November 13 2015

Pig guide review: winter menu at the huntsman

Winter has most definitely arrived in Bath. Christmas is on the near horizon, market fare and party-on hotspots are dominating The Pig’s newsfeed and snuggle-up comfort zones are taking over where alfresco opportunities (ha! Remember them?) have left off. Fortunately, many of Bath’s best pubs can provide instant solace to those of who have an urge to escape the boisterous merrymaking crowd, with The Huntsman in particular offering an escape-to-the-country vibe slap-bang in the middle of the city centre action.

Having formerly eaten upstairs in The Huntsman’s elegant Elder Rooms (pictured), this time we meandered through our feast at a table adjacent to the pub’s street level bar – definitely the way to go midweek right now, when the bar is gently buzzing with mellow revellers rather than party people. But when the city centre throngs invade, you can take your tasteful blowout upstairs from Thursdays to Sundays and watch it all going on from an upper floor window, far from the madding crowd.

Head chef Miro Nehring took to the Huntsman hob in late summertime. Now that the sun has set on lighter dishes for another year, Miro has introduced a lively array of British winter flavours to menus that have their foundations firmly anchored in archetypal seasonal favourites (game; earthy heritage vegetables; pillows of soporific mash; rich, complex sauces; etc) but still introduce us to all those clever little chef-led twists and turns that can elevate an ostensibly ‘basic’ dish to something very special indeed. As a result, a starter of Beef Wellington – yes, a BW starter! – turned out to be a dinky little trio of velvety fillet steak fillet parcels smothered in a mushroom pate that complements rather than dominates the top-notch meat itself, wrapped in an envelope of pastry so light you’d almost believe it may be filo – but it isn’t. Similarly, another starter of pressed rabbit and Parma ham terrine is intense enough to get the tastebuds raving, but light enough to leave you still craving the main event, while yet another starter (we were lucky enough to be presented with a custom-built Tasting Menu on our most recent visit) of creamy goats’ cheese, smoky chargrilled squash and teasing little nuggets of caramelised beetroot and walnuts allows those with a lighter appetite to still join in the full-on 3-course fun.

And might we suggest that, when you move on to your main course, you opt for either the profoundly flavoursome, complex and characterful Huntsman Boozy Stew (think, slow-cooked venison, lashings of syrupy Merlot, rosemary-infused dumplings and subtly astringent kicks of juniper sprinkling the prandial equivalent of fairy lights into seductively dark, atmospheric corners, and you’ve got the idea); butter-soft Gressingham duck breast served with creamy dauphinoise, braised red cabbage and depth-charge blackberry jus; or the slow-braised lamb that falls off the shank as soon as the plate lands on the table, with wholegrain mash and red wine and mint gravy – or, as we did, opt for all three and swear that you won’t eat again until Christmas day. But that pledge went out of the window anyway when puddings arrived: Fullers Vintage Ale sticky toffee pudding served with honeycomb ice cream and peanut brittle (the pudding itself fortunately turning out to be a light and airy incarnation rather than the solid brick of treacle that it can all too often turn out to be) and a lithe, almost ethereal vanilla panna cotta served with a moreish, friable pink peppercorn biscuit.

Oh, we didn’t want to leave The Huntsman at home time; outside, the weather was dark and dismal, and the staff had made us feel so welcome that we got the feeling that asking for a bed for the night wouldn’t have been too much trouble. But we didn’t, of course, test them on that theory. Instead, we vowed to come back for another cheerful chill-out session at our earliest opportunity – and we recommend that you follow our lead.

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