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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 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.

News story/review: The Wheatsheaf, Corston – now under new ownership

A couple of weeks ago, Mr Pig came home with a block of Taleggio* in his rucksack (as one does.) How best to utilise it? Ask Twitter.

Amongst all manner of suggestions (including one involving Jacob’s Crackers) came a combination that really whetted my appetite. “Tagliolini, Taleggio and truffle…. mmmm,” said chef Scott Lucas (@69thecraftychef, should you too be in search of imaginative uses for top-quality random ingredients.) “Sounds great,” I responded. “But I’m a bit low on both Tagliolini and truffle. When are you going to come round to PG HQ and rustle it up for me?”. “Better yet, why don’t you visit the Wheatsheaf and I’ll make it for you,” he said. Now there’s an offer I couldn’t refuse – so I didn’t.

And so it came to pass that, last Thursday evening, Mr Pig and I made the 20-minute journey along the A36/A39 to the pub that you really can’t miss if you’re driving too/from, say, Bristol Airport, because it’s pretty much the only landmark on a long stretch of field-lined landscape.

Now it has to be said that the Wheatsheaf hasn’t enjoyed a great reputation of late – previous owners allowed the pub to slip into unloved/unkempt territory, eventually attracting dire warnings largely revolving around the “avoid at all costs” theme. But times have changed, and new owners have already done enough hard work to turn the pub’s disreputable reputation around; it’s now the bright, friendly, welcoming beacon of scrubbed-up cheerfulness that a pub in such a location should always have been.

If you look closely, it’s clear that the refurbishment is still a work in progress – a fair few fixtures and fittings need updating in order to meet contemporary expectation approval, and the new owners are yet to stamp their personality on the overall look of the place. But in essential country pub terms, it’s already got it all going on: a nicely lit, well stocked bar acts as a focal point twixt cosy little snug to the left of the entrance and separate dining area to the right, complete with open fires and a squashy (or rather, Chesterfield) sofa chill-out zone towards the rear. Meanwhile, staff are super-friendly, dogs are welcome and the menus… ah, the menus; this is, of course, why we made the short journey from urban thrum to pastoral calm.

Scott only came to the Wheatsheaf hob a short while ago, but he’s already added a fair few foodie flourishes to the menus. While fish and chips, steak, Ploughman’s Lunch, etc are all present and correct in terms of the kind of grub one would hope to be served at a pub, the devil (or rather the food angels) are in the detail here: the fish and chips come with tartare hollandaise; the steak on the main course on the evening we visited was a whopping 10oz rib of beef; the cheese in the Ploughman’s is Wookey Hole Cave-aged Cheddar. There’s soused Glitne halibut on the starter selection, alongside carpaccio of beef and and blow-torched mackerel fillet and, amongst the mains, Guinea fowl is served with cavolo nero, chestnuts, Bath Blue cheese sauce and fried sourdough bread, while Gilt Head Sea Bream comes with mussels, celeriac and cider sauce. Ham, egg and chips are taken out of the 1970s retro category by smoking the gammon, replacing hen’s eggs with duck eggs and serving it with a pineapple chutney, and guinea fowl caesar salad holds major promise. Prices are distinctly down-to-earth, though; this is definitely the kind of place that you can decide to dine at on a whim rather than holding out (and saving up for) a special occasion.

Those who have been keeping up at the back won’t be expecting us to give the full lowdown on those actual menus because we were, of course, on a Taleggio/truffle promise. Any my goodness, that promise was lived up to in full. Starters of bruschetta based on (I’m guessing, going by one of those starter descriptions) fried sourdough and lavishly drizzled with truffle oil was pretty much the poshest, foodiest version of cheese on toast that I’ve ever encountered; the Tagliolini, Taleggio and truffle (our raison d’etre, if you like) was silky, luxurious, dreamy, creamy, harmonious dolce vita on a plate; a dense, rich slab of chocolate heaven came accompanied by ice cream glazed with truffle honey. Our meal was, all told, the most treatsome, soporific feast that we’ve had in a long while – beautifully balanced, made from impeccably-sourced produce and assembled with care.

