Tag Archives: review

Review: new Head Chef Martin Blake’s Tasting Menu, The Royal Crescent Hotel

Heaven, I’m in heaven, And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak, And I seem to find the happiness I seek, When we’re…” well, not dancing cheek-to-cheek, exactly – unless, that is, battling Storm Dudley, or Eunice, or Franklin (seriously, I can’t be the only one who can’t keep up with the names of the latest storms on our doorsteps) as we struggle to make our way along Bath’s most iconic thoroughfare counts as some form of Quickstep. But when we finally reach our journey’s end… yup, I’m in heaven.

Despite whatever’s going on in the world (and all too often, lately, there’s all too much of that), The Royal Crescent Hotel is the kind of place that soothes wearied brows, smooths fraught tensions and puts a song in your heart from the get-go, even if you’re not on a fast-track to the hotel’s super-sensual spa. To me, however, staff who make you feel like a red carpet superstar from the first welcome to the last goodnight, eminently elegant surroundings and the prospect of a Tasting Menu courtesy of a brand new chef in the RCH kitchen is the ultimate brow-soothing, tension-smoothing experience without the faff of having my mascara steamed off. But first stop, before I get my brow sorted: the hotel’s Montagu Bar, for a meet’n’greet with that aforementioned new chef…

Despite his newbie status at the RCH, Martin Blake is no stranger to the pass. He’s got over a dozen years of experience at what reads like a roll call of some of the South West’s best hotels and restaurants on his CV, with stints at the Bath Priory, Homewood Park and The Manor House (where the restaurant team achieved a Michelin Star in 2016) bolstering his pedigree alongside a clutch of prestigious awards. And yet, and yet… he floats into the bar all friendly and chilled out, with a distinctly non-scary chef vibe about him despite the fact that both he and I know that he’s about to embark on what’s set to be a very busy dinner service. The bar is buzzing with pre-dinner diners and hotel guests, I’m buzzing with chef-intro excitement, Mr Pig’s buzzing ‘cos he’s drinking what he says is “the best Manhattan outside of Manhattan itself”… but Martin’s all cool, calm and collected, ready to cook up the kind of storm that kicks Dudley, Eunice and Franklin combined to the kerb.

So Martin hoofs it back into the kitchen and we drift into the dining room, where legendary head sommelier Jean-Marc Leitao is dancing from table to table doing his magic by making sure that all-comers’ expectations on the wine-with-dinner front are exceeded. We sit by the window, watching Dudley/Eunice/Franklin trying but failing to make the garden look less beautiful than it always does while we can only hope that the hotel’s resident hedgehogs feel as smugly cosy as we do.

Dinner opens with canapés: smoked cod roe ‘cigars’ (my word for them, not Martin’s) and spiced pork fritters, both packing a huge, sophisticated flavour-punch that totally belie their size. There’s bread, too: crusty, rustic rolls that waft malty clouds of Bath Gem Ale as we slather the butter and scatter crumbs all over the pristine white table cloth which are swiftly (and discreetly) swept away in order to set a pristine scene for our first course of crisp, crunchy Jerusalem Artichoke Salad with silky Tunworth Cheese and deeply umami Mushroom Tea. MUSHROOM TEA! Gimme more, more, more, every day, at any time – and when salad is this sexy, I’ll make clean work of that too.

But Martin was poised to keep on upping the ante, and our fish course arrived: soft, serene Halibut on a lightly-curried mussel broth that nudged and kicked all the senses in all the right places without detracting from the sweet, briny mussel flesh, beautifully balanced, beautifully presented, just… beautiful. Was I falling in chef-lurve? Oh of course I was! And I have a feeling this one won’t be a mere one-night stand…

If the fish got me frisky (in a totally professional sense, of course), Mr Pig’s amore moment came next: velvety lamb with silky aubergine, fruity piperade and a fascinating little parcel of something very clever made with (I think?) lamb shoulder for me, and super-tender Venison with red cabbage, parsnip, a neat little cube of Valhrona chocolate & venison jus for him. Complex, sophisticated but accessible; familiar flavours refined and redefined; hearty, but in a dignified, exquisitely balanced way; this particular chef crush is set to run a very long course. But the courses in question hadn’t finished yet…

First up on the dessert front, an apple-parts party: part mousse, part sorbet, part meringue-ish – all parts fascinating, and fresh, and fabulous. And then, Rhubarb and (nutmeg) Custard Slice that totally redefines the cake shop ‘slice’ genre.

Martin states that he and his team focus on creating classic modern British dishes which are clean, elegant and perfectly executed. But he – and they – do far, far more than even all that.

Martin is clearly a Master of the Art of flavour-combination, inspiration, technique and presentation… but he cleverly avoids that over-cheffy habit of straying away from the realms of common sense. There’s a clear passion for locally sourced, seasonal ingredients at the heart of his dishes… but he has a knack of reintroducing that all-important produce to you and challenging your perceptions on what you think an erstwhile familiar ingredient may taste like. He’s clearly very serious about what he does… but his lighthearted touch makes his menus accessible to all.

Martin Blake at the Royal Crescent Hotel is a chef to keep a very keen eye on indeed.

Review: Joya Italian Steakhouse

You know those Bath restaurants that are so familiar to you that you think you know what they’re all about? Well that, to me, was Joya: the inviting little weir-side (well okay, just across the road from Pulteney Weir) bistro that, back in the day, I used to rely on to satisfy my cocktail/pasta urges when the cocktail/pasta urge hit (which happened, of course, on a fairly regular basis). It was reliably always good, it was reliably always affordable – and the whole restaurant was decorated throughout in pink, pink and more pink, which to me, offered an extra-added bonus to my all-round comfort zone fix.

But like all of us, Joya has grown up… and subtly morphed into a stylish contemporary bistro decorated in subtly chic shades of mellow to complement the clean-cut, subtle décor. But the menu in general still has a distinctly dolce vita vibe at its cuore, with antipasto platters, arancini, panzerottini, a perfect selection of proper pasta dishes and puds that waltz along to a tiramisu/torta/gelato beat all flying the flavours of the green/white/red foodie flag.

So what about the steakhouse element? Well… that’s not an element to be described in just one line, so you have to read on (and see here); suffice to say, though, at this juncture, who wouldn’t trust a steakhouse bought to you by Tim Coffey, the man behind The Herd (and, a handful of months ago, Casa De Tapas, which isn’t a steakhouse at all, but is really, really good)? So on we roll…

After a genuinely warm welcome (seriously, the Front of House team here are just lovely – friendly, relaxed, efficient, knowledgeable; all the things that you want FoH staff to be, and more): starters up! One calamari, one gamberoni – that’s squid and prawns to you and I. But in Joya world, neither are the kind of either that you or I are all too over-familiar with; here, the calamari is tender, distinctly un-bouncy and wrapped in a super-crisp, featherlight batter, while the king prawns are massive, and sweet, and drenched in a white wine, garlic, chilli, butter and parsley sauce so moreish that I could easily have drunk it by the inelegant pint without either those prawns to carry it along nor the lashings of fresh ciabatta that I ordered for dunking purposes. So far, so good – and Joya is living up to its name. But what about our steak-out?

