September 24 2013

Review: dinner at The Porter – do it, Piggies!

“Hello, welcome to The Porter”. Well hello indeed! This brave new venture is most definitely nothing like The Porter that many Bathonians have either much loved or vigourously detested for the years it dominated the George Street ‘strip’. Okay, certain people are going to detest The Pig for saying that the old Porter was detested by some. But I’m only saying it like it is! The old Porter had become very grubby. It had become careworn. It was distinctly unloved. And the food – oh lordy, don’t get me started! But anyway, that was then – and this is now.

Today, The Porter is owned by the team behind Circo (the super-glam cocktail hotspot on the other side of town). During their opening flourish, they made a point of flaunting the fact that this split-level social hub is “different on every level” – and indeed, it is. Not only is it different in terms of being light years apart from the overall vibe at the previous Porter incarnation, but it brings a whole new aspect to going out in  Bath, too: from the bottom up, explore a cool’n’funky, hip’n’happening club-style hangout in the basement, a couple of chic dining rooms at street level, an elegantly inviting, sumptuous bar on the first floor and all manner of private party and meeting rooms dotted around and about this exceedingly well-appointed, well considered social complex, now scrubbed up and refurbished to contemporary standards of luxury whilst reintroducing us to the integrity of this characterful, historic building.

The restaurant area (“Clayton’s Kitchen”) is headed up by uber-chef Rob Clayton, and he’s come up with a menu that offers broad appeal to all from breakfast through to suppertime, whether you’re after sturdy classics (I have it on very good authority that. in Rob’s hands, popular, familiar friends such as burgers, sausages and his full on, full English breakfasts turn into wonders to behold) to fashionable, fabulous Modern British/Euro-themed masterpieces as beautifully presented as one would expect from a chef who’s managed to attract the attention of the Michelin men twice already. So, would The Pig’s head be turned too?

Once seated at a smartly dressed table for two in a very appealing, cosy but spacious dining room, my starter arrived looking almost too pretty to eat: a gloriously celebratory, autumnal triumvirate of sweet roasted scallops, creamy butternut squash puree and properly earthy chorizo. I have to admit, though, that a serious bout of food envy nearly ruined the first act; if Pig Partner hadn’t shared the neat tangle of lemon oil-annointed pasta laden with lashings of Portland crab and sprinkled with chives, a hefty bout of sulking would have ensued. But no worries; starters were duly shared, tantrums were avoided, and I know already that I’ll be back to The Porter poste haste for a mains-sized version of that crab. Talking of mains…

Now The Pig can’t resist a properly-cooked Cannon of Lamb – and I’m delighted to report that Rob’s ways with this luxurious cut (actually the eye of the loin or rack with all the fat and sinew removed, don’cha know) pays full tribute to the uniquely tasteful personality of the main ingredient: think, soft, pink, succulent , distinctly ‘lamby’ meat complemented by tomatoes that tasted how tomatoes are meant to taste, crushed spuds, silky ribbons of chargrilled courgettes and a thyme sauce that, while bold in flavour, mingled sociably with all the other elements on the plate rather than dominating the party – a very good dish indeed. For PP, a fillet steak, perfectly, properly cooked to medium-rare order and very well matched with duck fat chips, shallot and thyme puree and a sensual Madeira sauce – yes, dearest Piggies, we’re talking gold star food here… and the best, for me at least, was yet to come: a generous, sexy pot of salted caramel chocolate mousse for me (while I personally couldn’t quite get with the poached citrus pear that accompanied it, I can see exactly where Rob was going with this particular partnership) and a deeply sensual sticky toffee pudding (if you don’t believe that STP can be sensual, try this version and report back to me) drenched in a very moreish toffee sauce and teamed with honeycomb ice cream – hoorah, The Pig has discovered pudding perfection! With wine (a smooth entry-level Temperanillo, £16.50) and coffee, the bill for our Porter feast came in at circa £80 – not bad at all for quality of this standard in chic but welcoming surroundings, served by really lovely staff.

Next time, I’m having a whole heap of that crab pasta. And a second helping of that mousse. And then I’m going for a cocktail in that plush, first floor bar. Oh heck, I’m probably not going to leave – the (brand new) Porter had me at hello.

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