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Review: Peking Restaurant takeaway

The Chinese New Year parties may be over for another year, but seriously, when do we ever need an excuse for a Chinese takeaway?

The Year of the Ox came early to Pig Guide HQ this year; not only did we start the celebrations a whole week early, but we did it all over again on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Why? Because we live in Bath, and we’re lucky enough to have The Peking Restaurant on our doorstep.

The Peking has flown the flag for Bath’s independent food businesses for over three decades now, making it not only the city’s longest-established Chinese restaurant but one of Bath’s longest-established restaurants, period. It’s one of my go-to hotspots when I know what I want, and I know what I want will be very, very good here; I don’t really even have to read the menu anymore, but I read it just because I love it, and then I order what I love. But this time around we took ourselves on a little adventure and put our order in the very capable hands of Peking proprietor Jun, who bought the business from his dad a handful of years ago.

In Chinese culture, the main focus for owning a business is about stability for the family, and the generations down,” says Jun. “I believe that the reason the Peking has remained so popular in Bath is because we still run it as a family. If someone else ran it I don’t think it would work as well; even if they did exactly the same thing as we do, it wouldn’t be the same, because it wouldn’t be ours.” Indeed, when ‘normal’ service (as in, eat-in) is resumed, you may well encounter the the legendary Mr Wong keeping a keen eye on proceedings during service, making sure that the business is still very much “theirs.” But The Peking is also still very much “ours” too. And so…

It isn’t easy to drag my focus away from my usual Kung Po King Prawns, Crispy Fried Shredded Beef with Chilli, Chicken Breast in Lemon Delight – but Jun had other ideas for us this time around.

We started with Crispy Aromatic Duck that totally lived up to its name: crunchy yet juicy, fatty but not cloyingly so, rich in divine Chinese spices and served, of course, with papery pancakes, spring onion/cucumber batons and the kind of plum sauce that you’d happily slather yourself in five nights a week.

We moved on to fresh, fat, tender scallops in a vigorously funky black bean sauce, spicy, sweet and salty but carefully balanced in order to allow the scallops’ vibrant personality to shine through. We had bracingly hot, chilli-laden Szechuan King Prawns: huge prawns, big flavours, totally, excitingly addictive. There was chicken in a sauce that’s become my latest obsession, too: pungent, earthy Yellow Bean, sweetly savoury, fascinatingly complex. Noodles? Singapore Rice Noodles, no less, curry-tinged and tumbled with fresh vegetables and shrimp. And of course we had Egg Fried Rice as well, because Jun obviously decided that it would be wrong not to – and he was very, very right.

I can’t wait to take to a beautifully-dressed table in the Peking again, nodding hello to Mr Wong and chatting with Jun about wine, and food, and all the good things in life. But thank goodness it’s still possible to have a taste of all those good things in life, at home, courtesy of The Peking.

Begin your own voyage of discovery by browsing the full Peking menu here. Or just ask Jun to put a feast together for you; you won’t regret it…

Review: Pies by Plate

After the last lockdown eased up a bit but before this one kicked in (walk with me on this one), I reviewed Plate: a then-brand new restaurant venture within the elegantly quirky confines of The Bird hotel on Pulteney Road. Oh, fond memories indeed! “If I could move in for Christmas, I would,” I said, at the time blithely thinking that I’d properly take up residence there for Christmas, New Year and beyond. And then… ah, we all know what happened next.

But beyond the closed doors of the restaurant, Plate’s kitchen is very much open for business every weekend when superchef Leon Smith dedicates his Fridays and Saturdays to making pies for all to click’n’collect from the hotel’s car park (complete with very inviting fire pit, which makes the whole occasion sorta extra magical.)

Okay, we all think we know all there is to know about pies. But personally, I relish the opportunity to be sent back to the drawing board for a rethink – and Pies by Plate definitely got me rethinking the whole genre. I mean, how often do you encounter moist, smooth chicken, the creamy sauce invigorated by just the right amount of tingly tarragon and tightly packed into a neat, super-short pastry crust, somehow lighter than a ‘traditional’ chicken pie yet still reassuringly, supremely, comfortingly familiar? What about a Sweet Potato and Lentil pie that brings depth-charge flavour, texture and total satisfaction to your, erm, plate and puts a vegetarian-friendly option centre stage for all? As for that old family favourite, the Fish Pie: Leon makes sure that the mashed potato topping – divine though it may be – plays a supporting role to huge chunks of cod, smoked haddock and salmon rather than turning the whole thing into a (tiny bit of fish) version of corned beef hash. That mash comes as standard with the pastry-wrapped pies too, and piles of freshly-steamed Bromham winter vegetables (think, hispi cabbage, and courgettes, and leeks, and yum yum yum) kick a hefty portion of your five-a-day straight into the back of the net without making you feel as though you have to eat your greens in order to eat all the pies. Talking of over-indulging (oh come on, we’re in the middle of a bitter UK winter, in lockdown – over-indulgence is all that gets most of us through the long weekends), there’s pud on the menu too: Winter Berry Cheesecake with Chantilly Cream… please trust me when I tell you that if you can’t manage it after your pie-fest, it makes a wonderful breakfast the next morning. Meanwhile, all ingredients used are sourced within a 10-mile radius of Bath, making Pies by Plate a win-win prandial party for all.

Partying on with Leon’s pies is simple: pre-order by 5pm on Thursday or Friday to collect your order between 5pm-8pm on Friday or Saturday (you’ll find the full menu and ordering contact details here.) All dishes cost £15pp, portions are very generous (to say the least!), everything is beautifully packaged and your feast stays hot all the way home without any of the dreaded takeaway sogginess setting in. Want to buy now, eat them later? There’s a reheat-at-home option available.

Who ate all the pies? You, as soon as you get your hands on them. Enjoy!

Pig Guide review: Boho Marché

You could easily be forgiven for not being aware of several brand new ventures that have opened in Bath recently; after all, few of us are getting out-and-about much, are we? Full credit where it’s due, then, to the brave new worlders who have set up shop in the midst of what’s possibly the most difficult trading circumstances known to several generations – Boho Marché being the case in point we’re focusing on here.

