Review: The King William Bath
by Dan Izzard
23 October 2018
You’ve heard that Inuits have loads of different ways to say snow, right? Well, I’ve decided that we need to adopt that kind of thinking to pubs. Pubs are like snowflakes. Every single one is different and beautiful in its own way. The term ‘pub’ spans old school boozers, craft establishments clad in brushed aluminium, gastropubs, and everything in between.
A short walk from Crumbs HQ on St Thomas Street in Bath is The King William. A traditional pub with a swinging sign adorned with not an illustration of a pint glass or tankard, but a pie. Here we have a bistro masquerading as a pub. Through the door and there are tables for two, rather than locals perched on worn stools. Yes, there’s a lovely wooden bar and selection of ales, but there’s also terrine and an extensive wine list. We’re pushing the pub boundaries here.
The set lunch menu offers two courses for £15 and three for £19.95, and the walls are lined with blackboards listing an extensive wine list and the day’s food specials. It feels very ‘Bath’, somewhere I’d take an old friend who was in town for the day. If I was visiting the city it’s exactly the kind of thing I’d want to happen upon. That and a bin bag full of cash, but for now, I’ll settle for a gem of a pub.
Head chef James Harris describes himself as a flavour-obsessed fanatical, and in that we are alike. That’s not to say that the menu is packed with exotic and wildly priced ingredients. Quite the opposite. Intense flavour can come from relatively humdrum places if you know where to look.
For the game bird terrine, that skill is all in the preparation. James tells us that it comprises sous vide duck (salted for 12 hours with juniper, thyme, bay, garlic) which is then cooked for 24 hours, along with roasted Wiltshire partridge and Guinea fowl (catch your breath here). The bones and carcasses from the birds are then made into a stock with resting juices from the roast birds. This is then reduced to a semi glace which is used to bind and set the terrine itself. Then, only after all that, you get to devour the different meats of contrasting texture. The terrine is served with bread sauce and pickled cranberries that burst on your tongue like little flavour grenades. Alongside, chip sticks provide a fatty and salty crunch.
Faggots are cool again by the way. Okay, I’m not sure they were ever cool in the first place, but they are now. Like a culinary bumbag – ironically cool, but by all accounts quite successful in all they hope to achieve. The humble faggot embodies the best of pub food; hearty fare that may not use the most premium ingredients but ekes out every last drop of flavour. This monster sphere was from Larkhall Butchers, dense and earthy, covered in gravy that glistened in the sunlight. I’m not much of an offal fan (yes, I know that’s offal of me), usually that metallic tang sticks in the throat. But these are minced into what tastes more like a rich gamey nugget. And there’s nothing wrong with a nugget, especially one that’s been cooked slowly and “shown some respect” as James tells me. My meat globe rested on a mound of crushed celeriac and was topped with a spoonful of tangy spiced gremolata which cut through the earthiness.
Over the table, my lunch date is weighing up a somewhat less-than-elegant plan of attack on his hotdog. To be fair, it’s quite a beast, a dense sausage by far overhanging an attractively toasted bun with a set of grill lines that resembled perfectly mown lines of a premiership football pitch. (I knew we could crowbar a football reference in this pub review somewhere.). The hotdog was listed on the more casual bar menu that included steaks, burgers, and pleasingly; Bath chaps.
To finish this most indulgent of lunches, I dug into a subtly flavoured hibiscus panna cotta. Diagonally split, half perfectly set creamy panna cotta, half decadently sweet jam it was the treat that finished me off. Sprinkled with nuts and oats I’d consider eating it for breakfast. The chocolate and gochujang brownie came with a lovely soured ice cream, cutting through the cloying sweetness of the chocolate and refreshing the workout from the meal.
Head chef James was right, whether serving some good old-fashioned slow-cooked offal or more subtle additions like hibiscus, he is a flavour fanatical and this pub is packed full of it.
The King William, 36 Thomas St, Bath BA1 5NN