Chicken and chips? Winner winner, right? LAURA ROWE sees if that’s all it takes to hang around on the Bath scene for two decades
We’re all guilty of it. Magpie-ing, that is. (What did you think I was going to say?) Always being attracted to the shiny and new. And it’s no different when it comes to eating out.
It’s not our fault, though, that there are so many exciting new restaurants here in the South West: of course we want to see what the fuss is about when a new place opens. We attract some pretty quirky independents, high-end chains and dynamic entrepreneurs, after all. But what about those comfy old faves? The eateries that have been holding their ground for years. I’m talking about places like Firehouse Rotisserie, on Bath’s quiet back road, John Street.
Its reputation proceeds it, for it’s one of well-known Bath restaurateur Richard Fenton’s babies. He’s the brains behind Bath’s most famous steakhouse, Hudson, on London Street, and Café Lucca within The Loft store at the top of town. This place is quite different to both of those, though. Open some two decades, it blends Californian and South-West American flavours with authentic rotisserie cooking. There are no gimmicks: in terms of décor, there’s simply an open kitchen, exposed floorboards, clothless tables and a large window overlooking the street. And, on the Wednesday lunchtime we visit, there’s a good crowd of people quickly filling up the restaurant.
The menu changes up to three or four times a year, but I’m told by colleagues who go here regularly that there are certain favourites that never go – like the barbecue duck quesadilla (£7.95) we nibbled on to get us started. Toasty tortillas encasing tender shredded and spiced meat, oozy smoked Cheddar and mellow sweet spring onions, with a side of gently tingling tomato chilli chutney: it’s a great start, and our favourite of all the starters we feasted on.
Nachos (£6.75) were just that, nothing special. Pacific crab and salmon cakes were undeniably packed with salmon (the crab was a little lost) and a tad dry, but well seasoned with fresh herbs and lifted a notch by a dill and lemon crème fraîché sauce. Chinese chicken salad was presented the best – crowned by a crispy fried wonton (think Asian crouton) – and well balanced in terms of texture: juicy chicken pieces, crunchy toasted almonds, black and white sesame seeds, fresh crisp veggies and microherbs. The Snowman (my dining pal; he might be small, but he eats like a champ, hence all the starters) liked the bite from the ginger sesame dressing, but we both craved more heat and punch from the surprisingly ineffective sliced red chilli throughout.
For mains, we both had our eyes on birds – him the honey barbecue confit duck (£15.95), and me the half rotisserie free-range Banham Farm chicken (£13.95). Well, I had to test the rotisserie, right? There’s also, though, a strong selection of brick-fired pizzas, made to order, all around the tenner mark, as well as steaks and burgers on offer. You can see why Firehouse had hung around for so long – these are proper family favourites.
The duck was exceptionally tender, rejecting the bone it clinged to as soon as The Snowman threatened his knife and fork, whereupon it fell into proper creamy, American-style whipped potatoes with more of that smoked Cheddar and spring onions. The barbecue sauce, which coated the more virtuous platefellow of squeaky green beans, was perfectly sweet and sour too.
“Great choice,” said our Snowman. “Bravo.”
I’d chosen the chicken rubbed with Texas spice (you can also get lemon and herb with Applewood smoked bacon, and Cuban-spiced with garlic and lime), with the hickory barbecue sauce. The breast wasn’t the most tender I’ve ever tasted, but the brown meat saved the day, so succulent it caused me to suck the bones dry. It comes with a mild jalapeño coleslaw, which was an admirable side, crunchy, fresh and creamy. An extra side of spicy fries (£3.25) was definitely not required, even if the seasoning was just as delicious as the rub on my chook.
Puddings were unnecessary too, but the staff here make you want to hang around that bit longer and so we ordered the banoffee cheesecake (£5.75) and raspberry Eton mess (£5.75). The latter was definitely more of a fool, if we’re being picky, but it was all the better for it – sweetened cream, swirled with a sharp coulis, bleeding through the crumbles of meringue.
His cheesecake was surprisingly fresh – proper banana-y – with a good buttery biscuit base, shards of sweet praline and a modest drizzle of toffee sauce. I say modest because sweettooth Snowman wanted more – but that was his only complaint between mouthfuls. Indeed, he was rather impressed overall.
“I would definitely go again. The staff were lovely, the venue was well presented and the company was okay, too,” he summarized. Cheeky.
An independent restaurant that’s shunned the trends and stuck to its guns for the past 20 years with crowdpleasing grub at affordable prices, seven days a week? Now that’s got to be worth a gander.
FIREHOUSE ROTISSERIE, 2 John Street, Bath BA1 2JL; 01225 482070