We’ll be returning to the Wheatsheaf to as the months roll along, not only to investigate the on-piste menu array but to keep up with – and offer worthwhile support to – a team who are doing great things in a handsome pub that’s long been in need of this level of TLC. And next time I have a surfeit of random luxurious ingredients, I know who I’m going to turn to for advice.

*just in case you were wondering, we did indeed end up using up our own supply of Taleggio… but I’m too ashamed to admit how we did it.

Pig Guide review: Beckford Bottle Shop and Tasting Room

In the late 18th century, the Assembly Rooms were at the epicentre of fashionable Georgian society in Bath: the place for the glitterati of the day to do much of their meeting, greeting, eating, dating, mating and generally hanging out, in full-on flamboyant Georgian style.

While the overall vibe of the Beckford Bottle Shop – which opened just a couple of weeks ago on Savile Row – has (fortunately) nothing in common with the snooty pomposity and strict codes of conduct that defined social etiquette at the time when Beau Nash ruled Bath, it’s lovely to take to a window seat that offers splendid views of one of Bath’s most iconic historic buildings and raise a glass to the dashing dandies who dedicated themselves to hedonistic pursuits over two centuries ago in the nearby locale – heck, the very building we’re sitting in could well have been owned or at least lived in by one or two of those fabulous fops… and I daresay they, like us, would have been rather smitten by Bath’s latest new kid on the merrymaking block too.

Bought to us by the same team behind a similarly-styled (but smaller) shop venture in Tisbury and three lovely pubs in Wiltshire and Somerset, the Beckford Bottle Shop combines upper-crust off licence (250+ intelligently-sourced wines alongside a carefully-curated range of craft beers, ciders and premium spirits) with a Tasting Room that specialises in British cheese, amazing charcuterie (if you’ve ever wished you had a convenient glossary of the genre to hand, look no further) and inventive small plates. Each area is tastefully chic, beautifully lit and supremely seductive, with cosy corners for couples to canoodle in, flexible seating for larger groups and an utterly fabulous, huge red leather corner sofa set around drinks tables towards the back of the street level shop area; on top of (or rather, below) all this, a twisty-turny staircase adjacent to the charcuterie counter leads to a characterfully convivial, subterranean chill out zone in the basement.

As we were a party of just two on the evening we visited, though, we sat in the window in the room with that view, where we indulged in a splendid array of small plates perfectly paired with a gentle tide of spectacular wine selected for us by Travis: an infectiously enthusiastic oenophile with a wonderful way with wine-related words. If you, like us, had never tasted a Greek Malagoussia/Assyrtiko, or Vermentino Sessantaquattro from Poderi Parpinello, Italy, this is the place in which to go forth and discover: both wines were perfect with with a curtain-up dish-trio that bought anchovies, parsley and shallots on toast (simple; sublime), marrow fritti with aioli (think, juicy, fat, featherlight ‘chips’ served with very posh garlic mayo) and smoked cod roe with balsamic onions (‘real’ taramasalata; soft, sweet/sour/sticky/sexy jam) to the party.

For our next scene, we opted to go thrice bold: deeply flavoursome, super-soft ox cheek glazed in red wine; sweet, pink, mint-infused, yoghurt-marinated lamb cutlet; silky, elegant creamed leeks emboldened by a lavish cloak of Westcombe Cheddar. Could Travis work his matching magic again? Indeed he could, bringing yet another Greek god to the table (a dry, smooth subtly tarty Agiorgitiko from the Monemvasia Winery, laden with smooth, leathery sophistication) and an inky, brooding, fabulously fruitful Primitivo di Manduria. Seriously, the Beckford Bottle Shop has a wine list you could happily get lost in while exploring – as long as Travis is your tour guide and the small plates keep on coming, your peregrination will turn into a party. And in that lovely laid-back, fuss-free, all’s-well-with-the-world way, our evening in the hands of the Beckford Bottle Shop team was indeed a party, for which much of the credit must go to our hosts: the staff here are just lovely – friendly and informative, and really good fun to get acquainted with.