Taking over the space vacated by Brasserie Blanc at the Francis Hotel on Queen Square, Boho Marché is subtle in terms of signage while the big picture windows are designed more for looking out of from indoors than in from the street – a missed opportunity, perhaps, for a restaurant situated at the crossroads of major city centre footfall point? Beyond that classic hotel facade, however, the vibe subtly – and somewhat surprisingly – rocks along to a subtle Casbah beat, with Marrakech market-stye flourishes evident in both décor and menus in a dining room that was once been a ballroom but today pushes ‘smart modern brasserie’ to the fore, with inviting booths by the bar and smartly-laid tables (some with banquette seating, hoorah!) dotted hither and thither across the rather elegant space.

If you crave falafel and muhammara, or roast smoked harissa chicken, or Moroccan butternut squash curry, you’ll find those dishes on the menu here… alongside lobster and shrimp mac’n’cheese, the Boho beef and marrow burger, duck confit, truffled tagliatelle, and similar dishes on a pan-global theme that underpin the restaurant’s ethos of bringing Mediterranean, Moroccan, North African, Andalusian and French classics (phew!) together in one very busy kitchen. As a result, Turkish poached eggs with labneh and chilli oil leaps out at you from an otherwise classic hotel breakfast menu, and a fried chicken burger with barbecue mayo shares space with a vegan cous cous poke bowl on the main course selection; think Yotam Ottolenghi meets Antony Worral Thompson, and you’ll sorta get the mood. Eclectic? Yes indeed. But then again, what’s not to love about eclectic?

My starter of burrata with peach and chilli chutney was huge, and indulgent, and creamy; a second starter of pan-seared tiger prawns with garlic butter sourdough toast equally substantial. A main course of slow-braised beef with red wine jus and smoked mash was a perfectly executed, textbook rendition of the genre and, at the finishing line, the salted caramel chocolate fondant was divine, the vanilla crème brulee superb. The welcome was warm, service throughout was super-friendly, the cocktails are wonderful, the wine list extensive. But while the overall USP is slightly surreal and perhaps a tad confusing, that’s probably mainly because surreal and confusing are two elements that influence every eating out experience we can manage right now. When tiers stop dominating our table talk and lockdowns become a distant memory, Boho Marché has the potential to march right up the Bath hotel restaurant charts.

Pig Guide review: Emma’s Restaurant at the DoubleTree by Hilton Bath

Built in 1972 as part of town planner Sir Colin Buchanan’s plans for redeveloping the southern end of Walcot Street, the brutalist concrete structure that is the Bath Hilton Hotel has earned itself local iconic status for all the wrong reasons. But not all pretty packages come beautifully wrapped – and if you venture beyond that hostile frontage today, you’ll find a gift box of very pretty treats to explore.

Earlier this year, the Bath Hilton hotel franchise was snapped up by Kew Green Hotels who invested mega bucks into a super-imaginative, totally transformational refurbishment including a chi-chi cocktail bar, contempo-elegant dining space (Emma’s Restaurant, complete with alfresco terrace) and an internal Secret Garden destination, and renamed the whole shebang the DoubleTree by Hilton Bath.

It’s difficult to imagine what one of Jane Austen’s most engaging protagonists might have thought of her namesake restaurant within the hotel’s brand new eat, drink and be merry zone. Would she, once seated in a spacious booth in full view of the glamorous bar, have allowed her first, frisky paramour Frank Churchill to have led her towards sharing a smoochy bread, cheese, meat, cheese, fish or charcuterie Sharing Platter (all of which look suitably seductive) along the route? Or would she, as I imagine her rather more conventional husband-to-be George Knightley would have advised, take a sturdily traditional route to satiation with homemade soup, proper pie and ice cream?

Having worn that particularly eccentric bout of speculation out rather quickly, we made our own merry way through a menu that, as you may have already surmised, takes diners on a whistlestop cruise around the globe, lingering long in southeast Asia – a clever plan considering that we are, after all, both on hotel territory and in the centre of a city whose residents are known for embracing far-flung foodie inspirations. So, passports firmly in hand…

To start, featherlight, well-stuffed Bao Bun with a deeply umami Pork Ramen; fresh, crisp Asian-style Crab Cakes with fruity/spicy mango chutney – our cruise was off to a flying start indeed. I stuck with the southeast Asian theme for my main course, too: lesser-spotted (in Bath, anyway) Nasi Goreng served with moist satay skewers and an impeccably seasoned sambal. Mr Pig, meanwhile, turned into Mr Knightley at this point, tucking into a juicy, tandoori-cooked 8oz sirloin with all the trimmings (fabulous thick-cut chips, juicy mushroom, fragrant vine tomatoes, etc) faster than Emma could say “I may have lost my heart but not my self-control” – Mr Pig, it seemed, lost both to that steak.

We had puds too: Sticky Toffee ‘cos we’re never allowed to say no to it, ever, and DoubleTree’s ‘famous’ Chocolate Chip Cookie Cheesecake, which is famous for a very good reason: it’s totally, utterly yum.

Emma’s Restaurant and all that goes with it – the bar, the Secret Garden et al – is an unexpectedly elegant addition to the Bath restaurant scene, in a controversial building that’s been given an unexpectedly elegant second chance courtesy of an impeccably well-considered makeover. Oh, and by the way: delightfully congenial Afternoon Teas go large here too – Ms Austen herself would most definitely have approved.

Pig Guide review: Plate at The Bird

Quirky but chic, subtly glamorous, wittily flamboyant and home to a kitchen dedicated to serving dishes wrought from the finest, freshest, locally-sourced seasonal produce that head chef Leon Smith (who boasts stints at some of the UK’s top eateries including Tom Aikens in Chelsea, the Michelin-starred Pony and Trap and The Royal Oak at Paley Street – where he achieved three AA rosettes – on his impressive CV) can get his hands on: Plate – a recent addition to the stylish merrymaking zone that is The Bird hotel on Pulteney Road – is all about spirit-lifting joy.

