A Food Lover’s Weekend in… Bath
It’s known for attracting history-loving Jane Austen buffs and gaggles of girls on hen weekends headed for the spa, but Bath has much to offer the hungry visitor, too. While you’ll find your fair share of well-trodden tourist attractions and traditional tearooms, these rub shoulders contentedly with queue-worthy street food vendors, craft beer pubs and exciting restaurants. All this, coupled with the Somerset city’s unashamed prettiness – sweeping Georgian streets, framed by the grassy hills of the Cotswolds and the gentle wind of the River Avon – make Bath a first-rate destination for a weekend getaway with bags of English charm.
Breakfast and brunch
Frequent train services from London Paddington take you to Bath in less than two hours, and the city is a doddle to explore on foot: ideal minibreak territory. Stop at The Bertinet Bakery for some post-train sustenance. Frenchman Richard Bertinet is Bath’s resident master baker, and has two cafés in the city centre, as well as a cookery school a little further out (those staying longer should up their bread game by booking onto one of the excellent one-day sourdough courses). The café by the station sells frangipane-laced almond croissants, sticky glazed pear tarts and Richard’s take on the famed Bath bun: pillowy enriched buns with crunchy sugar crystals on top.
Wander past the river (stopping for a selfie on Pulteney Bridge) and make for the city centre. Hunter & Sons keeps a constant supply of hipsters and frazzled young families sated with its fill-your-boots breakfasts. The full English is a whos-who of top West Country suppliers: bacon from Larkhall Butchers; veg from Eades; and runny-yolked eggs from Neston Park come with house-made sausages and sourdough. If you need a pick-me-up, geeky baristas will happily talk you through the regularly changing roster of single-origin coffee beans.
Still peckish? Stop for tea with a side-order of history at Sally Lunn’s. Housed in a ramshackle building dating back to the 1400s, its namesake buns are soft, brioche-style teacakes, to be eaten lightly toasted with a diet-abandoning amount of butter melting on top. Sort your Bath bun from your Lunn bun with a nosy around the on-site kitchen museum.
Greenbird Café is a locals’ favourite haunt tucked away behind the Royal Crescent, Bath’s most majestic street. Head here for a wedge of homemade quiche in the sunny courtyard. The ham and cheese toasties, made with Bertinet Bakery sourdough, strong cheddar and thick slices of roasted ham, are the stuff melted cheese dreams are made of.
For something more substantial, The Scallop Shell is a busy spot which displays Cornish fish and seafood in an ice-filled bath (get it?) for diners to choose themselves. Try the fish and chips – the restaurant was nominated for best independent chippy in the 2016 National Fish and Chip Awards – or classics such as moules marinière, made with fat Elberry Cove mussels.
If Bath’s doily-strewn tearooms aren’t your thing, Comins Tea House will appeal. The pared-back café, with its white walls and pale wooden tables, pours single-estate loose leaf brews from meticulously sourced growers, with gyozas and dumplings to nibble alongside. The Darjeeling-infused shortbread is ideal dunking fodder. Stay to browse for specialist teaware to take home, and look out for their new tea school, opening in spring 2017.
On Saturdays, Bath’s independent producers come together for one of the UK’s best-established farmers’ markets – traders have been touting Somerset cheeses, Isle of Wight tomatoes and West Country honey here since 1997. Taking place underneath the curved roof of Green Park train station, it’s a lovely spot to spend an afternoon with a pork pie and a flat white in hand, stocking up on local game and small-batch cider.
Book ahead to try the inventive creations at Menu Gordon Jones. The chef, who cut his teeth at Bath’s much-loved Royal Crescent Hotel, creates a different six-course tasting menu based on gorgeous produce he sources daily: think roasted loin of suckling pig with artichoke purée, or Scottish ceps mousse with chives.
Hot on Gordon’s toes is young chef Henry Scott, of the imaginatively named Henry’s. His minimalist restaurant also focuses on tasting menus, including one that’s entirely vegetarian (Jerusalem artichoke with toasted oats is a standout).
If you’re in the mood for something a tad less formal, The Chequers is a traditional wood-panelled pub serving brilliant food. Expect classic combinations, such as venison with autumn mushrooms, or cod loin with mussels and fennel. Don’t miss the pineapple tart tatin for dessert, which arrives golden and bubbling with a kitsch-in-a-good-way shot of piña colada.
Go on a cocktail crawl to quell the post-dinner slump. Start with a velvety espresso martini in the underground vaults at Sub 13, then head to local distiller The Bath Gin Company’s Canary Gin Bar. On the ground floor, waistcoat-clad barmen will shake up your choice from the boggling array of gin cocktails (try the sloe gin negroni), while the upstairs martini bar is the place to channel your inner Bond, sipping an earl grey martini from an ice-cold glass. Finally, head to The Dark Horse, a moody, candlelit spot that would feel more at home in Hackney than Bath. Sink into a gargantuan leather armchair and ask clued-up staff for help choosing your poison – the cocktails change every season, and are made with locally foraged herbs and fruits.
Breakfast and brunch
Arrive at Wild Café early: the tables fill up fast with hungry students and families craving its all-day breakfast to soothe their hangovers. From an open kitchen with tunes blaring, smiley cooks prepare stacks of syrup-drenched pancakes, eggs Benedict with a glossy coating of hollandaise, and doorstopper bacon sandwiches. Local ingredients are at the fore, in line with the team’s ‘West is best motto’. Fun fact: the café is run entirely on renewable electricity.
If it’s sunny outside and you’re feeling more virtuous, bag a spot on the cobbled terrace at Kingsmead Kitchen for a bowl of bright red, feta-speckled shakshuka and a mango, kale and banana smoothie.
For elevenses, Society Café, in the city centre, is a favourite hipster hangout to stop for a cortado and a fudgy brownie on one of the long wooden tables, which you’ll find scattered with local magazines and art guides.
The queue moves quickly at Chai Walla, a takeaway kiosk in the city centre which turns out steaming boxes of great-value Indian veggie street food. Grab a creamy chickpea curry, chilli-flecked noodles, or the house speciality: an addictive bhaji wrap with tamarind and mint sauce.
Traditional pubs for a Sunday roast abound in Bath, but King William stands out thanks to its balloon-like Yorkshire puddings, custard-drenched crumbles and great craft beer selection. At £20 for two courses, it’s easy on your wallet, too.
Blow the rest of your pay packet at The Foodie Bugle Shop, an Instagram-worthy store and café tucked away behind Bath Abbey selling kitchenware, preserves and small-batch coffee. Everything seems to scream, ‘take me home!’. Rest weary legs and stop for a slice of Dorset apple cake and a pot of tea on one of the handful of tables at the back.
There are now two branches of Corkage, a relaxed joint run by locals and wine fanatics Richard Knighting and Marty Grant, in the city centre. The pair will happily wax lyrical about the ever-changing selection of bottles which line the walls, there to be quaffed alongside a short menu of straightforward, Mediterranean-inspired small plates (think charcuterie or charred octopus), or taken home. Head to the newer Chapel Row site to get your dose of vitamin D in the secluded garden.
The Circus is a Bath institution, having been keeping a loyal following filled up on Bistro classics since 2008. Soul-soothing dishes, such as Diana Henry’s chicken gratin or venison with celeriac pureé, and a pleasingly jolly atmosphere (it feels like being an extra in Notting Hill…in a good way) keep diners coming back for more.
On your way back to the station, stop at The Thoughtful Bread Company to pick up sandwiches made with slow-proved nettle and chive sourdough for the journey home. You don’t want to go hungry, do you?