But the time came when we had to think about waving goodbye to our new friends came around all too quickly, not least of all because current licensing laws aren’t quite as lackadaisical as they were back in Beau Nash’s day. And so, we eschewed treats (there’s a ‘treats’ menu – yay!) of madeleines, or chocolate mousse, or even an ice cream sandwich (there’s an ice cream sandwich on that ‘treats’ menu – yay!) in favour of a selection of four cheeses from the frequently-changing Specials board (apologies – I wasn’t keeping up with my note-taking at this point, but suffice to say, all four were just lush, and all served at the perfect temperature too) with which we enjoyed nightcaps of plummy, spicy Niepoort LBV and a tantalising, subtly effervescent Moscato d’Asti that, now we’ve been introduced, I will aim never again to eat cheese without.

So… suffice to say, we like the Beckford Bottle Shop very, very much; it is, if you like, the new Assembly Rooms – we recommend that you assemble here and hedonise at your earliest opportunity.

Review: new season, new menus, new chef at the Huntsman

We’ve waxed lyrical about the indisputable charms of the Huntsman’s handsome upper-level dining room the Elder Rooms on many occasions: cheerfully characterful, elegant in an easygoing way and cleverly combining historic charm with contemporary grandeur, it really is rather lovely. And it really comes into its own when the nights started to draw in, too; if you’re looking for the perfect combination of chic but cosy, you’ve come to the right place… and we know this for sure, because the Huntsman is where we chose to visit for our most recent Friday Feast.

Menus at the Huntsman are reassuringly accessible – there are upper crust pub classics such as Scotch eggs, sausage rolls and pork pies on the nibbles selection, fish and chips or sausages and mash amongst the main courses, and Brit-trad puds such as Jam Roly Poly – yay! – and exceedingly good British cheese boards vying for attention at the finishing line. As has always been the case with the Fuller’s Kitchen philosophy, provenance and impeccable sourcing policies are writ large throughout the menus, while the wet selection includes some fascinating gins and an intelligent wine list alongside the kind of superior ales and beers that Fuller’s are famous for… oh, and the staff are lovely, too. But a recent refresh in the kitchen has proved that old adage about not making a good thing even better totally redundant.

Head chef Johnny Joseph – already familiar to many from his time at the hob at fellow Fuller’s merrymaking zone the Crystal Palace – has recently flitted across to the Huntsman kitchen, where he’s added a little sprinkle of foodie flamboyance to proceedings confidently demonstrated from the off in erstwhile classic starter combinations such as wild mushrooms on toast (a deeply umami melange involving a tasty posse of ‘shrooms bathed in a gently tingly tarragon cream sauce) and velvety, sweetly pink seared pigeon teamed with pearl barley, earthy black pudding and a watercress and parsley salad dressed in a fruity raspberry vinaigrette.

Our ‘welcome to the British autumn season’ (and ‘hello, Johnny’) theme continued throughout our main courses: soft, moist, super-tasty chicken breast stuffed with more of that moreish black pudding (it’s Fuller’s own, don’cha know) served with a lavish array of seasonal greens, crushed new potatoes and a gentle tide of Stilton sauce – an exceedingly satisfying combination indeed. If you’re feeling courageously carnivorous, though, you really, really need to follow Mr Pig’s lead and head straight for the deeply flavoursome, sumptuously silky braised ox cheeks served on a bed of parsnip mash and supported by a chorus of sweet heritage carrots – if you, like many people these days, only choose to eat red meat as a high day or holiday treat, this dish is your ultimate reward, well worth holding out for. And seeing as we were, by this stage, clearly on blow-out territory, both Johnny’s utterly divine fig & almond crème brûlée served with delicate almond biscuits and his properly treacley treacle tart accompanied by Fuller’s buffalo milk vanilla ice cream made the prospect of starving ourselves for the rest of the weekend worthwhile.

But even if you choose to blow-out, you won’t blow the budget as prices are reassuringly down-to-earth; even if you scale the dish-price heights, you’ll only fluctuate circa £28 for three courses, which really is remarkable given the quality, service, surroundings and overall vibe of the experience as a whole; on multiple levels, the Huntsman is positively hunky dory.