Cocktails with nibbles? Tapas with fizz? Proper pie with proper cider? A full-on, all-course blow-out, or a light lunch, or a grand celebratory feast, or a smoochy ‘just because’ supper with your loved one? Tick, tick, tickety-tick; it’s all going on at this seductively welcoming all-things-to all-people experience, where you’re treated like an old best friend from the moment you step through the door.

As you’d expect from a Kaleidoscope Collection venture (see also: Homewood), there’s much to catch your eye even before you’ve made yourself comfortable in the sparklingly pretty bar: intelligently fanciful modern artwork, curious curios, gracious knick-knackery, waggish wallpaper and vibrant but distinctly non-garish colour, colour, colour everywhere you look all serve to fascinate and cheer from the off. It’s totally unique to Bath, but the warm, unpretentious vibe and friendly front of house staff soften any ‘shock of the new’ hard edges with an ease and competence that immediately wrap you up in a warm, relaxed, comfortable shawl of bonhomie… and ain’t that just what we need, right now more than ever before?

Following cocktails in that bar (since having a Cosmopolitan here, I’ve craved nothing else to drink) we took to a cosy corner table in the dining room and picked our way through three dishes from the West Country Tapas section of the neat menu: mackerel rillette with luxurious smoked cod’s roe, piquant pickled cucumber and seductive saffron potato; lightly devilled crispy Brixham whitebait with a super-lively lemon mayonnaise; braised shoulder of Beeswax lamb. Of these three perfect small plates, the soft, succulent, slightly smoky lamb offset by an exceedingly moreish caper jam which was, in turn, mellowed out by the sweet, grassy tang of goats’ curd resulted in an outstanding little dishy indeed… and our raised expectations weren’t set to plummet any time soon.

For mains, for Mr Pig, a generous slab of super-fresh Cornish cod teamed with nicely-crusty roasted cauliflower, salty-sweet sea vegetables and subtly briny clams. For me, Leon’s trademark chicken pie: moist, smooth chicken tightly packed into a neat, super-short pastry crust, somehow lighter than a ‘traditional’ chicken pie yet still reassuringly, supremely, comfortingly familiar, served with sweet hispi cabbage, velvety mash and a proper chicken sauce.

We had puds because Mr Pig convinced me that if I really couldn’t eat he Valhrona Chocolate Mousse with cherries and Chantilly that I’d had my eye on from the get-go but claimed I had no room for, he could… but he didn’t have to. He was, however, beyond contented with his very own, very elegant Hibiscus Panna Cotta (which turned out not to be his very own after all.)

Gosh, Plate is very, very good indeed; if I could move in for Christmas, I would. And, given that the both the Fixed Price and a la carte menus offer exceptional value for money, Sunday Lunch promises great things, Gastro Kids are given their own lovely little selection and The Bird’s unique Dining Domes experience goes live from Wednesday 2 December, I probably sorta will.

That’s the festive season handed to you on a plate at Plate, then.

Review: The Elder Restaurant, South Parade

Centuries ago, Beau Nash – Bath’s official Master of Ceremonies – influenced, defined and determined the ‘What’s Hot and What’s Not’ chart in Bath. He died in 1762, but Beau’s legacy lives on in the fabric of the city around us today – and it feels somehow fitting that I’m writing this review on what would have been his birthday.

Walking along the scrubbed-up flagstones to the front of the recently-opened Indigo Hotel – a handsome, ambitious complex that brings 166 luxurious boutique hotel rooms, a private members club, various elegant chill out zones and a stylishly quirky, independently-owned restaurant together under one impeccably refurbished row of Georgian townhouses on South Parade – I couldn’t help but wonder if Beau might be lurking in the shadows, watching a whole new generation of pleasure-seekers investigate Bath’s newest pleasure palace. Some 300-ish years ago, the dynamic dandy would no doubt have been one of the first visitors through the doors… and I’m happy to report, on Beau’s behalf, that I’m guessing he would have chosen not to exit again for many a long, happy hour.

The Elder Restaurant is infused with refined, dignified glamour: one part contemporary gentlemen’s club, one part upmarket hunting lodge, all parts accessible brasserie-style elegance, with window tables offering street views and booths (gotta love a booth!) adding intimate dinner a deux opportunities. Menus are conceptualised by wild food and game aficionado Mike Robinson who works in close collaboration with Head Chef Gavin Edney to curate a neat array that showcases the very, very best locally sourced, seasonal, sustainable produce. Game is at the top of the Elder menu (which explains the hunting lodge décor) but the meat at the heart of the matter in terms of inspiration, execution and presentation is far more Michelin-standard than the hunt-themed ethos suggests. If, however, meat is off the menu for you or a fellow diner, vegetarian and vegan options are readily available on dedicated discrete menus.

Our foray began with an unbidden treat of a rustic, treacly, oven-fresh mini-loaf to tear, share and dip into dinky little mugs of steaming game tea: an intensely-flavoured meaty consommé rich in game stock and Madeira. Following this unexpected opener up with two fish-based starters felt somehow inappropriate, but the fret was wholly unnecessary; nothing – not even that opening, full-on flavour fest – could detract from the inherently sweet, briny delights of Dorset Crab served warm in an impeccably crisp, light pastry case with lemon mayonnaise to add vibrancy and grassy chimichurri for contemporary flair, while a tartare of meaty South Coast bream teamed with smoked eel, cod roe and deeply umami dashi and topped with fascinating squid ink crackers pretty enough to wear as a race day fascinator were both as far removed from the forest as its possible to get.

I continued following the coastal path for mains with a fat, glossy cod fillet fresh off a Mevagissey day boat (as all the best cod is, at this time of year) teamed with salt-baked celeriac, lively pickled onion, juicy little nuggets of bacon and soft, soft lovage all lighting the way to supreme satisfaction, while Mr Pig found his personal nirvana in a dish that bought super-mature sirloin and ale-braised shin of heritage beef together with beef fat hash browns, cruciferous greens and an devilishly bold, glossy Chianti sauce together in perfect carnivorous harmony.

