March 30 2017

The Bath Priory; Michael Nizzero

It was fitting that, on the very day we were due to revisit the Bath Priory for dinner, it was announced that this supremely elegant Grand Dame of the Bath destination dining scene had had its three AA Rosettes confirmed again, just two months after their new head chef Michael Nizzero took to the hob in the kitchen. Fitting? Yes indeed. For neither Michael nor the Bath Priory – an understatedly glamorous, stylishly refined Heritage City institution that isn’t afraid to retain all the best aspects of tradition in order to maintain its reputation for excellence on all levels – are no strangers to accolades.

Michael brings 14 years of experience working across the UK, Europe, Dubai and his native Belgium to Bath with him. Before relocating to the Priory, he worked under Michel and Alain Roux at the 3-Michelin starred Waterside Inn and, most recently, at The Ritz, London, where the team was awarded its first ever Michelin star. Michael also gained and held a Michelin star while Executive Chef at Hostellerie La Briqueterie between 2011-2015; when it comes to professional pedigree, he epitomises the very meaning of the words. Might Michael and the Priory be a match made in heaven? We think so.

For details regarding setting, ambience and overall vibe of the Bath Priory experience, read our recently-updated listing here. For the full lowdown on how it was for us on the evening we spent with Michael, read on.

From the moment our car pulled up on the driveway we were made to feel like red carpet superstars, for service standards here are exceptional: polished but friendly, informative and confident… the staff are, quite simply, a team of genuinely lovely people who clearly love what they do. After aperitifs and canapés in one of the hotel’s sumptuous drawing rooms (we had intended to lounge around on the terrace for a while, but unfortunately the weather didn’t comply), we took to a beautifully set table in the dining room, where the first act of our Tasting Menu focused initially on two light, seafood-centric plates: a soft, moist disc of sweet Cornish crab offset with crunchy shards of celery and aniseed-tinged lovage, followed by a gently roasted scallop resting on top of a velvety butternut pillow, with sea vegetables adding a uniquely geologic dimension.

As I came to realise as our menu gathered momentum, both dishes summarised what, to my perceptions at least, Michael is all about: he’s an elegantly modern chef, uniquely skilled in his ability to combine classic ingredients with thoughtfully selected idiosyncratic elements that offer a whole new dimension to familiar territories… our third dish being a perfect case in point: a chicken tortelloni crafted into a three-pointed star shape bathed in clear chicken consommé infused with lemongrass and lime. Of our selection, it is perhaps this dish that presented a any notion of a challenge, representing a union of traditionally disparate traditions and essences: kinda, Bologna meets Bangkok at Hanukkah. But wow, it worked out well; were I to be invited back to party with this dish alone, I’d don my little black dress in a heartbeat.

Now navigating the bridge twixt overture and denouement, our first main course arrived: a neat little oblong of poached wild brill topped with a seaweed-wrapped mussels, lightly bathed in a shimmering Champagne emulsion that gently lapped and frothed around the fish, reminding me of the swash left behind by a receding wave… an appropriate metaphor, as it turned out, as this dish tasted of the sea, and all the fresh, mineral-laden, umami flavours we associate with its harvest. A neat, tender disc of subtly gamey loin of lamb followed, accompanied by an ambrosial shallot confit and a cute little pot of mild, creamy sweetbreads blanketed by a layer of silky potato mousseline – ah, spring on a plate. And then we shared a cheese selection, presented by a master of the art of cheeseboardery (is that actually a word? Oh, you know what I mean!) who asked what we liked before telling us what we wanted. While on the subject of selection, we need to take a little diversion to wine territory at this point, and share a top tip: allow the sommelier to recommend wine to you – she’s exceptionally well-informed, enthusiastic without being dictatorial, and acts as an extremely competent, consummate tour guide through an amazing list. Anyway, back to cheese… here too there were plenty of options to choose from, ranging in flavour and texture from smooth and mild to full-on bold blues. I wasn’t doing the notebook thing (so gauche, my dears!), but this much I know for sure: if you have a compulsion for cheese, the BP cheeseboard is your ultimate destination.

Personally, though, I was holding out for our final course: a divinely decadent salted caramel fondant, its light, fluffy exterior yielding to the fork to ooze a lava flow of intensely flavoured, warm, rich, sweet/salt caramel across the plate to nudge up against little pool of fudgy, buttery butterscotch and refreshing yet indulgent banana sorbet… as I’d anticipated from the off, it was a dessert worth holding out for.

I had, too, been holding out for an encounter with Michael Nizzero since he was first appointed in January – and as it turned out, my patience was richly rewarded: he’s a fascinating new kid on the Bath chef block, set to raise an already altitudinous bar to stellar heights.

Price point: set lunch menu Monday-Saturday 12noon-2pm, 3-courses £30pp. Sunday lunch: 2-courses £30; 3/£35. A la carte dinner menu (Monday-Sunday 6.30-9.15pm) 3-courses £80. Tasting Menu (lunch or dinner) 7-courses £95pp. Optional wine flight £87pp

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