It’s one of the most elegant towns in England and visitors from all over the world flock here to visit the baths, developed by the Romans.
In the Middle Ages, it was the centre for the wool industry and during the 18th century, Bath was the place to go for the ball season, gambling and subscription concerts taken by some of the leading musicians of the age.
Those who settled here spent their cash on grand buildings, employing architects whose work dominates the crescents and squares today.
Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the only city in the UK to have the status. Since 1987, Bath is listed as a cultural site with outstanding universal value and cultural significance. Tourists also visit to bathe in the natural thermal waters which bubble up from the City’s bowels. The Thermae Day Spa is where you’ll experience thermal treatments and it’s here they have four baths at the best bathing temperature of about 33.5°C (92°F).
Bath is just an hour and a half away from London Paddington and is a great city to explore on foot but if you’d rather take a taxi, there are plenty of those too.
I stayed at the Royal Crescent Hotel at Number 16 Royal Crescent, a beautiful hotel filled with Regency-period furniture and oil paintings. The Crescent is among the greatest examples of Georgian architecture and is a Grade I listed building, created by the architect John Wood The Younger.
It’s one of the many hotels in the Relais & Chateaux collection which is celebrating its 60th anniversary right now.
I was in Room 16, on the second floor, accessed by a leather-studded lift
or the sweeping staircase.
I’m met with a welcome note from Sharon Love the General Manager who has been in charge here for 15 years.
It’s a large room with a Japanese theme and a bathroom big enough to hold your own Regency ball. My view is the splendid purple-infused heather-filled gardens.
There’s a roll-top bath, power shower
bedroom slippers, fluffy robes and Penhaligon toiletries. Free wireless internet access is available free of charge in all the rooms and public areas throughout the Hotel.
I unpacked, visited the Concierge Team for a map and wandered through Bath taking in the sights and sounds. There are plenty of independent restaurants and delicatessen here and the city claims to have hosted the first-ever farmers market in the UK.
No trip to Bath is complete without trying a local product, whether it’s a bun from Sally Lunn’s or a pint from Bath Ales. The Graze Bar is a Brewery and Chophouse and is found right next to Bath Spa Railway Station in the new Vaults development.
If bread is your weakness, the French Chef and Baker Richard Bertinet has a cookery school and a couple of shops here in Bath and having pressed my nose against this window, his croissants looked to-die-for. Book his cookery courses early, to avoid disappointment, they really do fill very quickly – I long to take part in one.
The Tasting Room has a fabulous choice of spirits and wines and upstairs there’s an opportunity to take your purchase upstairs, pay a small corkage and take advantage of the delicious food on offer.
Bath is already famous for its health-giving properties and now its known for its gin. The Canary Gin Bar on Queen Street has created Bath Gin – a blend of 10 botanicals – created in Bath, distilled in London.
I forgot to mention, and this is a faux pas on my part, that Jane Austen set two of her six published novels in Bath – Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and she lived here from 1801 to 1806 and there are reminders she was a resident all over the City. If you’re a real fan then you should head to the Jane Austen Centre at 40 Gay Street, between Queen Square and the Circus.
Jane enjoyed promenading on Royal Crescent after church every Sunday and mentions The Crescent in Chapter 9 of Northanger Abbey.
As I wandered back to the Hotel, I sat in the private gardens and watched the world go by before I went inside and got changed for dinner. The Hotel serves lunch, dinner and afternoon tea.
Immaculately manicured gardens lead to the Dower House restaurant and Bath House Spa.
I sat in the garden, which was bathed in beautiful sunlight and was offered an aperitif so began the evening with a Bath Gin martini with a twist, delivered a trio of tasty canapés.
If sitting outside isn’t your thing, the Montagu Bar has a bar and seating area and is open from 10am each day, serving champagne, cocktails and an all-day dining menu.
The pillow soft leek and potato filling was rolled in crisp crumbs and served with a delicately flavoured truffle mayonnaise, lightly pickled crudités with a whipped taramasalata which burst in the mouth and the homemade nuts and spicy broad beans worked perfectly well with my dry gin.
David Campbell is the head chef at the Dower House Restaurant which boasts three AA rosettes under his leadership. The a la carte menu is varied and you can expect to pay £15 for a starter, £26 for a main and £12 for dessert. I was keen to try the ‘Taste of the Crescent’ menu which Anthony Rizzo the Restaurant Manager positively encouraged.
I did want a few glasses of wine that would match the food and so had a chat with the Head Sommelier, Jean-Marc Leitao who suggested three great wines. I started with a glass of Domaine Font-Mars Picpoul de Penet (which literally translates into stings-the-lips, because of the high acidity content) it smells of white peach on the nose and was a great glass of crisp white.
The soundtrack to my almost three-hour dinner included tunes from Neil Young to Sade with a bit of David Gray in between, but mostly the best sound was of different accents and a great atmosphere.
Three flavours of in-house bread include Irish soda, sourdough and a leek-studded white. The Irish soda bread was sweet and delicious slathered in the butter.
David does impress with his skill but more importantly delivers on taste, I experience theatre, smoke, sous vide and the luxury of truffle. Each plate is a work-of-art with impressive textures and colour but takes you on a food journey of the unexpected – the PRJ for a start (more on that later). Each plate is an example of classic cuisines with a contemporary edge.
To begin a small glass jar arrives which fills me with dread – Jason Atherton did this years ago, a beautifully sourced jar on a pretty plate filled with food. I worry about restaurants who fill recycled French yogurt jars these days as they rarely deliver.
However this shows off the layering work (of which I am a fan) and thankfully delivered in the taste department. A marvellously light, tomato consommé had been loosely set to give a jelly base, layered with a punchy basil creme and finished with crisp croutons and a fennel and pepper salad.