This is how it rolls: you choose your preferred steak; you choose your preferred seasoning; you choose your preferred infused butter; you choose your preferred sauce – so far, so very “yes, well that’s how one orders steak at a restaurant, isn’t it?” Well, yes but no, but. Because at Joya, you have another choice to make: either order your steak cooked to your preference and have it put down in front of you in that “yes, well that’s how one orders steak at a restaurant, isn’t it?” way. Or…

…have your steak flash-sealed in the kitchen then bought to your table with a very hot volcanic stone for you sear it on, just as you like it, slice by slice. It’s like fondue, without the fiddle! It’s like being your own chef, without the faff! It’s like… it’s just ace, is what it’s like!

I opted for fillet, rosemary salt, truffle butter and Béarnaise. Mr Pig went for ribeye, chilli salt, garlic and parsley butter and gorgonzola sauce. I ordered fat chips, he ordered fries, and we both shared a dish of chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables…

…and then we had a party, right there at our little table for two, dipping and sizzling and seasoning and slathering to our heart’s content with the steaks as special, upper-crust, intelligently sourced, super-flavoursome guests and the side dishes bringing extra-added personality to the fray, the meat at the heart of the matter retaining its quality throughout despite our various cooking times and fiddlings about with the hot stone. It was fun, and interactive, and different. It felt special, and sensual. It was cosy, and oh, so tasty. It was, all told, joyous.

Rarely for us (especially rare for dear Mr Pig), we didn’t have puds because we were fully-satisfied, and satiated, and replete. We left Joya wrapped in a cosy fug of “all’s well with the word”-ness that only a really good meal in really lovely surroundings enjoyed with really lovely company can offer – and that’s a rare thing… which Joya Italian Steakhouse allowed us to cook to order.

New Pig Guide review: La Terra, John Street

The Firehouse Rotisserie was a Bath institution that offered no good reason not to live on John Street forever. What’s not to like about a bright, cheerful modern bistro specialising in bright, cheerful modern menus on a classic Californian theme including pizzas that, when the FR first opened its doors almost 30 years ago, offered a revelatory experience to a generation raised on Findus’ evil french bread variant? But a couple of months ago, a Tweet that I blithely assumed would never be posted appeared on my timeline, from FR owner Richard Fenton: “The Firehouse Rotisserie will close on October the 23rd. We’ve had a great run for 25 years, thank you for your support and kindness. Love, Richard X”. And that was that; the Firehouse had gone forever.

Scroll forward just a handful of weeks, and my FR mourning period is suddenly interrupted by another collection of memories that, for me, go back almost as far as my steadfast go-to FR order of crayfish salad followed by Texas spice-rubbed rotisserie chicken with jalapeño coleslaw, hickory barbecue sauce and a Caesar salad side does.

The news suddenly hit that legendary sommelier/wine expert/consultant Vito Scaduto (also former Restaurant Manager/Deputy General Manager at the Bath Priory Hotel) had magpied into the vacant space that the FR had left behind. Vito! I first met him when I was a fledgling restaurant critic for Bristol’s Venue magazine decades ago, before I knew my Barolo from my Barbaresco and thought that Prosecco was the Italian word for ‘posh’. I visited the Bath Priory for one of my very earliest restaurant reviews for Venue, Vito waved his magic mentoring wand over my befuddled head, and my bosses decided to keep me in my job “for another six weeks” (hah!).

Vito has guided me through many menus for many a long year since, as he undertook a leading light role at Bradford on Avon’s Three Gables before becoming a front of house superstar at Clayton’s Kitchen. And in December 2021, here’s Vito and I again, greeting each other like the old friends we’ve become, this time with me being all confident’n’grownup’n’stuff, and him… OWNING HIS OWN RESTAURANT! If that’s not good cause for a celebratory glass of Italian fizz, I don’t know what is.

But personal history aside, there’s much to raise a glass to at La Terra. Sparkly and inviting from the street and even more sparkly and inviting within, the restaurant oozes confidence, competence, class and glamour from the off, with artfully understated bling apparent in every detail from the chic décor to shiny glassware on the shiny tables. There’s a spiffing view all the way through to the big shiny open kitchen towards the rear of the street level dining room, where a brigade of chefs led by head chef Alex turn a bright, shiny spotlight on superb Italian produce – and that produce made its presence felt the moment we took to our table; who doesn’t swoon when hit by the uniquely aromatic scent of truffle? Bring that menu on

Per Iniziare, Primi, Secondi… when in Rome one is obliged to eat like an Italian, isn’t one? And so our voyage began, with openers of fruity, buttery taleggio wrapped in smoky, elastic, velvety speck and the freshest burrata I’ve ever encountered; think, the Italian version of savoury clotted cream complete with soft, forgiving ‘crust’ holding all the creamy goodness into a tight, glossy dome, accompanied by a rich fig puree and sweet, toasty pine nuts. Should I ever be in need of a speedy blast of la dolce vita to give an erstwhile dull day a Romanesque uplift, these two dishes alone (accompanied by a glass of something splendid, of course) are top of my ‘Uplift’ hit list…

…but as we’ve established, they were just per iniziare, and those truffles that had already made their presence felt were on their way to our table in white oil format, drenched over a perfectly al dente butternut squash risotto with sage, parmesan and pistachios doing the flavour-kick equivalent of dotting i’s and crossing t’s in all the right places. We shared a dish of traditional Roman gnocchi too (a featherlight version of a familiar comfort food classic made with semolina instead of potatoes) that came with a broad bean puree and wild mushrooms, with lesser-spotted sweet/savoury, salty/rich Guanciale lifting an already heavenly dish to stellar heights.

Secondi? Certamente! Having put the Faraona (a very promising-looking combination of breast and wing of guinea fowl with roasted squash, sweetcorn and brandy sauce) on the ‘for when we return’ list, we opted for Agnello: soft, pink rack of Wiltshire lamb with grilled polenta, roast carrot and a very proper port sauce that tasted as good as it looked (La Terra presentation, by the way, is super, super-pretty) and left us both… well, lost for any further superlatives than that.

Stunned (and replete) as we were, it was time for Dolci. And so it came to pass that we shared a vanilla Panna cotta with pear compote and amaretti crumble, and pretended to share a second dessert of Zabaione that Mr Pig didn’t get much of a look-in on as I couldn’t get enough of the classic Italian eggnog mousse (think, a thicker-set eggnog milkshake) with blueberries and hazelnut praline putting a grown up spin on my childish perceptions.

Every aspect of La Terra, from service to food by way of presentation and overall vibe, skilfully defines the point where classic, traditional Italian cuisine meets contemporary expectations. It isn’t just a good restaurant – it’s a molto, molto bene ristorante, suitable for all occasions… or simply just a simple-but-superb lunch. In summary, Bath’s newest restaurant is waiting for you to visit and make fresh memories. Saluti, Vito! Here’s to new beginnings; ritrovarsi non è mai stato così buono.

New Pig Guide review: The Elder Restaurant at the Indigo Hotel

The subtly glamorous Hotel Indigo didn’t enjoy the best start in Bath. Having spent around five years hidden away behind construction company curtains, the development of the massive South Parade site (which incorporated a row of 18th century Georgian townhouses including both the former Pratt’s and Halcyon Hotels) endured all manner of delays and the hotel’s grand opening date was pushed back and back, eventually settling on a Big Reveal in spring 2020… and we all know what happened in spring 2020, don’t we?

