November 23 2016

Pig Guide Review: Winter Menu at Roman Baths Kitchen

Let’s be honest: Bathonians think that certain parts of the city are tourist hotspots that don’t really belong to “us” for a variety of reasons – because we live here; because we know “the real Bath”; because places that attract tourists “just won’t be any good.” But every so often, it’s a good idea to reevaluate the city that we think we know so well – and update our outdated opinion on “places that attract tourists”; y’know, tourists are tasteful too (let alone discerning about where they spend their holiday money). Anyway…

Bathonians are missing out on something very special indeed if they overlook the Roman Baths Kitchen – a lovely, lively contemporary bistro at the heart of the Heritage City action – for any reason (let alone a snobby, spurious one) at all. The menus move with both the seasons and current foodie trends, offering something to keep attention levels up throughout the day from sunrise to sunset. And when it comes to a gorgeous location, it’s pretty much unbeatable, offering views of the Abbey, the Roman Baths, the Pump Rooms and the beautiful, bustling square that links them all.

We revisited the RBK on a wet and windy night just before the Christmas Market swung into action. En route to our supper, soggy stallholders battled the elements as they prepared for opening day, probably facing a long, damp night ahead… an experience that was surely pretty much the polar opposite of the one that awaited us: a warm welcome, plush banquet seating, soft music, low lights – think, cosy glamour to the max, and you’ll get the picture. It further warmed the cockles of my little piggy heart to be reunited with head chef Ross Shaw, who I first encountered at the hob in Gascoyne Place many moons ago and has now taken his flair for seasonal, well-sourced, beautifully-presented modern British classics to fresh new heights in his RBK role.

Starters of an elegant mound of crisp, fresh salt and pepper squid with chilli mayo and a pork and black pudding terrine (the deeply umami black pudding served croquette-style) teamed with creamy celeriac remoulade, sharp apple puree and a heap of sourdough toast reminded me from the off just how much I’d missed Ross: he takes simple, top-notch ingredients and turns them into something very special indeed, without any need for tricksy quirks to supplement his stylish plates. His trademark traits were pushed to the fore in our main courses, too: a huge, juicy ribeye steak for Mr Pig (of course!) which he chose to accompany with a peppercorn sauce and came with all the necessary supporting characters (chunky chips; tomato salad) in tow. I, meanwhile, opted for panfried chicken breast with fondant potato, Jerusalem artichokes (yes!), baby carrots and a Madeira sauce. I absolutely love chef-led chicken dishes, and this one – so simple in description and yet so very, very elegant in terms of execution – was one of the best I’ve encountered in a long, long time: the flesh was succulent and tasted of proper, real chicken; the sauce was heavenly; the potatoes perfection; the carrots soft and sweet.

Portions here are generous to say the least, so dessert just wasn’t a practical option (I’d be happy to take a bet on the fact that either Ross’s sticky toffee pudding, apple crumble tart or dark chocolate crème brûlée are pretty fabulous, though). But were we being abstemious? Far from it; we indulged in far too much wine to accompany our meal – oh heck, it was pretty difficult not too, for the RBK flaunts a thoughtful, intelligent, distinctly affordable wine list. The Searcys own label southern French Vin Occitan Reserve Blanc (a classic Grenache Blanc-based Languedoc blend) was the ideal fresh’n’fruity partner for my chicken, while the Argentinian Malbec is a great match for any steak – or indeed, a welcome friend on any given miserable British winter evening. And that last sentiment in particular could be applied to a visit to RBK in general. Prices are around the same as you’d find at any upper-crust gastropub in the city (starters circa £6.65-£7.75; mains from £10.95 for a burger to £23-ish for a steak; puds from around a fiver) and the food is most definitely on par with (if not slightly elevated from) the very best gastropub selections. And yet, you can enjoy it all in gracefully chic surroundings, laid-back but refined, intimate but with a subtle background buzz of conviviality…and slap-bang in the middle of one of the city’s most historic sites.

It’s time to be a tourist in our own city.

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