Sometimes a city’s most famous watering holes, especially those that attract a certain amount of tourists, end up being more about style than substance, with locals and serious foodies giving them a wide berth. Not so The Royal Crescent Hotel, which has been one of Bath’s best-known landmarks for decades, but manages to remain both beautifully stylish and pack some serious substance when it comes to food and drink.
For so many reasons, it’s one of my absolute favourite places in the city for a proper special occasion. It’s a famously stunning venue in a famously stunning location, with Bath’s most beautiful, tranquil garden hidden away behind that iconic golden façade. The service is, quite literally, second to none – whether you’re staying in the hotel, visiting for dinner or just popping in for a cup of tea one afternoon, the staff will look after you like royalty (and no, I don’t get special treatment because I’m there to write a review – they genuinely just treat everyone like this). Plus, of course, the food and drink are always superb. I’ve been a few times for more casual dining, but never actually had dinner in the hotel’s Dower House Restaurant, so when they invited me to try their a la carte menu, I jumped at the chance.
We started our meal with a glass of chilled champagne – at the Crescent, the Tattinger never runs dry, and I find it simply impossible to resist – and a little amuse-bouche of cep foam with sherry gel, topped with chives and pistachios. The rich earthy flavours were just the thing with the crisp champagne, but I have to admit that I was a little distracted by the utterly delicious turmeric soda bread that arrived at the same time. What is it about bread and butter? When it’s the really good stuff, it’s almost impossible to beat, regardless of what else is on the menu.
With our appetites whetted, we moved on to the starters. I chose Loch Duarte salmon, beautifully cooked low and slow so it was as soft as butter, with lobster, caviar, asparagus and lobster mayonnaise. The flavours were gorgeously fresh and light, perfectly balanced by the indulgent hints of the caviar and the lobster mayonnaise. My dining companion, meanwhile, ordered a slow-cooked duck egg with duck fat toast, morteau sausage, and chervil jus – a decidedly richer dish, but one to really savour. The chervil jus was a particularly wonderful touch, absolutely bursting with flavour.
For the main course, I was torn, but eventually chose pork – pork loin, braised belly and haggis, with a sage and apple quinoa. It was a big plateful – unnecessarily so, probably – but absolutely delicious, especially the haggis and the quinoa. I’m not usually a particular fan of either but I’m happy to be converted in this case! The haggis was rich and earthy, and the quinoa was just the thing to absorb the flavours of fresh sage and apple, like a lighter version of the traditional stuffing – a really clever touch. My dining companion graciously ordered the other dish that I had my eye on, barbecued rump and braised neck of lamb, with wild garlic aioli and caraway goat’s curd. I’m glad I got to try that one too, because I think it might just have been the better choice by a whisker – the lamb was cooked to perfection, and went fabulously with the aioli and goat’s curd.
I had to leave half of my main to make sure I had room for dessert, but it was worth it – I ordered an iced coffee parfait, chocolate mousse and milk ice cream, and polished off every mouthful. The textures were just gorgeous, with both the parfait and the mousse simply melting in the mouth – the only wrong note in this dish for me was a very thin crisp like a rice cracker that didn’t seem to taste of much at all. The coffee parfait more than made up for it though – I do love coffee in a dessert, especially with chocolate, because it’s the perfect way to freshen up something sweet. My dining companion rounded off his meal with a blood orange tart, served with poached rhubarb and ginger ice cream – not my sort of thing (regular readers will know I am irresistibly drawn to any dessert featuring chocolate) but he assured me it was absolutely delicious.
Finally, after a decorous interval to discreetly loosen our belts, we were treated to a little selection of perfectly-formed petits fours, just the thing with an after-dinner coffee. My favourite was a beautifully light coconut and pineapple macaron, while my dining companion would give his vote to a stunning dark chocolate shell, marbled like a limpet, and filled with lime mousse, although we both also really enjoyed the dulce de leche fudge.
The a la carte menu at the Royal Crescent Hotel will set you back £50 for two courses, or £68 for three, so it’s not quite a go-to for any old Tuesday evening – but then, that’s not really what you’re looking for when you visit the Crescent. For a special occasion, it really is unparalleled in terms of both the experience and atmosphere, and the menu itself. Next time you have a little something to celebrate, I highly recommend you treat yourself to dinner at the Dower House – and don’t forget to start with champagne.