But in the autumn of the same year, there was finally cause for celebration on the ancient, scrubbed up flagstones that line one of Bath’s most handsome thoroughfares: the Hotel Indigo opened its doors, revealing an impeccably refurbished, ambitious complex bringing 166 luxurious boutique hotel rooms and various elegant chill out zones (including a whole ‘private house’ for private hire) together in one captivating smorgasbord of delights, with the stylishly quirky, independently-owned Elder Restaurant at the epicentre of proceedings.

The Elder’s roots in Bath may have only been established just over a year ago but it already feels like a longstanding, vintage institution infused with refined, dignified, mature 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.

Elder 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, neither vegetarians nor vegans are overlooked – to the contrary, in fact; on the evening we visited, I was sorely tempted to try the meat-free Pithivier for my main course. However…

After pre-dinner tipples in the bar (the cocktail list is excellent here, and the overall vibe and surroundings – think, velvet curtains and soft, soft furnishings; highly polished tables; superb service – suitably seductive), our dinner began with an unbidden treat of a rustic, treacly, oven-fresh mini-loaf to tear, share and dip into dinky little mugs of steaming Bullshot Tea: an intensely-flavoured, spirit-lifting, meaty consommé rich in game stock… and, perhaps, sherry?

Given the fact that we’re right in the middle of the British game season (and, of course, The Elder’s related USP), following such an opener up with two fish-based starters felt somehow inappropriate. But when a menu adheres to such a neat formation, you kinda expect that whichever dish you choose is going to be a superstar… and those expectations were exceeded here. Having said that, I still didn’t expect my featherlight whipped Chicken Liver Parfait to pack such an intense, incredible flavour punch, at once delicate and deeply rich, served not with bread but on a bed of crunchy granola that added texture and bite, with balsamic and quince working all kind of extra-added sorcery: to summarise, this starter was simply divine. For Mr Pig, a tartare of meaty South Coast bream teamed with smoked eel, cod roe and apple and topped with fascinating squid ink crackers pretty enough to wear as a race day fascinator but even more fascinating to crunch on.

I continued following the coastal path for mains with a salaciously plump tail of Looe Harbour monkfish anointed with a deeply umami miso glaze that turned my fish dish into a kind of pescatarian toffee apple, teamed with similarly sweet/savoury black cabbage, earthy mushrooms and a gloriously mineral-laden hit of buttered dashi. Mr Pig, meanwhile, swooned into his sweet, tender Wild Fallow Deer with creamed cabbage, nutty pumpkin and the classic Fallow Deer accompaniment that is the glossy, luxurious sauce Grand Veneur.

Based on the evidence so far, I found myself expounding on a theory that Robinson and Edney’s menus represent the meeting point on the bridge where Escoffier-inspired haute cuisine meets contemporary cosmopolitan expectations, firmly putting The Elder at the top of the Foodie Fabulosity charts in Bath. But of course, I had to confirm my theory over dessert, and both the Valrhona Chocolate Marquise – the intensity of the cacao-laden dark, dark chocolate hit lifted by the bittersweet blood orange – and the Prune and Custard Tart accompanied by a Prune D’Agen and Cardamom Ice Cream that put a sophisticated spin on an erstwhile comforting classic and turned it in an adult-only treat offered me all the confirmation of my fanciful hypothesis that I needed.

And so, the velvet curtain was set to close on our Elder experience. But before we leave, a word on wine…

The wine list here is as carefully curated as the beautifully balanced menu, pushing accessibly-priced lesser-spotted varietals to the fore. If you’re lucky enough have waiter Nick at your service on your Elder excursion, ask for – and take – his advice; not only does he know his wine, but his inspired descriptions are an absolute joy to listen to. Cheers!

Pig Guide review: Dining Domes at The Bird

Seeing is believing. But sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see”: thus spake The Conductor in Robert Zemeckis’ 2004 modern classic Christmas film The Polar Express… and that’s the quote that immediately came to mind when I walked through the little gate off the car park to the rear of the The Bird, one of Ian and Christa Taylor’s Kaleidoscope Collection of thoroughly unique, independent hotels.

I couldn’t see – and therefore had no idea – of the delights that were in store for me before I walked through that gate off the car park. But I knew from the off that I was in for some kind of sensory treat as I’ve seen The Bird transform over the years, from pop-up beach vibe to pop-up Christmas Tavern and party zone depending on the season. In 2020, The Bird introduced us to Plate: the on-site, subtly glamorous, wittily flamboyant restaurant headed up by superchef Leon Smith. Each of those experiences have, in their own individual ways, amazed, surprised and delighted. But in putting the finishing touches to their Dining Domes – one part super-chic, luxurious space age pod, one part London Eye-style capsule booth, all parts a uniquely beautiful outside/inside experience – The Bird has flown imagination to stellar heights.

Each Dome is beautifully decorated with sparkling bauble chandeliers, soft lighting and seasonal table centrepieces artfully wrought from leaves, berries and twigs. Opulent fur throws are thoughtfully arranged over the back of the plush velvet chairs but it’s unlikely that you’ll need to use one for more than a glamorous comforter, as very effective heating makes each little pod warm, cosy and inviting, even on the first super-chilly evening of the season. Within moments of taking to one of those plush seats, you’ll find yourself raising a glass of the Champagne Taittinger that comes as standard before your feast – and in this instance, the word ‘feast’ is an understatement. And so it began…

A shiny disc of garlic confit salmon, smooth as silk, with neat little blobs of something horseradish-y and creamy to offset the rich, smoky flavour of the fish. Mild, featherlight quenelles of goats’ curd dotted with caviar, the plate pooled with fresh pesto. A whole baked Bath Soft Cheese, soft and yielding beneath its bloomy rind, wafting and oozing that intrinsic earthy, mushroomy Bath Soft Cheese ‘personality’ the moment it hit the table. There was silky charcuterie, too – Bresaola, Ibérico, chorizo, Capocollo, salami, Prosciutto Crudo, with pickles and chutney – and hearty wedges of Bertinet sourdough, and divine butter (yes, butter can indeed be divine), and massive, juicy Kalamata olives, and smoked, toasted almonds… and this spread, dear reader, constituted only the starter.

The wine flowed, the door of our Dome slid open again, and in came… a whole Brixham plaice, dotted with capers and shards of samphire, laminated with a brown shrimp and lemon butter sauce. Super-tender Himalayan salt dry-aged Chateaubriand with roast carrots, and pickled shallots, and peppercorn sauce. Wild mushroom and truffle pappardelle oozing with intensely nutty Old Winchester cheese. And, y’know, just in case: The Bird’s own, very special mac’n’cheese; a big bowl of sautéed Bromham greens; truffle and Parmesan triple-cooked chips; “no-dig” salad… our table was laden, our senses were bombarded, we were having dinner at the sanest, most stylish Mad Hatter’s Tea Party yet to be directed by Tim Burton. And then, the chocolate truffles arrived at the same time as the the Wild Berry and Passionfruit Trifle, and the Somerset cheese board with chutney and crackers… and our eyes were bigger than our bellies, so I asked for a very down-to-earth doggie bag, and of course – like all our we could ever ask for or want throughout the evening – my wish was very gracefully granted.

This whole, fabulously fantastical feast – yes, all of it – costs just £60pp to include the magical surroundings, the almost other-worldly, dreamlike vibe, the richly detailed décor, the service that makes you feel like a red carpet superstar and more, more, more of so much more on an extraordinarily enchanted theme, all wrapped up in one utterly spellbinding package.

