For a major tourist destination as famous as Bath, the relative absence of quality restaurants – with a couple of exceptions – is surprising; or perhaps not, given that most tourists, especially day trippers, tend to play safe and go for well known, if mediocre, chains. But for those staying longer, the choice is still disappointingly limited.
In the light of this, the opening of Allium Brasserie is a much needed addition to the Bath restaurant scene. Located in the Abbey Hotel, near the city centre, the interconnecting white walled dining rooms are decorated with large mirrors and abstract murals. Plain, well-spaced tables, attractive purple upholstered seating and linoleum flooring complete the modest, yet pleasingly furnished room
At the helm is Chris Staines, who retained a Michelin star for seven years at Foliage, Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge. Prior to this, he was Chef de Cuisine at Marco Pierre White’s Oak Room, which held 3 Michelin stars. Ably assisted by sous chef Olly Pierrepont, late of Coworth Park, this partnership represents a wealth of experience at the highest levels.
It is a testament to the sheer range and versatility of their skills that Chris and Olly, leading a small but talented team in a cramped kitchen, can produce a variety of dishes to please both casual diners and those seeking more sophisticated, fine dining options. Whatever the choice, precise cooking of carefully sourced ingredients will result in flavoursome, well balanced dishes. Presentation, especially of starters and mains, has clean lines reflecting conscious artistry. Food influences are world-wide and portions are generous
All day dining from 12.00 noon to 9.00 includes snacks (£3.50 to £4.00), salads and starters (£7.50 to £9.50) mains (£14 to £24), and desserts and cheese. An excellent set lunch menu (£14.95 for two courses) and afternoon tea are also available.
Fine Dining Guide visited on a week day lunchtime to sample a selection from the main menu. An accomplished sourdough rye bread had a good bake, with a crisp crust and firm crumb. Four snacks immediately impressed.
Mandarin segments were the perfect vehicle for shrimp jam, which combined sweet, sour and spicy flavours. Spiked with chilli, peanuts and coriander, this engaged the taste buds full on.
Serrano ham “Croquetas” featured breaded croquettes packed with Pata negra Spanish ham. Fresh from the deep fryer, these had a hot, moist and flavoursome interior
Sticky barbeque pork ribs were enlivened with a sprinkling of of spring onions and chilli.
Quail Scotch eggs were perfectly timed to produce a soft, blushing yolk encased in succulent middle white pork sausage meat. Apple chutney cut the richness of this dish perfectly.
Be warned: the size of starter dishes can be the same as main courses in other restaurants.
The first was an innovative celeriac soup garnished with a “Waldorf salad” of apple, celery and caramelised walnuts. Atlantic prawns added flavour and textural contrast, whilst a chestnut cream added further richness
Vegetarians and carnivores alike could not fail to be impressed by the Salad of Priory farm autumn vegetables. A selection of braised autumn root vegetables and wafer thin slices of deep fried Jerusalem artichoke were dressed with candied pears, sherry vinegar and pickled walnuts. This dish was a triumphant balance of savoury, sharp and sweet flavours with contrasting soft and crisp textures.
A fish starter was another excellent harmonious combination. “Loch Duart” salmon combined the sweet and salty elements of its miso cure in equal measure. A sesame crust added flavour and contrasting texture. A deep fried fritter retained the ozone freshness of the oyster within and pickled cucumber, grapefruit and wasabi dressing gave a fresh, lively kick. Served on a dark plate garnished with curls of mouli, this dish was also visually stunning.
Roast quail, well timed to retain its moist flesh, was enhanced by a glazed chilli caramel, giving it a sweet and spicy lift. Chinese cabbage, hearts of palm, lychees, peanuts and coriander garnishes all contributed to the success of this dish
Both main courses demonstrated considerable skill and finesse in handling top rate produce. Here was the excellence that gained Chris Staines a Michelin star earlier in his career.
Roasted grey leg partridge was timed to allow its gentle gamey flavour and soft texture to shine through. Wet polenta, poached quince and deep fired sage leaves added savoury, sweet and herby elements bought together with the bird by an intense sauce of roasting juices thickened with chicken livers and spiked with chilli.
In my view, sustainable Pollock has rarely, in terms of taste and texture, been an equal substitute for endangered cod. The fillet cooked at Allium was a delightful exception: its soft, glistening white flakes and pronounced flavour were a revelation. The soda bread crust added texture, whilst smoked leeks, mashed potato and taramasalata sauce complemented the fish well.
Replete with good things, we were unable to sample the desserts. There could be little doubt, given past experience at Foliage and Coworth Park, they would of the same high standard as the savoury courses. Lychee panna cotta, pineapple, mango and lemon grass granite or mille feuille of caramelised apple, crème mousseline, cider jelly with caramel ice cream both sounded extremely tempting. There was an embarrassment of choice of two more desserts or a selection of cheeses
Other aspects of Allium warrant attention. The wine list has range from the New and Old World at competitive prices the bottle and glass. Service is efficient, friendly and well informed.
Overall, Allium deserves the success it has already gained locally and needs to be appreciated by those from further afield. The “Brasserie” tag understates the quality of the cooking even if it represents the overall style. In The Great Bath Feast of 2012, Allium attracted Tom Kerridge of the Hand and Flowers as a guest chef. Restaurant critic Giles Coren recently launched his book How to Eat here. We will watch its progress in Bath with interest.