The Bath Priory, Bath

Type: Modern British

On a recent visit to Bath, I was reminded of the exchange between Humphrey Bogart and Adolphe Menjou near the end of the film Casablanca: Captain Renault: ‘What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?’ Rick: ‘My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.’ Captain Renault: ‘The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.’ Rick: ‘I was misinformed.’

If you come to this World Heritage Site for the waters, you’ll find the ancient Roman spa carefully restored, worth a detour. On the other hand, if you come to it as a gastronomic destination, you may have been misinformed. Once-reliable old stagers like The Hole in the Wall (one of the places where good English cooking was reborn), or The Moon & Sixpence (a wine bar with above-average food) are gone. The Olive Tree endures, not as innovative as it once was, but still with a good wine list.

The Bath Priory was once the best in town, and not just by default, but then went through a time of muddle and identity crisis, and lost its Michelin star, before being taken in hand by Michael Caines, whose Gidleigh Park is a sister restaurant, and who built a new kitchen team around chef Sam Moody. The star has been won back, the hotel lightly refurbished, and it’s an oasis again.

Moody’s plates are notable for imaginative, lively garnishes, such as cauliflower couscous, or celeriac and pickled pear, or apricot and caraway chutney (with a robust duck terrine) – self-confident and intelligent touches, complex but not overbearing. A starter of pollock tartare elevated the world’s most boring fish by dicing and then tossing it with chives, compressed cucumber, and paper-thin slices of tiny radishes in lemon vinaigrette: elegant, delicious sushi. Fillet of sole, poached and rolled, floated above a bed of creamed leeks, capers and raisins; again, a deliciously contrasted lift.

The Bath Priory 2

Sommelier savvy: The wine list is superb, encompassing not only a range of top Bordeaux, Burgundies and the usual big-hitting suspects including Gaja and Antinori from Italy and Ridge from California, but a lot of canny choices from different corners of Europe and the New World –
Portugal and South Africa especially shine, for choice and value, and selections from the Rhône are also well chosen.

There are intriguing wines throughout: reds from Germany and Austria; Bava, Elena Walch and
Arnaldo Caprai from Italy; Dry Creek Chenin Blanc and Frog’s Leap Merlot from California; Argentina’s Catena Zapata Torrontés, New Zealand’s Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc and Domaine Raspail-Ay from Gigondas in the Rhône, and it goes on like that – self-confidently cherry-picked.

The wine service is equally self-confident. We put ourselves in the sommelier’s hands; he dissected our tastes deftly (beginning with what we didn’t like, which was clever) and offered perfect choices, including an aperitif of Château Dereszla’s Tokaji from the extensive by-the-glass list, a lively dry blend of Furmint and Muscat with enough vigour to have carried us into the meal, a great all-rounder.

The Bath Priory, Weston Road, Bath BA1 2XT.
Tel: +44 (0)1225 331922; www.thebathpriory.co.uk.
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations advised.