Seeing is believing. But sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see”: the Dining Domes at The Bird represent magic made real.

The Small Print: Dining Domes at The Bird are designed to accommodate a minimum of 4 guests and a maximum of eight. Lunch: £45pp, Afternoon Tea: £35pp, Dinner: £60pp. Children aged 12 and under dine at half price. Should you wish to hire a dome for less than four people, a hire charge of £100 will apply. Booking is essential. Meanwhile (yes, there’s more!): from Saturday 27 November, discover The Bird’s Alpine Lodge and Bar, serving cocktails, sharing platters and other festive delights in a cosy chalet environment every day from 12noon-late

Pig Guide review: Night Fever at Bill’s, Cheap Street

Disco: according to 70s-era disco supergroup Ottowan, she’s Delirious, Incredible, Superficial, Complicated… and don’t forget oh, oh OH!

Bill’s: a British restaurant and bar chain, founded in Lewes, East Sussex, by former greengrocer Bill Collison, which currently has around 78 branches around the UK.

Put ’em together and what have you got? Brace yourself for a smidgeon of gentle surreality here, but… Bill’s Night Fever takeovers every Thursday-Saturday until 13 November, featuring cocktails ‘inspired by’ the disco era (the Disco Inferno Passionfruit Martini; the Super Freak Strawberry Margarita; etc) and a food menu that boogies along to a similar theme pushing dishes such as Studio 54 Steak au Poivre and Funky Chicken in the direction of the dinner time dance floor.

Would The Pig Guide like to boogie on down to Bill’s and get funky? Now there’s an offer we couldn’t refuse…

It’s a miserable Thursday night, but Bill’s is buzzing – not, however, with glammed-up revellers in search of a glittering beat, but simply with the cheerful crowd that this easy-going British diner/brasserie tends to attract: smoochy couples, friends reunited, visitors to Bath cooing over nearby views of the Abbey (which is looking spectacular in its night-light glow) and families revelling in the delights of Bill’s ‘something for everybody’ menu: a contempo-European/globally-inspired affair that starts with breakfast/brunch, segues into lighthearted lunch and, post-sunset, brings an array of sharing platters, salads, steaks, burgers, chicken and fish to the party, with classic comforters such as Bill’s legendary Fish Pie, Mac’n’Cheese and Steak’n’Eggs and plenty of veggie/vegan options ensuring all bases are covered at distinctly down home prices.

We were, of course, in search of a taste of Night Fever so, a couple of those disco-themed cocktails in hand (the super-sweet Super Freak Strawberry Margaritas, since you asked), we opted for the Studio 54 Sirloin Steak and the Le Freak Vegan Burger (nice contrast going on there, don’cha reckon?). There aren’t any starters on the Night Fever menu, but the Crispy Chicken and Sesame Dumplings and the Crispy Calamari on the main dinner menu were doing a very tempting, attention-grabbing Hustle… and they didn’t disappoint, both dishes proving to be a very well-matched partnership with lots of crunch, lots of chilli heat and a couple of very saucy sauces turning up the groove at our table for two. And the beat went on…

I’m not entirely sure that anybody ever went to Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager’s legendary 1970s Manhattan night club Studio 54 in search of a good steak, but if they had, I’m sure they would have been very happy with the one Bill’s is serving up in honour of S54’s infamy: it’s big, it’s juicy, and it comes with a bangin’ rosemary jus and very good fries. My vegan burger freaked me out (in a good way) too: super-juicy, served with nuggets of smoky vegan burnt ends, an excellent vegan cheese and rosemary salted fries that leapt straight to the top of my chip-hit charts.

And even after all that, who could say no to the Sundae Night Fever? Not Mr Pig! And it proved to live up to its name, topped with a chocolate glitter dome that, when drenched in hot salted caramel sauce, melted to reveal a tumble of chocolate brownie chunks and waves of vanilla ice creama disco inferno in dessert form indeed.

The thing is, though, Bill’s doesn’t need any attempts at extra-added glitter and sparkle to make it feel Mighty Real. The hospitality industry has been turned Upside Down of late, but Bill’s is very much Stayin’ Alive and still topping the high street chain Billboard Charts two decades on since the first branch opened, thanks to a winning formula of well-balanced, well-priced menus served up in a warm, welcoming environment by people who are clearly very happy to be doing what they’re doing… and with a commendable charitable initiative going on behind the scenes too.

Unlike Ottowan’s of Disco, here’s nothing superficial or complicated about Bill’s – and oh oh Oh! Why would anybody want to rock that boat?

Pig Guide review (of a brand new arrival to the scene): Casa de Tapas, York Street

‘Tapas’: derived from the Spanish verb tapar (a cognate of the English word ‘top’), used to describe the little with-drinks nibbles served by proprietors of pre-19th century Spanish Posadas, Albergues or Bodegas – kind of, early Airbnb ventures that offered rooms and refreshments for travellers. On from this…

The oft-told story goes that the original tapa were thin slices of bread usually topped with charcuterie which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses with in between sips: on one level, a practical measure that prevented flies from hovering over the sweet sherry; on another level, a very canny up-sell: cured meats tend to be quite salty, so therefore activate thirst. If you’ve got a bar full of thirsty customers, you’ve got a bar full of speedier drinkers, right? On from this once more…

In Spain, groups of local merrymakers regularly cruise tapas bars, expecting to be presented with a sliver of ham, or a cube of cheese, or a crisp little croqueta to accompany their drinks as they go; so far, so very civilised. When the Brits ‘discovered’ Spain as a popular (and accessible) tourist destination in the 1950s and ended up binging on albondigas, an influx of tapas bars and restaurants came the other way, and duly opened on our at-home doorsteps. But on from this yet again…

Wandering around Bath these days, you’d be forgiven for thinking… what happened to the UK’s homegrown tapas revolution? For sure, we’ve got a couple of big glitzy chains (and the odd little indie venture) attesting to specialise in the genre but in reality mostly serving up commercial rollout, pre-prepped, often pre-frozen portions of flavourless albondigas, floppy calamari and shrivelled gambas before a sad-looking plate of what tastes like boil-in-the-bag paella arrives at the table. Or, we’re subjected to the dreaded Small Plates menu: a snooty, ‘British’ version of tapas that costs upwards of £8-9 per dish and are only really suitable for sharing with others if you have a bag of chips on the way to the restaurant. And oh, don’t get me started on Asian/Cajun/French ‘tapas’, or the weird rebranding of Greek Mezze as a ‘tapas-style spread’… but we’re moving on for the last time here in, this time, a distinctly optimistic mood…

Tim Coffey – the force behind popular, long-standing Bath indie restaurants The Real Italian Pizza Co, The Herd and Joya Italian Steakhouse – has recently turned his talents to tapas. He’s scrubbed up (without taking any of the intrinsic characterful charm away from) the space recently vacated by Cafe Retro on York Street, built a terrific team and devised an accessible but wholly authentic tapas menu that skips from almendras fritas (all sangria is too wet without at least one handful of salted, fried Spanish almonds) to Tarta de Santiago taking in a properly classic selection of Spanish cheese and charcuterie, tortillas, croquetas, carne and pescado along the way.

