August 13 2013

Pig review: dinner at The Herd, highly recommended

This little Piggy grew up as a vegetarian. Whether or not it would have been easy to carve out a niche for oneself as a food critic that eschewed meat, however, remains to be seen, as both my tastebuds and my quest for new sensations developed; by around the age of 25, meat – much to the horror of my mother – was most definitely on the menu. But another aspect of this new direction grew up with me. Today, provenance and welfare are the dual priorities for any contemporary carnivore, whether or not you’re in the mood for a hot dog or a full-on stake-out. So yes, I eat meat – but I do it thoughtfully, with all due regard paid to the responsibility that comes with indulging my whims. And one of Bath’s newest restaurants ticks all tasteful boxes, on all levels.

The Herd has recently turned the subterranean Argyle Street nest formerly known as Vito’s (and, before that, the original Yak Yeti Yak) into a gleaming contemporary steak house affair, giving it a thoroughly modern makeover by replacing the former fust and fuss with whitewashed stone walls, chunky, funky, functional furniture and quirky decor (love the cow photos! And the signage!). The overall ambience skilfully treads that fine line between super-cool and super-welcoming with aplomb – bang on-trend but not self-consciously so. Staff are efficient, confident and knowledgeable but properly friendly at the same time, and the layout is such that romantic tables for two, family outings, speedy refuelers and party people could all get along just great under the same roof. Okay, so the scene is set. Let’s eat!

We started our tour of the ranch with two dishes from a very well-balanced menu: calamari and chargrilled king prawns that came with a stack of focaccia to share. I opted to have my fresh, fat, garlic and chilli infused prawns shelled before they hit the table (a greatly appreciated, thoughtful touch), and the calamari had clearly opted not to be cooked until it resembled bouncing rubber, which makes the dish the best example of the genre that I’ve tucked into for a very long time. After that… well, we could’ve had sirloin. We could have had Porterhouse. Heck, we could have shared a Côte de Boeuf, or even delighted my mother and vegged out (despite the Herd’s USP, vegetarians are most definitely not overlooked). But as it was, we opted for an 8ozs fillet steak for me and a 10ozs Ribeye for the lucky Pig partner, both of which arrived juicy, good looking and perfectly cooked to order, accompanied by absolutely flawless twice-cooked chips and a side of fresh vegetables gently bathed in a sweet and sour sauce just to satisfy the five-a-day police. I had garlic butter with my steak, he had béarnaise with his, and all attempts at conversation stopped entirely as we each took a trip to Beef Paradise.

Did we have puddings? Oh come on, what do you think? Light, silky milk chocolate mousse served with a chunky white chocolate edible spoon, and Herd Mess – new to the ‘Specials’ menu on the night we visited, and the first one the chef had ever served. If the kitchen took our feedback on board regarding the new addition, it should be permanent menu feature by now – after all, The Pig is planning to become a semi-permanent fixture at that lovely table by a window that looks out onto the historic, characterful, often-overlooked thoroughfare that runs below Pulteney Bridge.

Sorry, mum.

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