Did we shoot for the dessert menu? Indeed we did – and our aim was flawless: intensely fruity caramelised pear anchoring featherlight mille-feuille, a pool of chocolate sauce with a mirror glass finish and a shot of intensely luxurious vanilla ice cream adding further indulgence; earthy, fruity blackberry tart with more of that ice cream, cleverly balanced by a sprinkling of salted almonds and an exuberant, uplifting blackberry sorbet.

In summary, The Elder is an intelligent, well-considered addition to the Bath food scene. Prices are exceedingly accessible for the quality of the experience (our Friday evening dinner came in at just £45 for three courses) and the overall vibe makes dining in Bath’s newest kid on the restaurant block as convivially congenial as a reunion with an old friend – such as Beau Nash, perhaps? The self-styled King of Bath would most definitely approve…

Review: The Herd, Argyle Street

Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, the very word ‘steakhouse’ shrieked of an experience that lurked only just above ‘burger joint’ (and only then only because it meant eat in rather than take away) in the canon of restaurant categorisations established in food world before ‘casual dining’ became A Thing. The term is, of course, still an effective form of descriptive shorthand today, but the tacky element has, fortunately, long since been lost in translation.

The gleaming, modern shrines to carni-centric delight that exist today are far, far removed from the high street chain steakhouses of yore, where the trademarked logos, grubby carpets and plastic banquettes probably tasted better than the bad beef on the menu did. But while a real, proper steak-related menu focus is indeed something to celebrate, it doesn’t have to come with an overloud clatter and pomp fanfare nor with myriad marketing slogans based around “passion”, “respect” and “TLC” given more menu prominence than the meat at the heart of the matter. The Herd, however, is a textbook example of Everything A Modern Steakhouse Should Be.

This intimate, subterranean bistro skilfully treads that fine line between super-cool and super-cosy with aplomb – think, whitewashed stone walls, chunky furniture, quirky artwork and sparkly lighting, all bang on-trend but not self-consciously so. Staff are efficient, confident and knowledgeable but properly friendly all at the same time, and required social distancing space between tables feels natural rather than ‘brave new world.’

On the menu, the starter route to a sturdy range of impeccably-sourced steak feasts to suit all tastes, appetites and budgets begins with classic opening acts such as bruschetta, garlic and chilli king prawns and chicken liver pate, and ends with familiar treatsome faves such as chocolate mousse, crème brûlée and rice pudding. Chicken, fish, lamb and veggie options are all available too, but given the restaurant’s USP… well, y’know. Or did we? We knew where we wanted to go but didn’t know which route to take. So, we opted for the most satisfying get-out clauses known to restaurant ordering, starting with The Herd Starter Board for two (£18.95): a splendid (and very generous) selection of charcuterie including silky beef fillet carpaccio; a tangle of distinctly non-rubbery calamari; several neat slabs of upper-crust halloumi; an utterly divine chicken liver pâté… and all the lovely frills and frippery (great bread; super sauces/pickle; etc) that make such an experience complete.

Our loved-up sharing theme continued into mains with the steak Sharing Platter for two (£49.95), which brings ribeye, sirloin and fillet together in perfect harmony and takes the concept of a sublime steak-out for two to another level altogether. We got saucy with both béarnaise and a mushroom and brandy medley to slather across our meat feast and added a couple of big, fat king prawns for surf’n’turf good measure, while the twice-cooked chips and huuuuge homemade onion rings that come as standard with all the steaks are about as far removed from ‘standard’ incarnations of the genre as you can get. There was T-bone on the menu and massive Porterhouse, too – when we’re not feeling quite so magnanimous regarding sharing, I know where Mr Pig will be heading when we next follow our noses to The Herd. But hey, there were still desserts to come, which we kept all to ourselves (oh okay, I let him have a little bit of my soft, silky milk chocolate mousse served with a chunky white chocolate edible spoon, and helped myself to a sample of his brûlée-topped, date infused Madagascan vanilla rice pudding, plus a shovelful of ginger ice cream.)

And all the while, I couldn’t help but ponder the fact that this little piggy was a vegetarian until around the age of 30. How times change, eh? The Herd brings us all bang up-to-date while proving that, even today, not all steakhouses are equal.

Pig Guide review: Bikano’s

They’re all over Twitter, and Instagram, and TikBook, and TokFace, and SnapPin. You know who (and where) they are, you know what’s on the menu, you know how many tables are available for this evening’s service; heck, you probably even know what shoes the bar staff are wearing. But y’know, not every restaurant-based coming out party is based around what’s hip, or which backdrop if the most glitzy, or which Social Media Manager has shouted the loudest in order to grab our attention.

For sure, most of us are celebrating a return to eating out again, leaving kitchens that we’ve become way too over-familiar with behind for an evening of indulgence, bonhomie and sheer escapism. But as we hurtle back into the work, rest and play cycle faster than most of us can say “don’t-forget-your-face-mask!”, we’re also settling back into the comfortably familiar routines that we waved a temporary farewell to at the start of March – and “let’s just go around the corner” for dinner is one of the biggies.

Now I’m not saying for one moment that Bikano’s (Widcombe) is all and only about simply offering a quick fix when you just can’t be bothered to cook – there’s far, far more to it than that. But this cheerful little Indian restaurant ticks all the classic neighbourhood bistro boxes: friendly service, exceedingly wallet-friendly prices and super-fresh food based on a classic Indian cross-continent motif. Sound familiar? Yes! And thank goodness for that. It’s the kind of place that lures you in on a whim if you happen to be having a pint at one of the lovely watering holes on Widcombe Parade (bearing in mind the current modus operandi based around limited space, so booking strongly advised) but it also offers broad appeal for all manner of get-togethers; on the evening we visited, the couple on the next(ish) table to us were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, while a table further down were doing the family birthday thing.

The starter array offers all the classic Indian bistro fave raves you crave: Bhajis, Chats and Pakoras; Kebabs, Tikkas and Tandoori Chicken Wings. There are Dosas too, and both fish- and meat-based sharing platters for those who can’t make their minds up. We, however, made our minds up pretty darn quick. The result? The freshest – in terms of both crispy batter and huge, succulent slabs of fish within – Fish Pakoras imaginable, and Salt and Pepper Paneer (pictured) that hit all the perfect crispy/creamy/spicy high notes, both starters served on two very nicely presented plates. Talking of presentation, even the Pappadoms (simply – and authentically – called Papad here, which is nice to see) are pretty: crispy little non-oily shards of delight served with a lovely little array of super-fresh chutneys and a minty-creamy dip.

