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.