Yes, fancy steakhouses are becoming two-a-penny in Bath and Bristol, but what divides an okay joint from a ruddy good one? Quality meat, says LAURA ROWE
Interior photo by CHRISTINA WEST
Walk along argyle Street and you might easily miss one of Bath’s most talked about new restaurants. It’s hidden away, sandwiched between a couple of retail shops, and you’ll need to navigate yourself down a few flights of stairs before you finally get to the belly of The Herd.
Formerly Vito’s, the restaurant has been completely stripped back, with white-washed brick, thick plank- topped tables, and the odd monochrome nod to The Herd’s calling card – moo cows. There are photos of the beasts, butcher’s hooks about, and wild flowers in milk bottles on each of the tables. There is also a second (and much more welcoming) entrance by the Weir, under the bridge on Spring Gardens Road.
The first thing that strikes you here, though, is the staff. My dining companion for the day had already visited the restaurant a few weeks before, and the Italian restaurant manager, Patrizia, remembered. Indeed, she even recited K’s order – a T-bone sirloin and fillet steak, – suggesting he should try the 16oz Porterhouse (£24.95) this time round. Mad skills.
The menu is broken down simply, into starters, mains, steaks and sides ‘to graze on’. It’s stylishly designed, matching the restaurant’s clever black-and-white branding, but all the mismatched and various sized fonts did boggle my mind a little bit. Call me a traditionalist, but I like clarity when ordering my food.
Nonetheless, I soon managed to navigate myself a lunchtime feast. First up was some calamari (£7.95) for me, and a plate of halloumi skewers (£6.95) for K.
The seafood was simple – just a light batter, gentle smattering of seasoning, and a generous dollop of aioli. The calamari could have been more tender for me, and K still wasn’t converted, but his halloumi hinted to how important base ingredients are here at The Herd, whether they be bovine or otherwise. Salty and perfectly grilled, so it oozed and squeaked in equal measure, the cheese was sat atop a bed of dressed rocket, microherbs and thinly sliced fennel.
It was simple, but very pleasantly reminiscent of a similar salad I had in Rome back in July – hardly surprisingly, really, given that the executive chef here is from Italy too (Naples, in fact); he also looks after Joya restaurant on Newmarket Row. In fact, the owners of this pair (Tim and Francesca Coffey) also have The Real Italian Pizza Company and The Real Italian Ice Cream Co on their books.
The steaks – and they’re why we’re here, after all – are from a herd of Aberdeen Angus and Hereford Crosses, reared in Colston and aged for between 21-28 days by Walter Rose butchers in Devizes.
I opted for the 10oz rib eye with “extra marbling” (£19.95). Not cheap, but then why would a well-sourced, well-cooked steak be so? I’d asked Patrizia how they thought the cut should be cooked, and she suggested medium-rare. It came out with bold stripes from the grill, and a glaze of a dark, grassy olive oil. One slice into it, and chef Emilio immediately proved his worth. The meat had been rested properly: no blood poured, just delicious juices from its ruby heart that are making me salivate even now, at the memory. K’s Porterhouse had the same effect. I don’t say this lightly – it’s the best steak I’ve had in years. Quality meat cooked with skill. Sauces are an extra £1.95 each (a tad annoying) and, while tasty enough (we had béarnaise and blue cheese), upon reflection you really don’t need anything extra with meat this good.
Indeed, though there are items other than steak on the menu here, including chargrilled chicken breast, sea bass and rack of lamb (£14.95, £16.95 and £17.95), and homemade gnocchi (£12.95) with walnut pesto, the question has to be: why would you?
We went a bit mad on sides, all served in gorgeous olive wood bowls – a tad unnecessary, given that they’re up to £3.95 each, and all the ones we saw were easily big enough to share between two, but we were pleased that we did. Garlic and parsley sautéed mushrooms were moreish and buttery; a spinach, gorgonzola and walnut salad was once again well dressed; while thick-cut pepper rings blew our minds. These were slices of sweet red pepper in a crisp, tempura batter with bags of sea salt. Each of the steaks come with twice-cooked chips too, although K requested fries. Both were fine examples, the former with skins on: crisp, fluffy and not too greasy.
Health warning alert: do not have three courses here! (Well, unless you are made of stronger stuff than K and I.) The chef’s chocolate mousse (£5.95) was full of air and sweet as you like, thanks to bags of milk chocolate and a solid white chocolate spoon, while the crème brûlée cracked through to a silky smooth, rich egg custard.
A shot of limoncello each and we were stick-a-fork-in- us done. The Herd hasn’t reinvented the wheel, but what they have done is choose a specialism to excel at. If you want good steak in Bath, you know where to go.
✱ THE HERD, 12 Argyle Street, Bath BA2 4BQ; 01225 316583; www.theherdrestaurant.com