Catherine Jones savours smoky mushrooms and blackberry jewels on an enchanting journey of the imagination at Bath’s Olive Tree Restaurant
As writers use words to lead readers on journeys of the imagination, so some chefs have the ability to weave stories through skill and artistry – like Chris Cleghorn, head chef at The Queensberry Hotel in Bath.
Recently refurbished, The Queensberry’s Olive Tree Restaurant is discreetly elegant. Warm grey greens and soft lighting create a calm and restful atmosphere and a new panelled wall reflects the city’s Georgian heritage. So too does the “gentleman’s club” theme which is mirrored throughout the hotel, with its dark-cosy-corners secretive atmosphere. Meanwhile, the cartoon illustrations and swanky clear glass wine wall provide an exclusive, slightly decadent feel.
So to Mr Cleghorn and his food, which is where the story really begins. Find yourself transported to the ocean through the colours and tastes of a hake dish. Fresh white flesh and crispy, rockpool-glistening fish skin sit on a little bed of salty fennel, surrounded by the underwater green and orange of mussels, samphire and parsley puree.
In complete contrast, a mushroom tagliatelle develops the fungi’s earthy, smoky intensity, conjuring up visions of magical woodlands. Strange I should be thinking of magic, because my chosen dessert, a Valrhona chocolate blackberry dish was the stuff of fairytales. The plate arrives, a dark chocolate sphere alone on a white plate. ‘It’s Chris’ favourite – just break it open,’ restaurant manager Philip Hawkins says with a knowing smile. At a sharp crack with a spoon the chocolate snaps to release two shades of deep pink blackberry concoctions, one a creamily light parfait and the other an almost blood red sorbet. Hidden within are jewels of whole blackberries, shards of ginger and a sprinkling of popping candy. Philip, with his extensive knowledge of wine, recommends an exotic plum infused sake to go with it. The whole thing is so clever, I’m tempted to believe only a magician could have created this culinary experience.
There’s a liberal sprinkling of fairy dust throughout the Olive Tree menu with its clever tricks and surprises. It’s all a consequence of Chris’ skill in getting right to the heart of each dish, drawing out the very essence of the ingredients. It’s magical and, at £21 for a two course set lunch menu of this calibre, it’s no surprise I’m enchanted.
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