I don’t mind telling you, right up front, that the lunch I had at Comptoir + Cuisine was one of the best lunches I’ve had in quite a while. On a bitterly cold day at the thoroughly depressing end of January, where it feels like the month has been going on for approximately three years, there was nothing I wanted more than to tuck myself away somewhere cosy for a long, lazy, indulgent feast – and that’s exactly what we had, with glasses of champagne, oodles of melted cheese and plenty of fresh crusty bread. What could be better?
For anyone who hasn’t popped in for a look yet, it’s hard to pin down Comptoir + Cuisine in a sentence – there’s the bistro, serving a menu of small plates and sharing boards, what we would call a deli but the French might refer to as an épicerie, with cheeses, charcuterie, wines and other edible treats, a little boutique filled with stylish odds and ends for the home, and a moody, dimly-lit champagne bar in the vaults. Essentially, it’s all the best bits of a really good long weekend in Paris – shopping, eating and drinking – magically transported to England and neatly packed into a rambling Bath townhouse. If you’re fed up with grey January days and fancy a quick holiday without the need to do anything so strenuous as travel, this is the perfect escape.
Ravenously hungry, we settled down to peruse the bistro menu, which stars a huge variety of different little dishes – ‘small plates’ has really become a thing over the past few years and so you might think you can imagine exactly what you’d be getting, but Comptoir + Cuisine is really creative with its ideas, drawing inspiration from all over France and even further afield. It was really hard to choose, which is always a good sign. There’s a selection of not one but three different baked Camembert, which felt like a must, so we went for the fig and thyme option, along with garlicky mushrooms on toast, battered celeriac with black truffle mayonnaise, a beef onglet with chimichurri, and Gratin de Crozet with Tomme de Savoie cheese, essentially a glorious Gallic upgrade on the concept of macaroni cheese.
Although I was pretty excited about the Camembert, it was the Gratin de Crozet that stole the show for me – fabulously rich and buttery, with a sauce so good I couldn’t resist scooping up the last few drops with bread. The celeriac was another favourite of mine – the perfect texture, crispy and golden on the outside and soft with just a little bite on the inside, with a subtle nuttiness that went beautifully with the black truffle mayo (another thing I couldn’t resist finishing off with more fresh bread). My dining companion, meanwhile, pronounced the beef onglet to be the best steak she’d had in quite some time. We spent a lovely long time nibbling our way slowly through everything as we chatted, and washed it all down with crisp house champagne, the perfect partner for cheese.
After such a feast, we hardly had room for dessert, but decided we could just about manage to share a bowlful of sticky toffee pudding with caramel ice cream. It’s perhaps not quite what you’d expect on the menu at a French bistro, but in my experience, although their patisserie is world class, the French tend to have a secret soft spot for some of our English puddings – and this was as good a sticky toffee pudding as I’ve had anywhere else. A beautifully light and fluffy sponge, soaked with caramel, and studded with sweet dates and figs – well worth making room for at the end of your meal.
It’s no secret that we’re pretty spoilt in Bath when it comes to food, so new arrivals need to come up with something special to stand out from the crowd. I think Comptoir + Cuisine nails it. The different spaces are full of quirky and interesting details, from the fabulous feather lampshades and washing line displaying chic pants in the bistro (available to buy from the shop) to the retro Parisian vibes in the basement champagne bar, with walls plastered with French magazine and newspaper pages, dim red lighting and low sofas piled with cushions. The menu is stuffed with tempting dishes, from the simple and classic to things you might have to google (but will be very glad you tried). I can’t recommend it enough. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go back for more of that Gratin de Crozet…