Sal’s Kitchen tries… Al Fresco Small Plates at the Royal Crescent Hotel

Royal Crescent Hotel

Here in beautiful Bath we’ve been having some gorgeous weather lately (apologies to readers from anywhere that hasn’t been getting sunshine), and frankly, it makes me want to immediately scrap all the work I had planned for the day and sit in the garden with a cocktail. There’s just one problem – along with the vast majority of flat-dwelling city folks, I don’t have a garden, so I have to borrow someone else’s.

Luckily for me, I live just around the corner from one of Bath’s most stunning green spaces, the beautiful garden hidden away behind the great golden façade of the Royal Crescent Hotel. Though the Crescent and the hotel are both world-famous, it feels like the garden is a bit of a hidden gem in Bath – but trust me, it’s one that’s well worth discovering. On a sunny day, Royal Victoria Park (which includes the huge green lawn spread out in front of the Royal Crescent) is absolutely heaving, but in just a few moments, you can pass through the hotel itself and step from teeming crowds to a lush, secret oasis that even though it’s pretty much in the centre of the city, is always tranquil, quiet and peaceful.

Fish & chips in the garden – what could be nicer?

Huge old trees dapple the immaculate lawns with shade, while the flowerbeds fill the air with the scent of lavender, roses and lilacs. Although it’s beautifully kept, it’s not a formal garden, so the curved beds and wandering paths create lots of little corners where you can claim a table and settle back in your chair for a lazy afternoon, without feeling like you’re amongst a crowd. The Spa Garden (featured image, above) is particularly lovely, a little walled garden reached through an archway hung with lush wisteria, and if you’re craving a day by the pool but don’t have a week’s holiday to spare, it’s the perfect place to escape. And for that time in the early evening, where the sun’s just starting to dip and thoughts turn to gin & tonic and something delicious to nibble, you have to check out the Royal Crescent’s new alfresco small plates menu.

We started, of course, with a cocktail – and I have to be frank with you here, the cocktails at the Crescent do not come cheap, at around £16 each. Of course, that’s not really the vibe of this place – and I have to admit, they are outstandingly delicious. I chose a Parisian Afternoon, made with gin, martini and champagne, as well as muddled grapes and rose syrup. It was exactly the kind of thing I like – not too sweet, with just a little sharpness at the end of each mouthful, perfectly refreshing on a hot day. My dining companion chose the Royal Crescent’s signature cocktail, Queen of the Blues, made with tequila, blue curaçao and champagne, with elderflower cordial and lime. I’ll be honest, the vibrant blue would always put me off just a little, but it did taste lovely.

The ‘Parisian Afternoon’ cocktail

Drinks in hand, we moved on to the new alfresco sharing menu, which is served Monday-Friday from 5-8pm. ‘Small plates’ has become a bit of a thing lately, but nowhere seems to agree on just how small the plates should be. At the Royal Crescent, the small plates range from just one or two bites to something slightly more substantial, but all are smaller than you’d usually expect a starter to be, and priced accordingly, between £2 and £3 with £6 for a larger charcuterie plate. For me, this is the perfect size to go with a drink – if you want a proper plateful, you can order from the excellent all-day menu, but if you just want something savoury to accompany your tipple, there are some lovely options on the alfresco menu that will add hardly anything to your bill.

My particular favourite was the Crispy Duck Leg with Peanut, Pickled Ginger & Coriander – not an actual duck leg, on which you’d have to gnaw inelegantly, but rather the succulent meat wrapped up in a crispy little bite-sized ball. The flavours were perfectly balanced, with the peanut just a subtle hint. My dining companion’s favourite, meanwhile, was the Mushroom Roll with Mushroom Ketchup, and I have to say I really, really enjoyed this one too – a flaky, buttery pastry with a rich umami filling, just the thing to go with something sharp and cold and boozy. Frankly, I’d swap a sausage roll for this veggie version any day.

My favourite: the crispy duck with peanut & ginger

We both also enjoyed the Mini Fish ‘n Chips, which was slightly more substantial – a fat battered fish finger served in a mini paper cone with several chunky chips and some lovely homemade tartare sauce – while the Cornish Mussel Scampi was slightly less of a hit (neither of us are terribly keen on mussels). The charcuterie board, meanwhile (pictured below), had some scrumptious elements but lacked any carbs, and did seem a tad minimalist for the £6 pricetag.

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed this experience – an unbeatable setting for a balmy summer evening, excellent cocktails and some really delicious elements to the menu. I love the idea of small nibbles that offer something other than olives & nuts, and we’ll definitely be back – provided the good weather holds…

Royal Crescent Hotel

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