It’s The Porter, but not as you know it. Welcome to one of the most dynamic venues in Bath, says LAURA ROWE
It seems so long ago that I was regularly to be found carrying a bottle of warm wine to the best booth in The Porter, navigating my way across sticky floors, and nosing across at neighbours’ tables to see what veggie slop they were soaking up their beer with. But, incredibly, it was only last year. What’s now one of Bath’s most exciting venues used to be team Crumbs’ local boozer, and proper old school it was too: no pretensions, cheap as you like and within stumbling distance of the office.
So I won’t pretend that I wasn’t dubious when Giles Thomas, the owner of Circo Bar and the Halcyon Hotel at the bottom of Bath, took over the venue with promises of a renovation. Did Bath really need another posh bar? But he’s a clever bloke, that Giles. The pub wasn’t even on the market, but he saw an opportunity here – four floors of opportunity, to be precise. And now he, and his team, have transformed what was a slightly edgy pub with a dingy basement for gigs into something far more high-end: an all-day eating, drinking and dancing venue with a Michelin-starred chef and some of the city’s top mixologists on board.
Since it opened back in August, I’ve frequented the new-look Porter on more than a few occasions. Most often I’ve been for a cocktail – okay, lots of cocktails – in the first floor lounge. It’s cosy but classy, with tweed upholstery, sink-into-them sofas and sophisticated granddad armchairs. The booze is really good here – try the French martini and celery cardamom sour – whether you choose from an eclectic but accessible cocktail menu, a well-curated wine list, or the ever-changing craft beer range, available by half, schooner and pint.
The top floor is the ‘library & study’, which can be hired out for private events, and the basement for drinks and dancing. It opens late, and is slightly less plush, but has been given just as much attention as the rest of the place, with a striking copper-tiled roof, reclaimed wood-panelled walls and aged-zinc topped tables.
I’ve also been for breakfast, lunch and dinner – I like to be thorough! – at the ground floor Clayton’s Kitchen, where Michelin-starred chef Rob Clayton is at the helm. The space has been opened out, brightened up and polished into a contemporary dining space. There are even shelves of Clayton Kitchen products to buy, including kilner jars of the greenest Iranian pistachios.
For those unfamiliar with Rob’s cooking, he cut his culinary teeth under triple-Michelin-starred Nico Ladenis, before making his own mark locally at Hunstrete House and The Bath Priory. There’s no smoke or snail porridge here, though; this is all about good-quality, seasonal ingredients cooked in a clean, modern British way.
I’d brought along fellow snaffle maiden Sophie for my latest lunch; we’ve established a strict rule of ordering together and eating half of each dish before swapping. We started with portly roasted scallops (£9), which sat on a bed of the smoothest butternut squash purée, crispy shards of Cumbrian ham and unusual slivers of pickled apple and dots of Balsamic vinegar. It was well balanced and well executed. Meanwhile, a Portland crab pasta dish (£9) looked magnificent – swirls of ink-black spaghetti awash with a frothy brown crab meat sauce, lightened with dots of lemon oil, and fresh with strands of delicate white meat. Simple, light and seductive.
Main courses were equally well chosen. A cannon of lamb (£19) was mighty in its proportions, just showing a hint of rouge at its heart. Gratin dauphinoise potatoes had been elegantly sliced, and provided the ultimate garlicky mop for the thyme sauce which was so sticky and intense that it must have taken the chefs hours to extract such deliciously meaty, carnivorous flavour. A bed of savoy cabbage and sweet roasted chestnuts was a little overwhelmed, for me, by super smoky bacon lardons, but Sophie disagreed and chomped away happily.
Ravioli of ewe’s curd (£14) was a complete contrast – a dish so light and refreshing it was almost summery. The pasta was silky, the filling was tangy (if a little dense), the velouté sauce was deliciously creamy and had all the aromas of a herb garden, while a roasted onion purée added a mellow, sweet rounded edge. And that’s before you even get us started on the poached duck egg, which bathed its rich amber yolk over the pasta below. This was served with some unusual, lightly pickled cauliflower and squash, but we also ordered a mini casserole dish of Clayton’s chips (£3). These chunky chaps are cooked in duck fat, and are worthy of applause on their own – crispy but not dry, soft and fluffy in the middle, and well seasoned too. Worth a burnt mouth any day.
Puddings similarly follow the seasons, and we opted for a hazelnut parfait (£6), which was like nougaty air, with a blackberry sorbet from Granny Gothards in Somerset, though the salted caramel chocolate mousse (£7) was a tad too sweet for us.
Giles and his team have built quite an establishment here – one that entices me in at least once a week, whether for cocktails, craft beer or Clayton’s cooking. There’s even a ‘stitch and bitch’ night. The prices certainly aren’t cheap any more, but the quality is clear. And that’s something I’ll always invest in.
✱ Clayton’s Kitchen @ The Porter, 15a George Street, Bath BA1 2EN; 01225 585100; www.theporter.co.uk