Most dishes fluctuate around the £6.50-£7.50 price tag (and you can choose any three dishes for just £18 every Monday-Friday lunchtime), there’s a very generous Tabla de Embutidos that brings a heap of Spanish cured meats, cheeses, olives, bread and that all-important aioli to the table for £18, and a strong selection of vegetarian/vegan dishes make sure everybody’s invited to the fiesta.

Casa de Tapas feels like a proper tapas bar, the like of which you’d easily wander in to when rambling around Barcelona’s Ramblas, offering the kind of bright, shiny, linger-long or go speedy vibe that allows you to choose your own pace according to your mood rather than having the pace and mood dictated to you by an over-keen team. The menu moves according to a ‘what do you fancy, right here, right now?’ beat too; had we, for example, been en route to the theatre, or the cinema, or a gig, that Tabla de Embutidos could have appeared as quickly as a couple of accompanying beers… and probably have disappeared just as swiftly. Having a party? There’s literally something for everybody here, plus proper party-on jugs of sangria to keep spirits lifted. Smoochy date night? That was us, taking our time, chilling out, catching up.

And so it came to pass that we caught up on both Casa de Tapas and each other over waves of delectable dishes including what’s seriously the very best Jamón ibérico we’ve tasted outside of Salamanca, and two types of croquetas (a mushroom and a chorizo and Serrano ham incarnation, both at once perfectly crunchy/salaciously bechamel-creamy), and succulent prawns drenched in brazenly bold amounts of garlic and chilli, and soft, sexy, semi-cured chorizo in a flavour depth charge red wine reduction, and slow-cooked, smoky fresh octopus with dinky little potato chunks soaking up all that smoky sauce, and house bread topped with juicy, super-ripe grated tomato and more garlic and lashings of proper olive oil.

We drank too much Cava sangria, and too much house red wine (another note to take note of here: you know that rumour that’s at large at the moment regarding rocketing wine prices? Plunder the invitingly affordable wine list here and prepare to stop those tongues wagging), and because it was a Friday evening and we all know that calories don’t count on a Friday evening, we finished off our feast with a proper Basque-style ‘burnt’ cheesecake smattered with homemade strawberry jam and a Crema Catalana because… well, when in Spain.

Okay, we weren’t in Spain – we were on York Street, in Bath. But there’s something about Casa de Tapas that really does make you feel like you’ve been somewhere else for the evening, far away from the hedge fund owned “tapas” traders, and the formerly-frozen fritas, and the sad Small Plates being churned out just down t’road. Has the UK’s homegrown tapas revolution finally arrived in Bath? What we can say for sure is that, visiting Casa de Tapas for what is destined to be just the first of many excursions, se sintió como si volviéramos a casa.

Pig Guide review: The Mint Room

Petrol queues, irate taxi drivers, new students moving in, out and generally shaking it all about. Storm clouds threatening to break, confused tourists asking if St James Cemetery is part of Bath Abbey… and then, a broken-down bus: last Thursday evening on Lower Bristol Road was hardly what you’d call a relaxing experience.

But all the while, while negotiating the thrum (and please bear with me on this apparently random segue), there was a little song playing in the back of my head: “there’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us; peace and quiet and open air, wait for us somewhere…” …and the earworm was right.

If you haven’t visited The Mint Room recently, there’s yet more reason to catch yourself up than ever before. The restaurant’s head honchos have recently revamped their super-smart rooftop bar, replacing the sofas with stylish bar furniture, shifting the bar itself around to offer yet more space, bringing the edges of the tensile roof down to ward off chills, and installing plenty of very effective heaters to double-down on making the inside/outside vibe not only viable but properly inviting, whatever the season.

And that’s where our ‘place for us’ on our most recent Mint Room foray began: at an elegantly-dressed table up on the roof (yup, there’s another ear-worm waiting to happen here) where we enjoyed classy cocktails from the classy cocktail menu accompanied by The Mint Room’s very special take on street food: a Deconstructed Punjabi Samosa so beautiful that I’d be happy to have a full-size photo of it on my wall at home; puffed rice with toasted peanuts, tamarind and mint chutney; Pani Puri with chickpeas, diced potato, pomegranate seeds and tamarind water, which you can down in one or nibble slowly (at this point, I’ll leave it up to you decide which of our table for two did what.)

As gracious as our rooftop party was, it was soon time to descend into the restaurant ‘proper’ where soft hues based on a latte/cappuccino palate provide a chic, flattering backdrop for the tasteful bling (glittery walls; flickering candlelight) that adds yet more glamour to the whole experience – and our starters (two of each, each; Mr Pig and I don’t do things by halves) were equally alluring: tender lamb chops marinated in Punjabi spices with Sweet Potato Shami; an utterly divine Keralan Sea Bass Moilee that put a region renowned for its coastal harvest, soporific coconut-based sauces and temperate, subtle spices in the spotlight, resulting in a truly magical dish indeed.

After a palate-cleansing mango sorbet, a trio of curries including sweetly spicy Delhi ‘old style’ Butter Chicken (Somerset Tandoori Chicken Tikka? Yes, really!) and deeply flavoursome Beef Chettinad arrived, accompanied by fluffy saffron pilau and and buttery, super-fresh garlic naan…like, WOW? Indeed! Sumptuous, extravagant, sophisticated flamboyant – we weren’t just having a good time; we were, quite simply, in good food nirvana, with the sweet stuff at the end of our feast (highlight: the sweet, sticky, fun-fun-fun ‘Indian doughnuts’ that are Gulab Jamun; densely creamy, rosewater-infused Pistachio Kulfi; a beautifully-constructed ‘grown up’ layered chocolate gateau that I apologise profusely for forgetting the formal title of) dotting and crossing all the i’s and t’s that The Mint Room had already perfectly punctuated.

Our early nibbles rank amongst the best prandial preludes we’ve ever encountered in any restaurant in Bath, while the rest of our banquet can only be described as positively stellar, a sentiment aided and abetted by the kind of artful presentation that’s almost criminal to disturb. Competent, confident and audaciously inspirational, Head Chef Soyful Alom and his team are masters of the art of modern Indian cookery at its very, very best.

You can either dine at The Mint Room like a Maharaja (the wine list is suitably stately too), pop in for a simple Rogan Josh and a Cobra, or bypass the food altogether and chill out (but not, as we’ve already established, literally) on the rooftop terrace. But whichever way you choose to do it, you’ll pay far, far less than you’d expect to fork out for the outstanding quality on offer – and gain a far, far more memorable experience than I’d wager you’ve had in a restaurant in a very long time.

Hold my hand and I’ll take you there…” Or, just book a table for yourself, right now; you won’t regret it.

Pig Guide review: Bandook Kitchen, Milsom Place

If you’re looking for pretty, you’ve come to the right place – Milsom Place, in fact: a super-pretty, characterful, split-level urban sanctuary based around a historic cobbled courtyard, today home to a variety of independent businesses and high street flagship stores. It’s also home to Bandook Kitchen, a key member of the highly-acclaimed Mint Room family who have branches of both restaurants in both Bristol and Bath.

While the Bristol incarnation (at the heart of Wapping Wharf) may have fashionista funk on its side, the Bath location has inherent grace and style; it’s all kinda ancient-meets-modern (Milsom Place dates back to the early 18th century, don’cha know), and there’s something magical about the whole complex before you even set foot in Bandook Kitchen itself.