For the mains event, I couldn’t describe the Home Style Chicken Curry better than Bikano’s describe it on their menu… so here we go: “tender chicken thigh cooked lovingly just the way grandpa would make it. This is an every day Indian meal at it very best.” In my own words, grandpa certainly knew his stuff – this is the kind of deeply satisfying, multi-textured dish that Rick Stein would have swooned over when he travelled across India in search of the perfect curry… if, that is, he hadn’t halted his search when he came across the grass roots incarnation of Bikano’s soft, velvety and just-tingly-hot-enough Lamb Chettinad.

To accompany the mains shebang, we had a side of Daal Makhani that was richly satisfying enough to make it a main course superstar in its own right; fluffy, cumin-infused mushroom rice; a fragrant, oven-fresh Peshwari naan.. and Masala Chips. Masala Chips? Oh stop it, you know you want them too.

But the thing that most delighted me about what was, overall, a properly delightful experience is that it’s clear from the off that attention to detail is paramount to the whole Bikano’s team, from Front of House to backstage – and their hard work does not go unnoticed. If you’ve yet to notice Bikano’s, you’re seriously missing out; it may not be on TikBook or TokFace or SnapPin, but thankfully it’s on our doorstep.

Review: Stage.Jacky at The Peking

We’re all getting out and about again – but things ain’t what they used to be. Right now, crowds and confusion dominate the first three days of the week, but venture out Thursday-Sunday and every day, in most restaurants, is like – well, Sunday. At many restaurant tables, hand sanitiser sits were the cruet once belonged. Impromptu walk-in experiences are almost a thing of the past; as for parties, big groups and celebratory gatherings… forget it, for the foreseeable future at least. But hey, talking of at least: at least we’re working out how to be ‘out there’ again… and many of Bath’s best-loved independent restaurants are fighting the good fight to make the ‘new normal’ – well, normal.

The Peking Restaurant has kept the familiarity flag flying in Bath for over three decades, making it not only the city’s longest-established Chinese restaurant but one of Bath’s longest-established restaurants, period. It’s one of my go-to hotspots when I know what I want, and I know what I want will be very, very good here: aromatic lamb with pancakes, lemon chicken, Kung Po king prawns, crispy beef, monkfish with ginger and spring onions – I don’t really even have to read the menu anymore, but I read it just because I love it, and then I order what I love.

But hey, hang on! A Tasting Menu… at The Peking? A different chef… at The Peking? Only 10 diners… at The Peking? Yes. Because for one night (not quite*) only, Peking proprietor Jun hosted a pop-up hosted putting chef Jacky Chan – a fascinating guy with an illustrious CV (read all about him in our original news story about this event here) – centre stage for the Stage.Jacky event.

It feels a little odd to be in The Peking without the bustle and buzz of the usual peak time vibe around us. But odd, these days, is commonplace, and the restaurant’s fuss-free space lends itself well to both this and every ‘new normal’ occasion. The overall modus operandi, however, is very much business as usual: the staff are always, always lovely here, and Jun mixes and mingles with his customers like the old friend that he’s become to his Peking stalwarts. But tonight, there’s a sense of anticipation in the air that has nothing at all to do with the imminent arrival of prawn crackers with our beer and everything to do with that feeling you get only when you know you’re about to experience something very, very special.

Chef Jacky is softly-spoken man who delivers his plates to our tables with a refreshing minimum of pomp or ceremony, leaving his food to speak volumes for him… and from the very first glance Jacky’s food not only talks, but deserves to be talked about.

An amuse bouche involving roast cherry tomatoes that look like roast cherry tomatoes but reveal themselves, once in the amused bouche itself, to be something very savoury, and very beautiful. Another bite of subtly complex Asian-infused deliciousness on a crispy seaweed nest. Are these precursors a taste of things to come? Oh very much yes… and then some.

Silky, opalescent sous vide scallops served with plums in wine, sauce and fresh sliver form on a bed of slippery potato glass noodles. A plump, sturdy little slipper of very fresh red mullet proving its worth as the ideal partner for a well-balanced smattering of umami delivered by depth-charge dashi and an equally intense fish foam, with spring onion oil sharpening and uplifting proceedings (see pic.) A fat, pink langoustine almost adjacent to a prawn ‘sausage’, intense salted duck egg turning the flavour volume up to 11 while mustard foam, langoustine mayo and cauliflower rice add further interest, complexity and texture at every turn. Two neat, soft slabs of duck breast with a rich, indulgent ingot of duck liver pate, zhenjiang vinegar roasted shallots cutting boldly through the intrinsically gamey flavours and Chinese roast duck sauce bringing an almost-but-not-quite sense of familiarity to what is, ostensibly, a sharply astute makeover of an erstwhile classic combination. And the show isn’t over yet…

There’s a pre-dessert before the dessert ‘proper’: a jelly involving essence of tomato and honey topped with basil cream (forgive me, Chef Jacky, if I’ve got the combination description wrong here, but boy oh boy, this little taster was so right, for me) and deep fried milk – yes, deep fried milk! – with yogurt gelato, beetroot and Japanese pickled ginger. I wouldn’t have ordered either dessert, but now they’re both all I want to eat after a meal, ever.

Presentation throughout is impeccably elegant: colours, shadow, space and the crockery itself are all given due consideration but with scene setting, not scene stealing, at the epicentre of the design. Not a single element on any plate doesn’t deserve centre stage; every dish is fabulous but not flashy, fascinating but not faddy. Yes, there’s an indisputable Asian theme running throughout the menu, but homage is paid equally to both classic and modern French sensibilities too; like, wow. Real, proper wow.

Old meets new, nostalgia meets reinvention, and life goes on. Next week I’ll be back in The Peking, raving about my old faves. At the end of September (date tbc*, but I’ll be very quick off the mark in giving you plenty of notice), I’ll be back in the audience when Stage.Jacky returns to the restaurant for an encore. And right now – for what feels like the first time in a very long time – the future looks bright.

