o, in the spirit of not beating around the bush, we went to
Bath’s Mint Room
and had a really, really good meal. There are two Mint Rooms – Bath, the original, and a Bristol branch that opened more recently – but each is pretty independent from the other. The building on Lower Bristol Road doesn’t scream elegant, contemporary grub; driving down the main drag you’re unlikely – if you didn’t already know what’s inside – to even spot it, yet alone be compelled to pull over (tricky in itself on that stretch). That’s why it’s vital you realise how on-point the food is.
If you’re going a la carte, then expect the likes of tempura prawn and pan-fried scallop in a coconut, cumin and fenugreek sauce (£9.95), or marinated lamb neck fillet, roasted and smoked on charcoal and served with clarified butter and cloves (£7.95), to kick off.
Sure, if you wanted to you could have a more familiar main – think jalfrezi, dhansak, makhani (all £11.95) et al – but the lesser-spotted likes of pot-roasted masala lamb shank (£17.95), palak kofta – spinach and onion dumpling in a tomato and cashew nut sauce (£11.95), or smoked Tawa duck (£15.95) will do their best to tempt you away from your usual order. The guys here have been working with a wine expert lately too, so expect some great matches for certain plates.
The Mint Room specialises in regional dishes from all over the subcontinent, and brings it all together by way of a vast tasting menu (£55, or £70 with wine flight). This is pretty fluid – some dishes had even changed since the menu was printed – but makes the most of what the chef thinks are his best ingredients at the time.
Street food comes first, with dishes inspired by the snacks served up in busy Indian cities at markets. From the flavours to the way they’re presented, they’re unfamiliar in many respects.
First came pan puri – a flute of tamarind water had a pastry puffball balanced on top, which itself was stuffed with a spicy filling of potato, chickpea and pomegranate seed. Not what was expected, but all the better for it.
The bhel puri was Mint Room’s take on Bombay mix, with puffed rice and toasted peanuts. Crisp, crunchy and chewy in equal measure, it balanced earthy nuttiness with the sweet and sour notes of pomegranate seeds and tamarind water – both prominent ingredient in these Dehli street foods.
A muddle of onion bhaji pieces, chickpeas and potatoes made up the moreish aloo papadi chat, which was dressed with cool yoghurt and tamarind.
Roadside café-inspired dishes included a particularly memorable marinated lamb and salmon number. The meats had been slow-cooked in the clay oven and were served with thoughtful sauces of creamy, almost sweet, mustard, and mint and beetroot. Crisp shards of apple were an imaginative addition, cutting through the delicate textures and creamy flavour, while the tender flesh carried a balanced mixture of warming spices.
Southern India is to thank for a number of main courses, like the Keralan sea bass moilee. It turned up the heat with a fresh fillet, gleaming white inside, sat in a coconut milk sauce, humming with spice, courtesy of mustard seeds and chilli.
The lamb biryani – native to the city of Hyderabad, we were told – was delicious. Succulent chunks of Somerset lamb hid among the mound of fragrant rice, which was concealed by a pastry lid and served with cooling riata. Yet another fave.
Chunks of local chicken, juicy and, again, pearly white, were smothered in a tomato sauce, where spices added depth as opposed to heat, to form the classic butter chicken.
And so it continued, through endess (and endlessly intriguing) regional dishes, prepared with heaps of care and precision, and served with garlic and chilli naan that had a crisp, puffy crust and a good chew. A refreshing assembly of smoky roast pineapple with coconut ice cream, avo purée and kulfi ended the meal.
Bath’s Mint Room is really impressive. The staff are knowledgeable about their authentic food and the stories behind it, and great work has been done putting together the complementary wines. Every dish felt light and tasted fresh: the chef clearly takes a lot of pride in his food, and so he should.
THE MINT ROOM
, Longmead Gospel Hall, Lower Bristol Road, Bath BA2 3EB; 01225 446 656