Once inside the restaurant, it’s pretty magical too. Owner Moe Rahmen says he took inspirational cues and clues for the restaurant’s sophisticated but eclectic design flourishes (think, colour, colour, colour, working together in bold/subtle harmony; plush banquette seating; striking statement lighting) from the Hindustani cafés where the British and Indian army used to gather to eat together. Gosh! Those guys certainly had a keen eye for stylish detail. Moe’s looked back in order to look forward in terms of the menu too: from street food and small plates to full-on big dishes with a big history taking in dosas, chaats, pavs and all kinds of tantalising gotta-try-thats along the way, there’s something for everybody from the timid to the temerarious here, while the drinks menus (and take note that the cocktail list is a thing of beauty to behold) puts paid to the recent social media ‘outrage’ regarding restaurants hiking up drinks prices since reopening after the pandemic.

Despite that seductive interior, we enjoyed our most recent Bandook supper at a heated alfresco candle- and fairy-lit table that gave the whole experience a chilled out holiday-style vibe. The only stressful part of our evening was ordering: so much choice on the menu, all of it appealing, and every dish distinctly affordable. What to do? Start with a small’n’street selection, move on to Raj-syle feasting dishes… and bear in mind that you won’t raise any eyebrows if you end up asking for a doggy bag for leftovers.

A Samosa Chaat – described as a “deconstructed Punjabi vegetable samosa” – was so pretty that the thought of prodding it with a fork felt akin to a criminal offence. But once prodded, prepare to have your senses arrested by flavours: soft curried chickpeas, waves of thick, cool yoghurt and layers of tamarind and mint chutney, all scattered by fresh pomegranate jewels, make this little dish a Great Big Hit. Glossy Squid Koliwada shimmied across the table bringing further style and substance to proceedings; crisp little goujons of Amritsari Fish – the subtle chilli heat in the batter tempered by a mellow blast of mint chutney – proved to be compulsively crunchy; and Delhiwale’s Pocket Kebab (a flaky, buttery layered paratha stuffed – and I mean stuffed – with softly-spiced, super-moist chicken) danced along to an altogether earthier tempo… I don’t know who Delhiwale is, but if this is the kind of street food that he keeps in his pocket, he’s definitely a friend for life.

So far, so very non-stop exotic cabaret; in all honesty, just four small plates down (plus a couple of those cocktails), we could have stopped there. But a very good Twitter friend recommended that I try the Lucknowi Parda Lamb Biryani, and it would have been rude not to, so I did. It turned out that my Twitter friend has excellent taste: puncture the crisp pastry lid, and you unearth soft – and I mean, soft – morsels of lamb in the kind of silky, aromatic, subtly sweet/spicy broth that you just know is the kind of concoction that only an expert in the biryani field could prepare. Meanwhile, arriving at Mr Pig’s platform: Railway Lamb Curry, originally developed by chefs working on the railways during the British Raj. Railway is a curry that can’t be categorised: not as bold as, say, a Madras but far less subdued than a Korai or a Bhuna, and relying (I’m guessing?) more on ginger and garlic than chilli for heat, with a distinctly sweet/sour hit adding fascination at every stop on the way to an empty bowl.

Ah, I love Bandook Kitchen. I love the restaurant’s style, audacity and overall vibe. I love how it’s filled a big gap in the Bath eating out scene by blending upper-crust Indian fine dining with a casual, welcoming – and again, I have to reiterate this point – affordable ethos. It’s effortlessly uplifting, and unselfconsciously soul-soothing. And if you’re looking for pretty, you’ve come to the right place.

Pig Guide review: Jars Meze

The sun was out, the sky was blue, and Mr Pig had the day off work. And so it came to pass that we skipped into town like a couple of kids playing truant and went for a late lunch in Jars Meze.

This joyful little taverna – a family-run business specialising in nicely priced, wholly authentic Greek Grub – opened on Northumberland Place around four (maybe even five?) years ago and swiftly earned cult status on the Bath foodie scene, thanks to all who’d done the JM thing waxing lyrical about the proper Politiki Melitzanosalata, the rollickin’ Rolo Gourounaki, the very special Spetsofai Voliotiko and all kinds of other delights that I can’t pronounce but all loosely translate as Grecian gorgeousness. Now I’ve never been to Greece, but I’ve watched enough food-related travelogues and devoured enough similarly-themed cookery books (this one being my very favourite) to know that a good Kleftiko is worth travelling for… but I have to confess that, before this visit, I’d never even travelled to Jars Meze.

What with it being a sunny day n’all, there was no room at the alfresco outside-inn; the tightly-packed little tables were tightly-packed with languid lunchers. We could have taken to our pre-booked table inside, but after a shortish spell of polite loitering we were shown to a coveted pavement table where we embarked on our voyage of Greek wine discovery (when in Greece, etc) accompanied by a very smooth pond of hummus served in a dinky little Kilner jar and perused menus that promised all manner of tantalising treats, eventually settling on Kolokithopitakia (two divine courgette and Feta fritters), Kalamarakia Tiganita (cornflour-coated fried squid, served with featherlight Taramasalata) and Gigantes Plaki: an utterly delicious herby butter bean stew, in this instance apparently cooked to a Prespan recipe; if you, like me, never thought you could be wowed by a butter bean stew, prepare to have your preconceptions challenged at Jars Meze.

After all our grazing, nibbling and picking (seriously, even the pitta bread is seriously good), I stuck with the meze menu for my main course and opted for a little dish of Garides Saganak: big fresh prawns in a fresh tomato sauce thrumming with chillies, herbs, garlic and (I’m sure) cinnamon, with oozy little blobs of Feta dotted hither and thither across the top. On t’other side of the table, the Chicken Gryos felt a little bit humdrum after our flavour-frenzy build up and the chips that came with it (good as they were) strangely out of place – but if kebabs are your thing, you’re unlikely to find one as flavoursome and succulent as this.

By the time we’d finished our feasting, the Jars Meze family were taking a well-deserved break and getting ready to refresh the scene for evening service. So, after a quick hit of thick, sweet, syrupy Greek coffee, we moved the party on and travelled around 800km in 3 metres, taking to another alfresco table outside of Rosario’s where Mr Pig tucked into a Sicilian Afternoon Tea (if you haven’t tried a Rosario’s canoli, you really haven’t lived la dolce vita) and I couldn’t refuse a mini bottle of Prosecco (well I could have done, but Mr Pig ordered himself an Amaro, and it would have been rude to make him drink alone.)

And so the day rolled along, ending up at The Garrick’s Head for too many sundowners and eventually rolling home at a ridiculous hour given that we’d only planned to pop into town for a quick late lunch. Yia mas, Piggies!

The small print, Jars Meze: Meze dishes £4.70-circa £8; main courses £12.50-£18; desserts around £5. Excellent Greek wine £23-ish per bottle. Booking highly recommended (but you can’t book alfresco tables.)

Pig Guide review: Portofino

Sitting at an alfresco table on the ancient, super-pretty little traffic-free thoroughfare that is Northumberland Passage sipping Prosecco and nibbling plump, glistening, supremely meaty olives, I found myself imbued with a distinctly optimistic frame of mind.