Review: Dan Moon at the Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel

Bad news dominates the headlines, the weather outside is frightful and, as I step out of my front door to make a dash to my cab, I plod straight into a muddy puddle and spend my journey into town fruitlessly attempting to dry my feet off with an ancient supermarket receipt. But ten minutes later, and…. there’s a kind of hush, all over the world, tonight.

Gleaming marble; perfumed air; a sparkling chandelier. Super-friendly staff in stylish, pristine uniforms who treat you like an old friend and make you feel beyond welcome. I’m escorted down the corridor towards the bar, my coat whisked from my shoulders in one swift, beautifully-choreographed move as I go (I’d love to say “as I glide” here but unfortunately, I’ve never mastered the art of any kind of perambulation but plodding) and before I know it, I’m sinking into a plush leather chair and sinking a glass of fizz, the weather, the news and the muddy boots all paling into insignificance as the Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel works its magic.

And that magic, seductive though it may be in the bar alone, really comes to the fore in head chef Dan Moon’s eponymous playground, aka the Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel’s restaurant: a seductively sophisticated dining room complete with an impressive ‘wine wall’ at the epicentre of proceedings, serviced by people who make you feel as though they’re on hand to look after you and only you.

And yet, despite the surroundings and the vibe and the overall red carpet buzz, what we’re about to receive here is about as far removed from the ‘frills, fireworks and frippery’ route that defines contemporary notions of modern fine dining as you can get. Dan’s dishes may showcase the kind of pioneering cooking techniques and theatrical presentation that reflect his position as a trailblazer on the modern British culinary scene, but his passion for locally sourced, seasonal ingredients shines through. Meanwhile, he cleverly avoids that over-cheffy habit of straying away from the realms of common sense as big flavours, expertly teamed with supporting sides that play as important a role as the spotlight elements do, are pushed to the fore. How? Like this:

Chicken Tea, that refers us from the get-go to Dan’s fondness for Asian inspirations, and at once soothes and refreshes, tingles and tantalises.

A compact but sturdy disc of sweet, smoky, super-moist Smoked Ham Hock topped with decadent, creamy swirls of Foie Royale (please note, Foie Royale is NOT Foie Gras – click on this link before trolling me, please) and broad beans and beautiful, beautiful dinky, edible flowers, all of which combine to elevate an erstwhile gastropub staple (that’ll be the SHM, not the FY) to stellar, super-sensual heights.

A fat, juicy king prawn nestled in between a duo of shimmering, almost opalescent South Coast Scallops nestling on top of a silky, yuzu-infused crab risotto that I could have feasted on by the bucketload and still have begged for more.

A neat wedge of succulent, deeply gamey Roast Creedy Carver Duck – very ‘grown up’ in terms of flavour depth-charge – teamed with a lighthearted, almost skittish Confit Duck Spring Roll, rich, rich plum and subtly nutty sesame guaranteeing Asian-inspired, umami-laden tastebud sensations on every forkful.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta, fresh and light but all the more complex for that freshness and lightness, with silky, tangy Yorkshire rhubarb, playful honeycomb and nutty little morsels of granola adding texture at every turn.

The price for this supremely satisfying feast? £65pp for the whole 5-course shebang (and Dan’s handmade breads, served with bespoke butters, which deserve acclaim in their own right), with the optional wine flight a bargain at £35pp.

Bad news dominates the headlines, the weather outside is frightful and muddy puddles are never, ever going to be your suede boots’ best friend. Dan Moon at the Gainsborough Bath Spa, however, can soothe your psyche in one fell swoop; shine on, Mr Moon – shine on.

Heartwarming bliss at Yak Yeti Yak

The chill in the air is swiftly giving way to icy rain, the traffic on Manvers Street is at a fume-chugging standstill, and I’m becoming envious of the sane souls who have decided to stay put indoors by the fire instead of venturing out into what momentarily feels like a distinctly inhospitable world. But on I plod, because I know that there’s a light at the end of the (wind) tunnel – and that light has been burning brightly for a very long time.

The beacon of congeniality that I know will make me feel very sane indeed is Bath’s only authentic Nepalese restaurant Yak Yeti Yak: a family-run venture established by Sarah and Sera Gurung 15 years ago, today still doing very good things in both the kitchen and for whole communities of folk 4,500 miles away (click here to read all about the amazing work of the YYY Foundation, established by Sarah and Sera following the earthquake that devastated Nepal in April 2015.)

Yak Yeti Yak originally opened on Argyle Street in 2004. Three years later, the people of Bath, visitors to the city, national critics and The Good Food Guide alike were so seduced by the momos, tamars and jhols (let alone the Freak Street Apples) that dominate the authentic Nepalese menu that the restaurant relocated to larger premises in the basement of three former 18th century town houses in Pierrepont Street in 2007.

From the moment you start making your way through the gate and down the stairs, character goes large here: there’s something almost other-worldly magical about even the lead-in to the twinkly bar at the epicentre of the dining rooms (including a low table/cushion-strewn area for those with less rickety knees than I’ve got) and the vibe offers a super-cheerful welcome from the get-go. The décor (lots of rich, sensual red and gold paint, fixtures and fittings; colourful Nepalese flags; quirky little Nepalese knick-knackery everywhere) adds further fairyland-style atmospherics, and even the serving plates are made from heavy golden brass… overall, we’re in an Aladdin’s Cave for foodies in search of a side dish of effortlessly charming fascination at every turn.

But if YYY is – as a friend of mine recently suggested – one of Bath’s best-kept secrets, that secret is very badly kept; as we take to our table, it’s clear that many of our fellow diners are long-term regulars doing their regular Friday evening thing, while the out-of-towners in our midst have clearly been pointed in the right direction by guides and advisors who know the city inside out.

You know how I just made that apparently throwaway comment about momos, tamars and jhols? Well prepare to get up-close-and-personal with all three here, alongside all manner of similarly exotically-named dishes that are distinctly lesser-spotted in Bath. Nothing is so unfamiliar that we’re anything close to discomfort zone territory, though; dish descriptions are refreshingly clear and accessible, and you can choose which heat-direction to take your tastebuds on. Your olfactory senses are alerted to the fact that all the spices are freshly ground on the premises before you’ve even found the back page of the menu, and the vegetarian options are easily as alluring as carnivorous selection (after all, you won’t find loads of people regularly bingeing on meat in Nepal.)