Pig Guide review: Amarone, Saw Close

There’s no shortage of eating out options in and around the Theatre Royal/Saw Close quarter – and, what with the flurry of redevelopment action that’s currently revamping the area, it could be said that the theatre’s limelight is receding as food takes centre stage. From prosaic to posh, fast fix to fabulous it’s all going on, so much so that you could be forgiven for overlooking the longstanding, independent Saw Close superstars that have kept Sawclosers satiated since long before the bulldozers flattened the former council car park and turned it into a playground for a handful of national restaurant chains.

Right next door to the theatre and housed in a building that was formerly home to top fop extraordinaire Beau Nash and his lively mistress Juliana, Amarone offers a contemporary dolce vita in subtly sparkling surroundings. Beyond the beautifully-lit facade, beautifully-set tables and uber-cool lighting (get that chandelier!) make for a stylishly elegant setting that, though thoroughly modern in vibe, fails to detract from this listed building’s former glory nor the restaurant’s authentic Italian USP. Both the street level and first floor dining rooms offer views across the Sawclose scene, the atmosphere oozes polished chic, the welcome is warm and friendly and a permanent exhibition of vintage photos of Italy’s coolest style icons add further Romanesque character – the perfect setting, then, against which to start your evening with a Real Italian Negroni (made with Sardinian BioGin and Silvio Carta Vermouth Rosso, don’cha know) and an utterly gorgeous sparkler in the form of Puglian Primitivo Rose Brut from Puglia… one sip and the date night vibe kicked in, and we were suddenly rockin’ the Loren/Ponti vibe.

As you’d expect from an Italian restaurant, various incarnations on the pasta/pizza/risotto theme abound. But we’re on proper Italian restaurant territory here, so meat, fish and shellfish options go large too, all impeccably sourced, all presented to the very best of their advantage… and all at reasurringly down-to-earth prices for the quality on offer.

Our starters of Cozze e Nduja (sautéed mussels with nduja and sourdough) and Granchio e Avocado (crab and avocado ‘sandwich’ served with crab croquette, stem ginger and pickled cucumber micro salad and fennel; pictured) turned out to be a delectable duo indeed. The mussels (a massive heap of fat, fresh, bivalve molluscs bathed in a sensual, subtly spicy ‘nduja sauce) offered an earthy counterpoint for the crab and avocado sandwich, which isn’t strictly a sandwich in the literal sense of the word: it’s actually a crispy-coated, very delicate little buttie indeed, and its crab croquette playmate is one of the most featherlight, graceful incarnations of the croquette genre I’ve ever encountered. Although we all know that looks aren’t everything, it’s worth pointing out here that presentation at Amarone is sul punto at every turn: the mussel dish looked as boldly flavoursome as it tasted; the crab and avocado as exquisitely pretty as the description suggests.

As tantalising as a pizza topped with aubergine marinated in mint and garlic oil and topped with Caciocavallo cheese or the restaurant’s classic lasagne sounded, I find the classic combination of smoked cheese, truffle and risotto irresistible… which is why I’m glad that I didn’t even attempt to resist the charms of Pollo ai Funghi: a soft, neat roll-up of breaded chicken filled with earthy mushrooms, pungent truffle and just-the-right-amount-of-smoky smoked mozzarella, served with a thyme-infused, super-silky mushroom risotto. But as totes lush as my chicken was, the Branzino allo Zabaione easily bagged the ‘most glamorous dish of the evening’ award: moist wild sea bass, a crunchy, crispy squid tail, smooth lemon gnocchi muddled with pesto and Stracchino cheese, lots of perfectly-wilted greens and a froth of featherlight, tarragon zabaione mousse – like, wow; this is one fabulous fish dish indeed.

So well fed were we after our feast that not even the promise of Sicilian lemon tart, chocolate torte or ‘A Memory of Tiramisu’ could tempt us out of the savoury zone. But hey, nessun problema – we’ll be revisiting our little corner of Italian paradise soon, and next time we might just opt for three desserts.

Amarone cleverly bridges the gap between full-on five star gourmet Italian restaurant and upmarket but wholly unostentatious trattoria, as perfect for a special occasion or date night as it is for a speedy pre-theatre supper or casual family get-together. We believe Amarone deserves a standing ovation.