There was a sense of freshness in the air that had little to do with the recent downpour rinsing the day’s city centre fug away and everything to do with a glow of optimism all around us: in the faces of the tourists who are slowly but surely creeping back to Bath; in the bright smile of an old friend whom I hadn’t seen since way, way before we even knew what the word ‘lockdown’ really meant and who suddenly appeared from nowhere to say hello; in the sound of the chitter-chatter between business owners shutting up shop for the day secure in the knowledge that yes, they were definitely opening again for business tomorrow. And there we were, in the middle of the gentle hubbub, about to visit Portofino, a restaurant that bravely opened its doors in early in 2021 and has since proved that optimism is one of the most powerful states of mind of all.

The Bath branch of Patisserie Valerie, however, was, to me, one of the least uplifting experiences to be found in any city, anywhere: overpriced, underpowered and bearing no relation at all to the original, glorious branch in London’s Soho. Today, the expensive, gaudy fake cakes and tacky plastic that (badly) masqueraded as dark wood have long since been skipped; 20 High Street now boasts a dining room that puts me in mind of one of those cheerful seafood restaurants that you find on the seafront in, say, Portoferraio, or Positano… or indeed, Portofino. Decorated in Italianate coastal hues of aqua blue and turquoise with flecks of soft gold adding extra prettiness and chic lighting and polished mirrors bringing contemporary drama to the party, it’s spacious yet cosy, subtly glam without being flashy. Overall, it makes me feel like I’m on holiday, or about to embark on an adventure – and in one way, I am…

The Portofino menu reads like a paean to piscatorial perfection, from oysters to octopus, calamari to crab ink tortellini, sea bass, swordfish, mussels, prawns, fish soup, Risotto Marino, Fritto Misto… and Prosecco-battered (yes, Prosecco-battered) fish and chips too. Capeesh the USP? If you don’t (or don’t want to) dive in, there’s steak, or chicken, or mushroom risotto. But come on! Li’l ole landlocked Bath isn’t known for it’s fish-specific restaurants; if you don’t make a splash here, where else in the city are you going to do it?

I have to confess, I have a strong dislike for oysters; that coppery, gelatinous, slithery vibe is way too visceral for me. But my brave bivalve mollusc connoisseur (that’ll be Mr Pig, then) loves them so much that having to warn me to “look away now” as he slurps them doesn’t put him off ordering a brace whenever the opportunity arises… and according him to him, Portofino’s Porlock Bay oysters are outstanding. I, meanwhile, was more than happily distracted by my mussels: hu-u-u-ge, plump, meaty little/big morsels in a herby white wine broth to either dunk my herby toast in or slurp with a big spoon (I did both.)

On a similar theme to my oyster aversion, I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to whole fish too (I know, I know, I’m a wimp in food writer’s clothing.) Fortunately, the Portofino waiters – a cheerfully efficient, friendly bunch from un caloroso benvenuto to ciao – were on hand to expertly strip our truly massive sea bass from its central physiological structure, allowing Mr Pig to feast on shimmering piles of sweet, tender, buttery flesh while I inelegantly and over-enthusiastically slurped forkfuls of Spaghetti ai Frutti di Mare (more of those mussels, plus succulent baby octopus, and smooth, briny, fresh calamari tangled up with silky pasta in a rich tomato- and chilli-infused white wine sauce) at what was apparently “lightening speed” – but hey, when a SaFdM is this good, you don’t want to risk leaving too much to share, do you?

As it happened, I should have sacrificed more of my super-sexy pasta dish because, at the finale, not even the suggestion of Chocolate Mousse with Honeycomb Crunch and Salted Caramel Ice Cream nor the Sgroppino Portofino (lemon sorbet, Prosecco and Portofino gin) could tempt me from the path of righteousness that is, according to my sinful standards, a proper Espresso Martini to finish off our voyage around the Italian coast. We enjoyed ours at the same alfresco table that acted as our Portofino arrival lounge for our Prosecco/Manhattan pre-dinner tipple… and raised a glass to the optimism of new beginnings.

Review: Yuzu by Dan Moon

Duck glaze and kimchi; goats curd and dill oil; crab bisque, chicken tea, caviar: that doesn’t read like your regular weekend shopping list, does it? The ingredients do, however, take me back to a time long, long ago, when I used to browse Bath-based superchef Dan Moon’s Tasting Menus at his eponymous restaurant at the Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel online on a regular basis, not because I had an impending booking (although I often did), but just because, to me, Moon menus were the stuff that foodie dreams were made of. Never did I once imagine, back then, that one day I’d be browsing one of those menus… and putting the whole 5-course shebang together myself, at home.

Yuzu by Dan Moon is a new DIY Dining Kit venture launched by Dan during the pandemic. Want to know how, why, when? Read the back story here, and more about Dan while you’re there. Want to know more about the menus? See here; they change on a monthly basis, and include barbecue boxes for the summer months too.

The May menu fun (full rundown: Chicken Tea, spring cabbage kimchi, mustard cress, crispy chicken skin; Sea Trout, goats curd, asparagus, pea, Asian crab bisque; Glazed Duck, spring rolls, plum, sesame, pak choi, mooli, carrot; Buttermilk Panna Cotta, strawberries, vanilla, basil; Coffee and Coconut Chocolate Truffles – phew!) started with an enticing box of goodies delivered directly to our door.

All the ingredients/components were fully prepped, portioned out and ready to roll, from the slab of succulent sea trout, super-neat, tightly-packed spring rolls and chunks of duck for the two main courses to the dinky little pots of mustard cress, sesame, basil leaves and caviar that bring all the necessary cheffy twists to the party at the relevant junctures.

There were neat little bottles of dill oil and plum sauce for various drizzles, blobs and flavour-packed artwork to dress the plate at serving time. The goats curd for the sea trout came in a ready-to-snip piping bag. The fresh vegetables were neatly sliced; the chicken tea, duck glaze and bisque sleek and glossy in their own little tubs; a little sachet of fresh coffee for two sat happily alongside a little tub of truffles which had to be hidden immediately, stashed away for much later*. All the ingredients are locally (and impeccably) sourced; all the packaging is fully recyclable; all the cooking/serving instructions are included.

Having cleared the kitchen counters of all clutter (top tip: sort all the ingredients, bits, bobs, etc into course-specific sections before you start work – you don’t want to get your chicken tea mixed up with your crab bisque while you’re searching for the sesame, do you?) and put the posh crockery into the oven to warm up, we were off. And – considering how this was a menu far, far removed from anything close to anything I’d even dream of putting together at home – service went seamlessly.

Silky Chicken Tea, part-ramen, part-soporific broth, enlivened with kimchi and teased by shards of crispy chicken skin. Clean-tasting Sea Trout with creamy ripples of goats cheese, dotted with dill oil, luxuriated by caviar, and paired with a heavenly, velvety crab bisque. Succulent, gamey duck breast properly pink beneath the rich, glossy glaze, accompanied by crisp spring rolls (which can be deep fried but we did ours in the oven, which worked out perfectly), pak choi, mooli and carrot, with sesame to sprinkle and a divine duck sauce ready to elegantly drench across the whole lot (and yes, it is possible to drench a plate elegantly) just before serving. Panna Cotta for pud? Just unscrew the tubs, top with compote, meringue crumb and fresh basil… and tuck in.