We started our trek around the menu with pork momos (a YYY speciality: soft, fat, steamy little dumplings bursting with soft, moist pork) and Malekhu Macha – marinated salmon pieces, deep-fried but distinctly non-greasy. Both starters were served with a little pot of achar, a fresh tomato chutney that I’ve since decided I can’t live without.

On from that, we took the advice on the menu and ordered three main course dishes plus one rice and one dal. Are you ready for this? We were! Tender, velvety lamb stir-fried with peppers, cumin and YYY’s fresh, fragrant masala blend; moist chunks of high-grade chicken enlivened by the complex, sweet/bitter tang of fenugreek (if it’s true that you’ve got to be a clever chef to use fenugreek properly, the chefs behind this dish are clearly very clever indeed) jazzed up with fresh peppers and gently kissed with more of that masala blend; Hario Cauli ra Kurilo (that’ll be delicately spiced, stir-fried very fresh broccoli, asparagus and peppers, then) – and Maasko Dal: black lentils simmered until they turn into a smooth paste-like consistency, then refried to bring the bite back and enrichened with herb-infused vegan ghee. Rice? A big fluffy, steaming pile of the stuff, ready to absorb all the luscious sauces. Dessert… well Freak Street Apples aren’t going to try themselves, are they? So we went forth and discovered why everyone raves about this softly-spiced apple tart.

Okay, so we’re now raving about Yak Yeti Yak as though we’re brave explorers who have discovered a far-flung land of plenty. But while this gorgeous little exotic bistro is indeed a land of plenty, it’s right on our doorstep in Bath… and, in so many ways other than the literal sense, a million miles away from the bleak, bland landscape of bleak, bland chain restaurants that increasingly dominate the city centre.

It may be winter outside, but this enduringly appealing comfort zone offers the kind of soul-soothing warmth and sustenance that wraps you up in a big cosy blanket of heartwarming bliss; I think it’s safe to say we love it, then…

Review: Penhaligon’s dinner at The Ivy Bath Brasserie

Fine food and fine fragrances came together in fabulously fine style last Monday evening, when The Ivy Bath Brasserie joined forces with luxury British perfume house Penhaligon’s to offer guests a uniquely sensual dining experience.

The exclusive event took place in The Ivy Bath Brasserie’s striking private dining space The Baldwin Room – surely one of the most elegant private party zones in Bath, currently decked out in stylish festive finery in readiness for the party season and conveniently located adjacent to an exquisitely pretty bar.

The evening was hosted by Penhaligon’s Global Education Ambassador Dominic Collingridge and his colleagues, who treated us to multiple enlightening insights into Penhaligon’s fascinating history, explained the backstory behind their iconic fragrances… and collaborated with The Ivy Bath Brasserie’s expert mixologists to create two unique cocktails complimenting the company’s fragrance portfolio; how fab is that?!

Guests dined in full-on lord and lady style courtesy of a menu that included the silky smoked salmon, super-tasty fillet steak and tarte tatin flambéed ‘live’ at the table; meanwhile, the accompanying wine flowed (take note, piggies: The Ivy Bath Brasserie’s ‘house’ wine, sourced from Sicilian vineyards, is utterly divine.) Oh what a night indeed!

The gorgeously glittery Penhaligon’s shop is on the corner of New Bond Street and the seductively welcoming Ivy Bath Brasserie just a short hop away, on Milsom Street: that’s both your Christmas gifting inspiration and your festive season sanctuary sorted!

Pig Guide review: The Swan, Swineford

The Swan (Swineford, around halfway along the Bath-Bristol A431) is a very special pub that makes you realise how very un-special most contemporary pubs actually are.

You know how loads of pubs these days train their staff to be ‘welcoming’ (as in, apparently, call everybody “guys” and take it from there), and bang on about being at the heart of the community because they donated £26.71 towards the renovation of the local Village Hall the year before last, and boast that “tradition is at the heart of everything they do” even though their ‘traditional’ pub grub is delivered by refrigerated lorry every third week and stored in a stack of vac-packed boxes in a cold room they coyly refer to as The Pantry? Well The Swan is the polar opposite of all that.

Part of an unassuming row of roadside cottages (I’m guessing, 18th century-ish, although the road itself has a history that dates back to Roman times, while popular legend has it that Swineford is where Prince Bladud herded his pigs across the river and the mud provided a cure for his leprosy and that of his pigs – so there), the pub doesn’t have to do much to make itself look appealing because its surroundings easily do all the hard work for it; think, rolling hills, wild flower-strewn road verges and the River Avon’s Swineford Lock within walking distance, and you get the pretty picture. Meanwhile, a spacious beer garden turns a pub pitstop into a pastoral paradise experience, and an extremely well-appointed children’s play area keep the little ones happy while you sup your pint of Gem.

Gem? Yes indeed – or Sulis, or Prophecy, or Wild Hare, perhaps? For we are, after all, on Bath Ales territory here… so therefore in very safe hands indeed. And from the off, it looks as though the kitchen has ‘got this’ (as the young people say) too; there’s a massive homemade blueberry and lemon cake under a cloche on the counter, and braised squid and chorizo bolognese on the specials’ board, and a chalk board flagging up the pub’s latest taster menu event highlights some of the most imaginative fresh fish/seafood dishes I’ve heard tell of in a very long time… but darn, I missed the date! (Note to self: sign up for the pubs’ news and offer bulletin immediately.)

What we didn’t miss, however, is rather a lot, because the pub’s regular menu is a neat, sweet, accessibly-priced array of something for everybody, including several fascinating meat-free options and lesser-spotted, imaginative twists such as that bolognese keeping attention levels up at every turn.

