The location promises much; there’s proper Bath restaurant history to this basement, and one of the most intriguing launches of 2012 now occupying it. And though, yes, haggis does appear on the menu, there’s more to the Kilted Chef than that, says MARK TAYLOR
Images of bagpipers, tartan drapes and Kenneth McKellar singing Scotland the Brave on a loop were soon banished as I descended the stone steps leading to the Kilted Chef.
OK, there were a couple of side-lights that looked like they had been fashioned out of antlers, a single thistle on each table and a vaguely Celtic influence to the menu, but despite the evocative name there were no signs of this being a Scottish theme park. In fact, the only obvious Caledonian element to the place is chef and co-owner Dougie Bonar – a stocky Scot with a goatee beard and an accent as thick as Highland heather honey. And he certainly wasn’t wearing a sporran with his chef’s whites.
Bonar cut his teeth in London, working at The Savoy in the mid-1980s under legendary German chef Anton Edelmann. He ran his own restaurant in Scotland for ten years before moving to the South West, where he worked at the members-only Clifton Club in Bristol.
Now he has teamed up with former Cotswold hotelier John Stevens and interior designer Sue Chalmers – he met both working at the Clifton Club – for this new contemporary restaurant in the Kingsmead Square basement previously occupied by Mezzaluna and, more significantly, the Michelin-starred Moody Goose.
The new owners have done a good job in creating a welcoming dining room with warm taupes, rich golds and charcoal greys. Two large gilt mirrors at either end of the room add the illusion that the restaurant is twice its actual size, and the cosy vaulted dining rooms are ideal for small groups who want added privacy.
The restaurant’s central location, and close proximity to the Theatre Royal, dictates that there is a well-priced pre-theatre dinner menu at £17.95 for three courses (or £14.95 for two), and the evening a la carte is supplemented by a tasting menu that needs to be booked in advance.
The evening menu changes all the time, depending on what’s in season that week, but recent dishes have included a starter of half a home-smoked Scottish lobster with roasted citrus and fines herbes butter, and a main course of slow-roasted loin of lamb with calf ’s liver, pumpkin purée and romesco sauce.
The wine list is supplied by independent merchants Talking Wines of Cirencester and there is plenty of good drinking to be had under the £20 mark, including a top-notch Romanian pinot noir.
I dined from the lunch menu, which is remarkably good value at £17.45 for three courses, including coffee, or £13.95 if you only have the time (or constitution!) for two.
A starter of what was described as duck terrine was more of a parfait in that it was silky and creamy, rather than the coarse mosaic I expected. It was still delicious, but could have probably benefited from having a couple of slices of warm toast for spreading, especially as the other elements of the dish – a Somerset goats’ cheese mousseline, roasted apple compote and beetroot carpaccio – were of a similarly smooth texture.
My main course threw up another surprise, as I expected ‘pan-fried Scottish salmon, crushed baby new potatoes, spinach and bouillabaisse’ to be a piece of fish with vegetables and some sort of seafood sauce. Instead, it was basically a rich and rustic bowl of brick-red bouillabaisse packed with mussels, prawns and langoustine with the potatoes and spinach at the bottom and a piece of (precisely cooked) salmon on top. A dish Bonar used to cook at The Savoy, it was a bowl of Mediterranean sunshine for a dank November.
Bonar’s great grandmother was a pastry chef to the Queen Mother at Glamis Castle, near Dundee, so it came as no surprise that dessert was up to scratch. The pastry on the Venezuelan chocolate torte was epic – thin, short, crisp and with a real snap to it – and it struggled to contain the lava-like slick of warm, fondant-like chocolate which was oozing out and onto the Drambuie-spiked raspberry cream and oatmeal praline.
At a time when diners are encouraged to eat-up within the hour, the Kilted Chef is resolutely old-school in that it begs you to kick off your shoes and linger.
Kilted Chef 7a Kingsmead Square, Bath BA1 2AB; 01225 466688; www.kiltedchef.co