Saturday, 30 June 2012

Behold these rowdy ladies - weekend in Bath

Last weekend, I snuck off for a girls' weekend in Bath. I can't remember the last time I was away with the girls without it being dance-related. This was not dance-related, it was purely sybaritic. It was the one weekend this decade (possible exaggeration) that Shannon wasn't at a wedding and Megan wasn't swanning off to the continent, so we grabbed the opportunity.

Megan handled travel, Sophia arranged accommodation and I was placed in charge of provisioning. We're a good team to have at your back if you need to invade a small neighbouring country. I put out a twitter plea for restaurant recommendations, did some intense googling, and came up with more options than we had time for.

As Shannon was arriving a little bit after the London contingent, we decided to settle in to a pub and wait for her before having lunch. Based on a complex equation (factoring in the quality of website, likelihood of avoiding ghastly tour buses, independent ownership, promise of menu, distance to hotel) I chose The Chequers. Unfortunately my calculations didn't factor in the fact that Bath is built on a steep hill and the pub was a long way up it. The pitcher of Pimms we'd discussed as a pleasant way to begin our lunch became an urgent necessity about half way up.

Knowing that we'd planned a blow-out for dinner, we all opted for light-ish meals. My BLT was delicious, but the sausage sandwich and burgers on the table looked equally good. I almost had order-envy over the veggie burger, which is a first for me. Good food, a very pleasant room and a charming toddler at the next table making goo-goo eyes at us was just what the doctor ordered after the trauma of a 10am train from Paddington.
The Chequers BLT
Suitably fortified, we headed off to the Thermae Bath Spa.  Quelle horrible surprise, there was a massive queue. There was a couple in front of us actually having a picnic (M&S sushi and froglet rose, in case you were wondering). We decided that we were not British enough to queue and went for a wander, which took us by a boule competition full of very, very British people having a delightfully eccentric time.

We went to the Jane Austen Centre. Here my "if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all" policy falls down, because if I don't say anything, how will anyone know what a fucking joke it is? And of course the joke was on us because they have the extraordinary nerve to charge £7.50 entry and we actually paid it. For £7.50 I could have got another delicious BLT and a second hand copy of Pride and Prejudice and had a lovely solo afternoon of appreciating Jane Austen, instead of listening to a dull lecture with nothing surprising in it, then traipsing around a very small collection of vaguely Austen-related memorabilia. On the other hand, seeing Shannon's face when she tasted one of the ratafia biscuits on offer was worth almost £2.

Further wandering was brought up short by exceptionally heavy rain. So obviously we had to take refuge in another pub, to while away the hours before getting back to the hotel, drying off and changing for dinner.

My twitter shout-out had produced a recommendation for Menu Gordon Jones, but even a month beforehand we couldn't get a reservation. Another shout-out produced The Olive Tree, which had actually caught my eye already.

We had to get a taxi because a) it was still bucketing with rain and b) it was right back up near The Chequers.

I was pretty tempted by the chef's menu of the day, but the main course was rabbit and the others were less convinced. Plus the à la carte menu was more than interesting enough to sway me.

The back of the menu at The Olive Tree. We took it as our motto.
The service was good (very sweetly, when the maître d' saw me get my camera out, he offered to take a group picture - had to explain that I was more interested in what my food looks like than what my friends look like). The food was better. 

Vichyssoise - I think there may have been some wild garlic involved. 

The other 3 had spring veg risotto. Best risotto I have had anywhere except Le Manoir.
Cornish Game Hen terrine with summer truffle. Cornish game hens aren't actually game and don't have enough flavour to stand up to truffle, so it was a bit over-seasoned to compensate. Very good textures though.
Megan had duck - couldn't get a decent picture of the gnocchi or the fish the others had

Pork belly with loin, cheek and pea tortellini. The thing on the left was a perfect little toffee apple. Utterly sublime cooking.
This was the only dessert picture that turned out for me - Megan's mascarpone cheesecake with roasted peaches and peach sorbet. Divine. I had an amazing citrus parfait with a shot of limoncello and some passionfruit sorbet, but my hand was not steady in those photos.
The rest of the evening was uneventful. The man behind our hotel bar was rude and dismissive (I asked for a double whiskey. He asked if I wanted them in the same glass), but a group of Koreans in Regency dress drinking beer made it matter less.

The following morning we decided to get to the spa early to beat the queue. It was a very good idea - both the roof top pool and the steam rooms were quite crowded already, but the basement "Minerva Pool" (which had a sort of 60s Bond villain pleasure-palace vibe) was emptier. A friend of Megan's had given her a couple of vouchers to the spa, so our 2 hours of bobbing around talking rubbish and abandoning attempts to keep our hair dry was very reasonably priced.

When Kavey did a jaunt to Bath last year, she said good things about the breakfast at The Pump Room, so I thought that would be a good way to celebrate our final meal in Bath (and hopefully see us through until we got home). We arrived at 11.55am and a slightly supercilious young man told us that they stopped serving breakfast at 12, but we could look at the breakfast menu of things we couldn't have. Then our much more obliging waitress said that of course we could order off the breakfast menu. So we did.

Megan and Sophia "took the waters" - Sophia is a country girl and said it just tasted like slightly warm bore water

3 x champagne breakfasts - gorgeous toasted soda bread, smoked salmon, poached egg and hollandaise with a bit of watercress. And a glass of champagne.
Sophia had been feeling fragile, so she had posh cauliflower cheese with truffles and grilled leeks

There was room for dessert - another magic cheesecake (I had a sherry trifle, which was OK but not awe-inspiring and not photogenic)
The thing about a moderately early start (we were in the spa shortly after 9am) followed by a bit of exercise and a nice breakfast, is that it leaves you disinclined for much activity. The rain had cleared up so we forked out £1.20 each (as non-residents) to get into the Parade Gardens, snaffled some deck-chairs and settled in for a final bit of hedonism before the trip home. The gardens really need to  get themselves organised with a drinks waiter.
These were not the same cosplayers that we saw in our hotel the night before
Divine decadence

The Portishead brass band


Hotly Spiced said...

Despite a few ups and downs it does seem you had some wonderful times on your weekend away. What a shame about the Jane Austen museum. What a rip-off. But I do love the sound of the champagne breakfast - count me in! xx

Kavey said...

Hope you enjoyed The Pump Room. We didn't think service was top either, but the food and setting made up for it, especially with the music too.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Charlie - it was a great weekend! Mind you, we could have been in the bottom of a coal mine and still had fun, because they are great girls.

Kavey - really liked the Pump Room once we got past the rude first waiter!

Angie's Recipes said...

You sure had a FUN weekend! Food look so good. That cauliflower with truffles looks nothing like cauliflower...I first thought it was a fish or something.

kat said...

Bath is totally on my list of places to get to.

Joanne said...

Girls' weekends are always so much fun! I'm glad you had a good time!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Angie - I know! We were so surprised when the cauliflower came out looking so refined!

Kat - Oh you must. I think this is the 3rd time I've been there. It is so pretty and there are so many layers of history!

Joanne - it was great. No idea when I'll get another one, either. The downside to relationships.


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