Next up a mushroom tea was poured from a cafetiere into a bowl of tasty Thyme gnocchi, offset by a sweet yet slightly bitter Artichoke and finished off with shaved parmesan. The flavours were so clean and fresh with snipped fresh Thyme and Chive offering punch.
Next up a glass of very lightly oaked Chardonnay from Mendoza with hints of orchard fruits.
For me the trout dish was way too smokey – any subtle flavours were blown by the amount of smoke pumped into the cloche which was a real shame as the dish was beautifully conceived. Samphire, nasturtium leaves, caviar and cucumber jelly flooded with fresh cucumber consommé.
The Egg dish was absolutely beyond incredible. A duck egg had been sous-vide at 63 for about 40/45 minutes to produce a perfect poached egg. That, when cut spread over Iberico ham, and swiped with the duck-fat-soaked and then fried ‘soldier’ was fabulous. The softness of the Girolles mushroom, the subtle crunch of the asparagus, the pungency of the shaved truffle and the crunch of toasted Nigella seeds was brilliant.
I finished my Chardonnay in time for the Bordeaux for the lamb course.
A spring lamb-loin cooked pink with various components – braised neck, shoulder and sweetbread filled the plate with steamed broccoli, cooked spelt and toasted spelt grain with an anchovy sauce (hidden by an edible Geranium leaf). What an absolutely delightful dish, another work of art and a deconstructed dish that delivered in every department.
The goat’s cheese dish was another absolute winner for me – delicately spiced with mace and served with sweet scorched peaches, crunchy and sweet pickled onions with rosemary and gingerbread crisp and whole toasted hazelnuts. A plate of total joy. All the flavours worked and all the sensations excited.
By 9pm the restaurant was full and the kitchen was running flat-out, although diners didn’t wait for food for any length of time.
Another small jar but this time with a peanut butter, raspberry and jelly a beautiful palate cleanser which held a raspberry granita, peanut butter and a crumble on the top. I absolutely loved this and it was a real surprise to see on the menu. Bold and great fun on an American classic.
The last course was a great one to finish on. A disc of rich Crème brûlée was delicately flavoured with lavender and served on top of an Oakchurch strawberry salad, jus, strawberry crisps, curd and lemon balm.
I managed coffee and the amazing petit fours – the passion fruit curd served was full of punchy fruit flavour and had a very moorish taste, I wanted to take a jar home.
Be ready for a marathon and not a sprint, this was a leisurely feeding session which began at 8pm and finished at just after 10pm.
After a sound sleep I woke at 9am and wandered down to breakfast with my swimming costume, ready to use the Spa.
Breakfast is on offer in The Dower House
and guests are offered a choice of buffet style or cooked – I’m sure you could enjoy it in the comfort of your room too. Again, the weather was too glorious to ignore and so I took a seat in the garden, along with other hotel guests.
I probably shouldn’t have even bothered with breakfast but for the purpose of this review, I forced down the crepes with maple syrup and cinnamon sugar. A great start to the day, helped along with the sun and the heady scent of lavender.
Tilly made an appearance, although the other Hotel cat Toby was nowhere to be seen.
I get to meet David Campbell and tell him how I loved the food (except for the trout dish). He confesses that the smoke machine wasn’t behaving itself and is as upset as I am. A down-to-earth Scot who knows what he wants from his menu. His attention to detail, focus and dedication shines through in our quick chat. He sources some of the best products he can find, whether that’s local or not and prides himself in the fact that he spends most of his life in the kitchen during service. Maybe the Hotel could treat him to a day at the spa next door? Great bloke who, like me, loves a herb.
After Breakfast I wandered across the garden to the award-winning Spa
where there’s a 12-metre relaxation pool, sauna, steam room and plunge ‘tubs’.
There’s also a very well stocked gym with the latest equipment and treatments on offer between the hours of 10am to 7pm. The Hotel also organises packages which are worth taking a look at, which include a treatment or two and lunch, so a perfect day out.
If being a gym bunny or getting pampered isn’t your thing, the Concierge here can organise anything for you from theatre trips, hot air ballooning or a chauffeur tour. In fact you don’t really have to leave the hotel grounds at all if the weather’s great.
This is about as close I got to the Hotel’s launch Lady Sophina, a 1923 Thames River launch moored a short drive away on the Kennet and Avon Canal, at the Dundas Basin. From April through to October this mahogany and teak boat is yours to hire for an afternoon tea cruise or a champagne cruise, captained by retired naval Commander Blair Murray.
Car parking is available for the duration of your stay, all the Hotel ask is that you hand over your keys (parking is of a premium here) to avoid fines and tow-away charges.
As noon rapidly approached I checked out and had my luggage stored.
I visited Number One, a neighbour, the first house in Bath’s Royal Crescent and now a very popular museum. Once you’ve paid for your ‘calling card’ the Head Housekeeper shows you around the home of Henry Sandford. This is the Head Housekeeper who runs her home very well. Here I learned about the trials and tribulations of the family who live here – intrigued by the Lady who lived here – from her mouse skin eyebrows to her wig infested with head lice. This is an intimate peek into the extravagant lifestyles of the age, even the kitchens were opulent, I’d love to show you a picture of the meat-spit powered by a dog running a wheel in two-hour stints, but no photographs are allowed inside Number One.
I got my train at around one o’clock and packed quite a bit into an overnight stay. Imagine what you could cover in a long weekend.
I was a guest of 16 Royal Crescent and I’d like to thank all the staff who made my stay an exceptional one. I will be back.
The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa, 16 Royal Crescent, Bath, BA1 2LS
Tel: + 44 (0)1225 82 33 33