Starters of a generous, shimmering tangle of wild mushrooms in a silky cider and tarragon cream sauce that turned the toast foundation into a decadently moist, sensual experience, and super-fresh, super-non-rubbery chilli and lime squid served with a classy saffron aioli were of a standard one would normally expect to encounter in a very posh Bath city centre restaurant and generous enough to be enjoyed as a stand-alone lunch. For mains, we opted to take a classic route: for me, succulent fish (Bath Ales battered, of course), perfect chips (loads of them!), a mound of minted, crush peas and a lavish wave of proper tartare sauce; for Mr Pig, a fat, juicy sirloin steak served with intensely tomato-ey confit tomato, peas and more of those perfect chips. Both dishes were flawless examples of their genre, massively satisfying and really well presented, and all-round rollickingly good.

Have you got room for dessert?” Well the pear frangipane tart sounds promising, and you just know that the apple and berry strudel is gonna be good, and who doesn’t go weak at the waistband for a chocolate brownie? But hey, we’d already spotted that blueberry and lemon cake. And so it came to pass that we shared a huge wedge of celebrated cake-flavour combination, tender as an early summer breeze, soft as a willow frond, sweet but brightly sharp… whoever is responsible for making this cake deserves a Hollywood Handshake, let alone a Prue Prize.

So, just to reiterate: The Swan is a very special pub that makes you realise how very un-special most contemporary pubs actually are; we hereby heartily recommend that you swan along to Swineford on a regular basis.

Review: Nourish

And so it came to pass that we went to Nourish for supper.

For those who aren’t keeping up at the back, Nourish (formerly the Beaufort pub, on London Road) is to Bath what Mildred’s is to London, or The Allotment is to Manchester, or Veggie Republic is to Liverpool: a thoroughly modern eating out experience that showcases thoroughly modern, meat-free food in – yup, you guessed it – a thoroughly modern environment.

Instead of cluttering up the bright, airy dining room with unnecessary flourishes, fixtures and fittings, owner Robbie Tack has created a modern art gallery feel that’s thoroughly reinvigorated the site’s former gastropub sensibilities: clouds suspended from the ceiling; bright (but not uncomfortably so) lighting; fascinating art from local artists on the walls; smart attention to detail such as pink rock salt candle holders on the tables. All in all, the space feels clean, and welcoming, and very well taken care of. There aren’t any sanctimonious diktats muddying up the smart, neat menus, nor huge shockers raining on the price-tag parade at the finishing line. And what goes on in the kitchen most definitely doesn’t stay in the kitchen; there may not be a hint of meat, fish, egg or dairy products tucked away in the fridges or the larders, but the southern-fried burgers, ‘duck’ pancakes and ‘fish’ and chips just keep on coming.

Yes, southern-fried (seitan) burgers, ‘duck’ pancakes and ‘fish’ and chips – that’s the way witty plant-based menus roll these days, isn’t it? There are seared king oyster ‘scallops’ too, made from marinated slices of mushroom stalk and served with truffle pea puree and coconut bacon that tasted just like… well, bacon dust. Meanwhile, steamed Chinese bao buns are served stuffed with chilli- and garlic-infused mushrooms instead of the traditional pork, laden with rainbow-hued vegetables and cushioned by soft, yeasty, clam-like pillows of joy. A third starter of artichoke ‘scampi’ was satisfyingly crispy without and moist within – the perfect sidekick, may we suggest, for a G&T enjoyed at the bar.

Banana blossom: a fleshy, purple-skinned flower that grows at the ends of a banana fruit cluster (thank you, Alexa.) When battered and fried, however, it bears a striking resemblance to white, flaky fish – and I have the Nourish kitchen to thank for this revelation. It’s slightly sweeter than, say, cod and, as your ‘fillet’ cools down, it becomes a little bit stringy. Served with proper chips, minted pea puree, and lush tartare sauce, though, it’s a super-satisfying familiar treat: fish and chips like you’ve never had before. Similarly, our tofu ‘duck’ pancakes – a generous pot of marinated tofu nuggets, served with all the proper duck pancake fripperies including juliennes of cucumber and spring onions and rich, sweet/savoury hoisin sauce for you to assemble at the table – tasted, to my mind, even nicer than one of my Chinese restaurant fave-raves for not being made with often over-fatty, over-fibrous remnants of duck. Winner winner, duck dinner, found in a veggie/vegan bistro – ah, I love 2019.

And I love Nourish, too; it’s a gently reinvigorating, youthful, happy kinda place that makes you feel gently reinvigorated, youthful and happy. Hoorah!

Comptoir+Cuisine at Always Sunday House: news review

On Saturday 2 February, we were lucky enough to be invited along to what turned out to be one of the most magical, unique events we’ve ever attended in Bath: a super-stylish collaboration between creative visionary Lexi Learmond’s remarkable Always Sunday initiative (click on this link to find out more – seriously, there’s SO much to discover) and Comptoir+Cuisine, a brand new (to Bath, at least) venture that brings together a Champagne Bar, bistro and shop together under one utterly gorgeous George Street roof.

The event took place at the almost ethereally pretty, beautifully decorated Always Sunday House on Bathwick Hill (see pics on our Twitter feed) and was hosted by C+C’s Stefano and Maud, who talked us and around 18 friendly, fellow guests through four courses of fine cheese and elegant charcuterie (oh, and a splendid pud!) expertly paired with Champagnes to match.

Having sipped Furdyna Carte Blanche Brut NV on arrival, we sat down to indulge our senses in delectably moreish yet complex Colin Blanche de Castille 1er Brut NV Blanc de Blancs served with Le Comté and St Felicien with honey; luscious Lacroix Rosé Brut NV served with cured meats and Le Chaource; Champagne Le Gallais cuvée du Manor Brut NV served with sticky toffee pudding… mon dieu, this was the elegant house party of our dreams, with extra-added cheese. And fizz. And superb hosts. And really, really good live music. We found out just how fabulous fizz with food can be. We made new friends, all of whom swiftly became old friends (it really is that kinda place.) We left wishing it could be Sunday every day… and vowing to return to the Always Sunday House as soon as possible. And you really, really should join us – there’s honestly nothing like it, anywhere else in Bath.

For the full menu of Always Sunday events (including the next Supper Club on Saturday 30 March) click here.