The Roman Baths Kitchen, a contemporary restaurant set in a Georgian townhouse in the centre of Bath, has an atmosphere I can’t quite define. Its neutral decor and lighting remind me of many hotel restaurants I’ve peered into without much conviction, attracted by the promise of comfort and courteous service, but never quite intrigued enough to push the door and walk in. Their menu, too, errs on the side of conventional. Just like the ambience, it made me feel curious and unimpressed at once: tempted by what is indeed a selection of appetising dishes, slightly disappointed to note that everything on the list sounded like something I had tried before. Call it lack of originality, if you want; I call it the price of dining opposite one of Bath’s most popular tourist attractions. When you’re serving a clientele that mostly looks for a central location and a familiar sounding menu, you may well feel no need to reinvent the wheel.
This week, however, there’s much more to The Roman Baths Kitchen than what first meets the eye. With the Great Bath Feast unfolding all over town, this restaurant too hosts its own special event: The Bangers and Beer Fest, a 10-day celebration of local sausage makers and beer, running until Sunday 12 October. The special Bangers and Beer Fest menu is a real treat: £10 buy you one of four sausage-based mains, plus one of four sides; all dishes are paired with a beer recommendation, which you can take up for less than £4 a pint. Leave your belt and skinny jeans at home, head there hungry, and prepare to leave well full.
The highlight of my evening was the Beery Bangers and Mash main course: three types of sausage (pork and apple, Cumberland, Toulouse) served with soft mashed potatoes and warm beer sauce, in a portion that felt massive even by my big eater’s standards. The bold, distinctly different flavours of the sausages got me hooked from the very first bite: right there, right then, I could have sworn I didn’t want to eat anything else for the rest of my life. For a moment, I regretted planning to swap plates with my partner halfway through; but then, as he handed me my half of the West Country sausage and game hotpot, my eyes started glistening again.
The restaurant chose to name it “Our Favourite Game”, and it only takes a couple forkfuls to understand why. Think of it as the winter warmer your heart demands on a rainy November night: it comes piping hot, exuding the aroma you’d wish to smell in your kitchen when the cold season kicks in and you crave nothing but comfort food. The taste of the game slightly prevails over the sausage, but that’s no cause for complaining – just be aware of it in case you’re not much of a game lover. On the other hand, however well baked, the filo pastry topping is no match to the buttery taste and flaky texture of puff pastry – the stuff of which the hotpots in my dreams are made.
The sides on offer are mostly standard gastropub fare (battered onion rings, chunky chips), with one novelty: cauliflower cooked with butter and breadcrumbs, going by the name of Polonaise. Its appeal lies in its delicate taste; the butter strips the cauliflower of its bitter notes, in a fine combination that could convert the staunchest veg-hating child. I know because I’ve been that child for far too long, and even though I still haven’t warmed up to cauliflower, I really liked the polonaise.
With such abundance of great food, the restaurant’s little promotional efforts for the Bangers and Beer Fest come as a disappointing surprise. However many, the posters at the windows serve as nothing more than reassurance that a special menu exists; you’ll have to go out of your way to find out what’s on offer, as copies of the menu are nowhere to be seen, unless you do your research beforehand or approach a member of staff. Even so, you may find they don’t know as much as you’d hope. Our questions about opening hours gave way to a whirlwind of contrasting versions: a tweet saying food was being served until 10pm, a waiter assuring it was 8.30pm, another claiming the offer was only valid on weekdays (not true).
That’s a damn shame, for the Bangers and Beer Fest is probably the finest, most remarkable thing The Roman Baths Kitchen has to offer this month. It deserves brimming dining rooms, queues rounding the corner, and reviews no less enthusiastic than this one. It’s damn good, and damn good value for money. If you do one thing after you read this post, make it an evening in Bath before the week ends.
The Bangers and Beer Fest
The Roman Baths Kitchen
11-12 Abbey Churchyard
Bath, BA1 1LY
Running daily until Sunday 12 October
Food served until 10pm Monday to Saturday and 9pm on Sundays