Of all the courses, the Panna Cotta was the simplest to serve… but when that time came, we found ourself missing the thrill of the chase for prandial perfection. We really got into the pace and rhythm of our voyage of discovery, me executing at the pass (of course!), Mr Pig proving his worth as an outstanding Sous Chef. While you need to pay full attention to the instructions (and honestly, none of the stages are complicated, totally belying the end result) and your creative skills are pushed to the fore when it comes to presentation, Dan has done all the hard work for you; not a single frond of mustard, crumble of meringue or slick of oil has been left unturned in his quest to serve you his level of perfection at home, with him there in spirit to guide you.

Yuzu Tasting Menus for two people cost £95 – so yes, it’s costlier than your average takeaway or meal kit delivery. But this is not an average takeaway or meal kit; to look for comparisons or similarities between the two eat-in options would be doing a huge disservice to both. If you were to order a similar selection in a restaurant, you’d pay at least £95 per person without drinks or service for quality of this standard – and, let’s be honest, many folk don’t like the ‘fuss’ of the ‘fine dining’ experience. If you want to bring a bit of theatre to the experience, get theatrical about it; aware that this wasn’t going to be ready-to-serve dinner ready to eat in front of the TV, we dressed up a bit, selected wine to match the courses, put nice music on and set the table properly. We put each course together, together. We both agreed that we were far more thoughtful about the various components of each course because we were more connected to those components than we would have been had we been served the same menu in a restaurant. We had fun eating fantastic food at home.

Moon menus are indeed the stuff that foodie dreams were made of. Stop browsing online and live the dream.

*A note on the coffee and truffles: we had them for breakfast the next morning. Yes Chef!

Review: The Coconut Tree, Broad Street

Today, in restaurant world in particular, making up for lost time is where it’s at; doors have been flung open again, and we’re slowly but surely starting to remember what it’s like to choose our dinner from a menu rather than making the most of what we’ve got at home.

For me, being out-and-about again is a voyage of discovery – I’m revisiting the city centre anew, mourning the passing of the familiar landmark shops, cafes and restaurants who fell foul to the pandemic, reacquainting myself with fave (restaurant) raves and discovering, with mixed feelings, new ventures that have opened their doors while the day-to-day world around us fell silent. There’s a whole new post in the pipeline focusing on all the changes that have taken place while our social, shopping and merrymaking lives were on hold, but right here, right now, we’re celebrating a little ‘shock of the new’ tremor that’s subtly shaken our eating out options up.

The Coconut Tree is a small chain with a refreshingly non-corporate backstory that’s well worth familiarising yourself with, especially if you’re of the staunch “Say No To Chains” persuasion. I can’t say that I’m a supporter of the traditional restaurant chain model myself (hedge fund ownership and cooked-by-number menus do little for my palate, nor my consciousness.) But these days, not all chains are equal; the Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah ‘new’ chains tend to be far more base-level connected to their staff, sourcing policies and clientele than the cynical plastic high street Big Names… and you wouldn’t expect to discover that one of the guys who’s been bringing your food to the table at McAbsurdZitExpress was one of the founders of the restaurant, would you? But you can expect that to happen at The Coconut Tree ‘cos it did, to me, just last night.

Kotthu, Hoppers and Sambol; Parippu, Brinjals and Jaffna Goat Curry: it’s all going on here, in full on Sri Lankan stylee (and before anybody gets all prickly about cultural appropriation, the restaurant’s founders are Sri Lankan.) There are plenty of super-lively Cocotails on the menu too (Coconut Tree cocktails – see what they did there?), of which the Drunken Sri Lankan and the Sriki-Tiki in particular are highly recommended. The restaurant’s backdrop/vibe Kandyans along to an upbeat, beach holiday beat: bright colours, walls splashed with artful graffiti, candlelit tables, kitchen roll instead of napkins, beach shack furniture, bouncy (but unobtrusive) music. Young families with kids in tow mingle happily with smoochy couples, party animals and fizzy girls’ night out groups ‘cos it’s that kind of place: accessible to all, with an exceedingly accessible price bracket (generous tapas-style portions fluctuate around the £4-7 mark, with indispensable ‘don’t miss’ dishes such as amazingly fresh Hoppers a total bargain at £3.50) adding to the easygoing mood.

Oh of course we had Hoppers! Who can resist coconut milk pancakes dotted with three kinds of Sri Lankan sambols/salsa and a runny-yolked egg… especially when (in Bath, at least) they’re a lesser-spotted menu treat. We also had a huge dish of Chicken and Cheese Kotthu (a fascinating medley based around wok-fried chopped roti, laden with stringy cheese and juicy chicken); slow-cooked pork belly in depth-charge roasted spices (Black Pork; go for it!); cashew nuts softened by coconut cream and mingled up with peas (a fabulous combination); Hot Battered Spicy Cuttlefish (think, a chunky, rustic version of classic Calamari, with much more personality); proper Chicken Curry on the Bone (homestyle, and mellow, and totally lush) and – a real stand-out dish, for me – Stir Fried Chickpeas in coconut oil and a curry/garlic/chilli/curry leaf medley that sounds and looked simple but turned out to be a beautifully-balanced celebration of South Asian ebullience… which, all in all, is all that The Coconut Tree is all about.

In summary, The Coconut Tree serves happy food in happy surroundings at prices that make you happy – and you’d have to be a serious curmudgeon not to appreciate that. Shake it at your earliest opportunity, Piggies!

Mini review: A:ROAM:A

Okay, so going out is, once again, the new staying in again… what’s not to love about that? But home is still where the heart is – and one relatively new Bath-based home delivery business in particular brings a whole lotta love to your doorstep on those evenings when neither going out nor cooking at home are floating your boat.

A:ROAM:A is the brainchild of Jesse Davies and Ross Shaw, two local chefs with impeccable pedigrees, now poised to deliver “a world of flavour” to your door every Friday or Saturday courtesy of a weekly-changing menu inspired by global cuisines but wrought from strictly local produce.

Moroccan, Persian, Sri Lankan, Turkish, Cambodian, Keralan… who knows where the A:ROAM:A inspiration will land us on any given week? If you’re not au fait with social media, you can visit the regularly-updated website for details (and sign up for the newsletter while you’re there), but whichever far flung voyage you choose to embark on, the small print remains the same: each feast costs just £16pp (inc. doorstep delivery to BA1/BA2), all the food arrives in compostable containers ready to reheat, and failsafe instructions are provided. Just place your order by 10pm on the evening before you want your order to arrive, and your passport is stamped.

We jumped on the A:ROAM:A world tour for their most recent Korean excursion, when a sweet-sour, fascinatingly piquant Jjigae (that’ll be kimchi beef stew, then) gave our tastebuds a thorough rejuvenation, accompanied by fiery but mellow (yes, such a juxtaposition is possible, in the right hands of the right chef) Gochujang sesame broccoli; beautifully seasoned namul (greens with ginger and garlic); deeply umami, super-moist kimchi slaw and fragrant jasmine rice. Cooking time? 25 minutes start-to-finish, with little more to do than heat the oven, take a coupla lids off the boxes and allow the microwave to work it’s magic on the rice. Portions were generous to say the least (in fact, we had both vegetables and slaw leftover for a fried egg-topped brunch the next day), every morsel tasted super-fresh… and it was very clear that no stone in the search for upmarket ready meal perfection had been left unturned, nor any short cuts taken.

Roam if you want to; the world is, after all, set to become our oyster once more. But even when we’re getting out and about again, A:ROAM:A can bring a taste of that world to your home, in fine style.

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…