February 18 2014

Review: the Royal Crescent Hotel

I love to walk along the Royal Crescent. We all know the architecture is stunning, while the ambience is the stuff of tourist dreams, Jane Austen novels and film sets, guaranteed to refresh the senses and take the edge off the jittery urban angst that so many of us live with every day. And right there, slap-bang in the centre of the Heritage City’s most iconic landmark, the Royal Crescent Hotel: an imposing town house just like all the others in the row, except this one has a uniformed doorman there to doff his top hat at all who pass and help guests in and out with their Louis Vuitton luggage. A massive green creeper-type thing crawls up over the lower windows – rumour has it that this lush piece of verdant shrubbery is there for the sole purpose of making life miserable for the paparazzi when there’s a ‘sleb in residence. Lately, a rack of far less fittingly-scenic scaffolding marks the spot too, as the hotel is undergoing a bit of a scrub-up, bringing it elegantly up-do-date without interfering with the overall vibe of discreet red carpet luxury. But it’s business as usual behind the juxtaposed facade: glamorous in a uniquely British, understated way, all hush-hush greetings and offers of assistance with taxing tasks such as folding your umbrella and opening doors from the very off. The recently-refurbished bar (The Montagu) is totally, utterly super-chic, but offers a refreshingly warm welcome and a very well priced all-day dining menu that, in the summer months, can be enjoyed with a spiffing view of the manicured private garden at the epicentre of hotel life (and we’ll return to such a concept in due course). Meanwhile, the restaurant has thankfully got rid of that odd “living wall of moss”-type thing that once dominated the back wall, added artfully stylish contemporary flourishes hither and thither (the fresh florals are fabulous) and subtly morphed into the Bath version of the dining rooms at The Algonquin. Why, then, do so few Bathonians rave on about hanging out here when the hotel’s former image of being “just for tourists” is clearly so very out-of-date?

Whatever their skewed perception of dining at the RCH, this glitch most definitely has nothing to do with head chef David Campbell’s cooking. I’ve sampled his menus on several occasions, and pretty much agree with the AA officer who awarded David a triple-Rosette bouquet after their last visit, declaring that his menus “offer the very best of contemporary dining experiences, not to be missed” before going a bit soppy over his presentation skills too. My most recent Tasting Menu excursion into what David’s getting up to right now confirmed this statement, from the parsnip and vanilla cream melange that came with a uniquely quirky apple and rosemary jelly all the way through to a glorious tribute to rhubarb (sponge, parfait and poached – heavenly!) by way of slow-cooked duck egg with slivers of divinely savoury Iberican ham and treatsome Perigord truffle, and tender fallow deer perfectly complemented by spiced blackberries, dreamy haggis croquettes and Manjari chocolate. Highlights of a menu teeming with, erm, highlights included the delicate mushroom tea that moistened a plump, gentle thyme gnocchi, and table-smoked rainbow trout that brought drama, theatre and a spiffing combination of horseradish cream and caviar to the table all at once. To make us smile, David’s take on Cherry Bakewell (do as I say and ask for a taster of this no matter what menu you choose to feast on – I’m sure Mr Campbell will oblige), and, to give our palates a refreshing blast twixt savoury and sweet courses, a lively combination of goats’ cheese, mace, beetroot and honey wine jelly, with a sprinkling of roasted nuts to ensure that texture was invited to the party too. The cost for such a feast? £78pp, excl. wine. Okay, so we’re on, I guess, special occasion territory. But the overall experience was indeed just that: very special, and perfect for every occasion. Having said that (and Bathonians, please take note here), it’s possible to dine at the RC for far less than the full-on shebang price tally; check out the Montagu all-day menu, paying particular attention to posh hot dogs, ‘small plates’, seafood platters and fish’n’chips in a basket, and you too can treat yourself to a right Royal occasion for little more than you’d pay for supper at your favourite Bath gastropub – now that’s a grand vista indeed.

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