April 24 2019

Review: Clayton’s Kitchen

There’s been a bit of a Twitter storm (in a teacup) raging on The Pig Guide timeline of late – and I have to admit that watching the trolls spit, seethe and generally do their misinformed, misspelt thing was, for almost a full five minutes, quite invigorating.

For those who aren’t keeping up at the back, a national newspaper critic recently visited Bath and apparently spent more time taking note of what her tour guide (“a young pal who lives in Bristol”) had to say about the city than she did actually exploring it. Top quote courtesy of the young Bristolian friend: “nobody in Bath has a job” – ah, bless the youth of today. Anyhoo…

Apart from sharing reasonably pleasant thoughts on Noya’s Kitchen, the resulting review pretty much wrote Bath off as a foodie dead zone. Ah well – you can’t please all the people, all the time. But the thing is, many Bath restaurants do just that, and have been doing just that for a very long time.

Okay, so Bath’s food scene may not have the zing-zing-bam, shock of the new buzz-thang edge that Bristol thrives on, and Bath buns have never been quite as hip as bao buns were five minutes ago, just down t’road. But given that the two cities are a mere 13-ish miles apart, wouldn’t it be a better idea to use our surplus energy commuting between both and supporting the independent businesses in each instead of getting all het up about which is home to the most “ambitious kitchens” du jour? And actually: what does the term “ambitious kitchen” actually mean?

Having cooked at Ménage a Trois and Chez Nico, Rob Clayton took to the hob at Hunstrete House Hotel in 1995, where he was awarded his first Michelin star, aged just 25. As executive head chef at the Bath Priory, he achieved a second star which he maintained for the duration of his 7-year residency. In 2012, he opened Clayton’s Kitchen in Bath. He fairly recently opened a second Clayton’s Kitchen at the Potters Heron in Hampshire, and he’s also Operations Director of the community-owned Packhorse Inn, in Southstoke. So yes, one could easily assume that Rob is ambitious. But does he serve “bleeding” seitan burgers from the grubby deck of a former grain barge that’s illegally docked in the Totterdown Basin? No. What about tahini tacos, fresh off a wood-fired hotplate attached the back of a bicycle? Nope. Skhug-infused, scratch-cooked Tteokbokki? Oh, stop it!

What Rob does serve is fresh, seasonal, uncomplicated food, always uplifting and imaginative, and always properly good, in his sparkly, spacious, straightforward modern bistro that’s supplemented by a neat lineup of alfresco tables that take the inside out when the weather plays nice. The service is charming, friendly and informative, the wine list intelligently eclectic and the whole vibe thrums along to a subtly buoyant beat: dress up or dress down, party on or chill out – whatever occasion may have brought you here, you’ve definitely come to the right place (unless, that is, you’re in search of hearth-roasted alpaca marinated in spent coffee pesto…)

A starter plate of dressed Pembrokeshire crab was as subtly sweet as fresh crab can be, enlivened by pink grapefruit, with crispy fennel adding texture and snap. We opted for a salmon combo too: the result of three procedures (simply poached, lightly smoked and marinated in a soft vinaigrette) bound together with yoghurt, kissed by the perfect amount of sweet mustard dill mayonnaise and accompanied by an elegant shard of sesame seed biscuit.

For mains, a huge, plump, corn fed chicken breast served on a heavenly pea and white truffle risotto, with sautéed shimeji mushrooms and porcini sauce bringing an earthy vigour to the party. If the chicken was decorous in inspiration, pan roasted fillet of English beef was masculine to the max: a big, bold flavour-hit of dense, intense umami, served with root vegetables and puree, profoundly bold red wine sauce, and massive duck fat chips.

Sticking to a classic theme for puds (because, dear cool hunters, ‘classic’ – in the hands of a chef who really knows how to cook – is, was, can and always will be cool, if you’re brave enough not to have your head turned by whichever shack/shed/schizzle is trending on Instagram right now) and had sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce and honeycomb ice cream, and salted caramel chocolate mousse with frosted almonds and malted milk ice cream, and both of them were out and proud pudding perfection.

When we eventually dragged ourselves away from our table we felt happy, and well fed, and bathed with the kind of satiated, gentle, ‘all’s right with the world’ afterglow that can only be delivered by a really good meal served by really nice people in a really nice place – no pressure, no showboating, no impending social media battle.

Clayton’s Kitchen isn’t trying to thrust an ironic version of a Taste of What’s Next down our throats. Instead, it showcases a taste of right here, right now…in Bath. How cool is that?

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