I was giving a private tour recently, when the Australian couple I was working with asked me for a recommendation for dinner… I found myself not stumped for an answer but in fact rather overwhelmed as Bath is a city with such a wealth of great places to eat, and not just fine dining but an array of different styles and cuisines. So I decided to go away and really narrow down a few recommendations and I’ve picked 3 of them to share with you here!
We’ll start at The Circus which is in Brock Street and (oddly enough) close to the Circus – John Wood’s spectacular property development which he began in 1754, sadly the same year he died, but thankfully his son (another John Wood!) finished off the work to his Father’s plan in the magnificent neo-classical style which still wows visitors today. But I digress… The Circus cafe and restaurant is somewhere I’ve only been once but it was an unforgettable culinary experience which I really must go back to soon. The menu changes every month and all the food is sourced in the south west, so it’s not unusual to see food included in some dishes with a local or regional familiarity, for example: Devon Crab; Bath Oliver’s biscuits; line-caught fish from Lyme Bay in Dorset; Cornish turbot; May Cheese from Wellington in Somerset; Cafe de Paris butter… actually that last one’s a few miles off course, but it still contributes to amazing food! The restaurant has a really chilled and comfortable atmosphere regardless of if you eat upstairs, outside or in the cellar room, and the staff are really welcoming and friendly without being overbearing as I find many places can be these days. The Circus have really got it just right – the atmosphere, the setting, the menus, definitely the prices (dinner with 3 courses will set you back around £30-£40 which is excellent value given the quality of the food) and so you’ll need to book if you want to go. They don’t open on a Sunday which is a shame and I noticed that they close for a week or two in the early part of the year to allow for staff holidays, but this isn’t worth frowning at I think as I see it as a sign that they really know what they’re doing and what they want to continue to achieve. I found a really great quote on their website from the owner/head chef, Ali Golden with reference to the food, which truly sums up The Circus by saying “people are more interested in where their food comes from now so (they) want chefs to enhance good raw ingredients without disguising everything in sauces or by putting too many flavours together on the plate”… a skill which The Circus has truly got a handle on! (www.thecircuscafeandrestaurant.co.uk/)
Next is the famous Sally Lunn’s restaurant, famous of course for Lunn’s Buns which my own Grandmother used to buy from the town bakers when I was a kid… although I’m not convinced they were the real thing! Sally Lunn’s is to be found in one of the oldest houses in the city, dating from the late C15th and with its old kitchen still intact in the basement. In fact after you’ve eaten, a visit downstairs to the shop and museum shouldn’t be missed. What I love about Sally Lunn’s the most is it’s quirkiness, but it’s a quirkiness which is quintessentially English – the waiting staff are all appropriately uniformed in pinafores; the tea is served as leaves with a strainer rather than in tea bags; there are 3 tiered trays for afternoon tea; the furniture is mostly old and wooden; and although the building has a tired and almost ramshackle feel to it, that just adds to its delightful charm. But the Lunn’s buns are what you should be driving for… because they’re big and thick they look like they’d be really heavy but in fact they’re very light and make a great light lunch as a sandwich, or a hearty meal when served with meat as a trencher (traditionally the bread bun was used to serve the food before the invention of plates), or a rarebit (see featured image… my favourite! – a Lunn’s bun toasted and served with melted cheese sauce). Having the buns sweet rather than savoury is just as good, and I regularly have a toasted bun with homemade chocolate butter and a slice of orange on top – it’s rather rich but still not too heavy to make you feel that stuffed if you have it on it’s own. There is also a great selection of teas and blended coffees and you can also buy a bun or two to take home with you if you wish. There is often a wait to get in at lunchtime and occasionally in the evenings but it’s well worth it and I’d recommend that if the line is just out the door, you should just join it anyway as a 15-20 minute wait will be well rewarded. Remember though that this is an old building and is subsequently rather small inside so there’s not a huge amount of room for big groups (e.g. 6+). Price wise, you’d probably get a decent light lunch for under £20 per head including a desert and tea/coffee. If you’re looking for somewhere quaint and typically English, then Sally Lunn’s is definitely the place! (www.sallylunns.co.uk)
My last venue is my current favourite place to eat out in Bath. Having received a great review in the Michelin Guide, the Marlborough Tavern opposite the Approach Golf Course on Marlborough Buildings is worth of all the attention it so often attracts. Booking a table is normally essential, as it can get pretty busy in the evenings, especially at the weekends. The City Sightseeing tour stops right outside the pub so during a day trip to Bath it can be a great venue for lunch when it’s easier to get a table although I’d still recommend booking if you want to go at the weekend. The last time I went, I even found a 2 for 1 offer on main courses on Voucher Cloud, but even without discounts the food is excellent value. It has a very chilled out, homely atmosphere and is essentially a pub which does really excellent food (I guess it’s what everyone is now calling a ‘gastro-pub’) but I’d feel quite comfortable just taking my newspaper there and propping myself up at the bar with a pint of local cider. There’s currently a really unfortunate review on trip advisor about an incident involving a dog, but the bottom line is that the staff and management seem really proud and protective about the Marlborough Tavern and so they should be as it’s a great place to eat and also a really nice venue to just hang out, so whether a bad review justifiable or not, don’t let reviews alone define your judgement without experiencing it for yourself. The place is dog friendly so be prepared to be eating alongside a few canine companions – if you have a problem with dogs, the excellent food is enough of a distraction anyway. The decor has a rustic yet very clean feel to it and the staff are very casual, yet extremely professional, welcoming, and again, not overbearing like some eateries where they can be a bit too in-your-face. There is a nice beer garden at the back with its own entrance from the street. The menu focuses on local produce, and changes regularly to reflect the season. You can get a 3 course dinner for around £40 or more per person, but there are set menus available at lunch time which are a bargain at £12 for two courses, or £15 for three. I’ve eaten here many times now and I’ll happy go back regularly; in fact it tends to be somewhere I take visitors or friends who I want to impress! (www.marlborough-tavern.com)
This isn’t the last from me about eating out in Bath. I’m in York next week though so we’ll come back to this another time!