: clean, smooth concrete; glimpses of neon; brand new lights peeking out from beyond brand new curtains yet to be drawn in brand new apartments. It’s most certainly a fascinating vista, and one that Bathonians don’t get to consider very often: a contemporary skyline in the Heritage City. It’s a fitting start, too, to an eating out experience that HC residents don’t get to indulge in very often without leaving the city’s boundaries, either: a non-stop exotic cabaret that enlivens and delights even the most jaded palates.

The Mint Room’s Tour of India Tasting Menu celebrates the massive culinary and cultural diversity of the largest subcontinent in the world, starting with the kind of street food (crispy little Pani Puri puffballs that must be downed in one; Aloo Papadi Chaat drizzled with tamarind and mint chutney; ‘real’ Bombay mix) that you’re likely to encounter at any market stall from Shimla down to Kerala. Okay, I’ve ranted effusively about restaurants that put the words Street Food on a formal, sit-down menu many times. But when those words translate as a really authentic incarnation of the genre, entirely in keeping with the prandial journey you’re taking, I’m happy to break my own rules.

We were nibbling again ‘On the Journey’ to our next pitstop, resting up at a traditional Dhaba (roadside café) for tender, velvety lamb chops marinated in Punjabi spices, and Aloo Tikki – vegetarian Scotch eggs, if you like, filled with a crushed cashew nut paste, more spices, and rich, melting cheese. After that, we were magically transported way down south to Kerala, a region renowned for its coastal harvest, soporific coconut-based sauces and temperate, subtle spices – behold the Keralan Seabass Moilee: a silky dream of a fish dish, subtly tantalising and affably rich. Lingering in the deep south for a while, we tasted a Biryani served Hyderabad style, which meant that our gently-spiced slow-cooked lamb, muddled with basmati, came served under a flaky pastry crust – Biryani pie! Veering north now, to Delhi, for vibrant Chicken Makhani: tandoor-smoked chicken in a smooth tomato sauce enlivened by the unique, burnt sugar blast of fenugreek, bountifully finished off with butter and cream. Now east, to Bengal, for Tawa Duck: distinctively spiced Creedy Carver (local sourcing policies are, by the way, impeccable here), smoked and panfried on a plancha, served with cashew and coconut sauce and delicate saffron rice. And then we travelled far north west to Rajasthan, for a suitably lavish, regal Lamb Lal Mas: cutlets infused with an enticing, heady mix of Kashmiri red chillies, cloves, cumin, cinnamon, coriander and cardamom… sumptuous, extravagant, sophisticated and flamboyant. We weren’t just having a good time; we were, quite simply, in good food nirvana.

Our early nibbles rank amongst the best prandial preludes we’ve ever encountered in an Indian restaurant in Bath, while the rest of our banquet can only be described as positively stellar, a sentiment aided and abetted by the kind of artful presentation that’s almost criminal to disturb. Competent, confident and audaciously inspirational, Head Chef Soyful Alom and his team are masters of the art of modern Indian cookery at its very, very best.

You can either dine at The Mint Room like a Maharaja (the wine list is suitably stately too), pop in for a simple Rogan Josh and a Cobra, or bypass the food altogether and chill out (but not, as we’ve already established, literally) on the rooftop terrace. But whichever way you choose to do it, you’ll pay far, far less than you’d expect for the outstanding quality on offer – and gain a far, far more memorable experience than I’d wager you’ve had in a restaurant in a very long time.

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