An area of Bath already well known for its local treasures – Sally Lunn, The Huntsman and Independent Spirit, to name a few – Bog Island welcomed two legends of the culinary world last year. The once three-Michelin-starred chef and French gastronome Pierre Koffmann, and Marco Pierre White – author of White Heat, previous star of ITV’s Hell’s Kitchen and also a recipient of that coveted triple-star accolade – joined forces to open Koffmann and Mr White’s, situated in The Abbey Hotel.
Even before being handed the menu, you can see evidence of great attention to detail in the restaurant. The interior is like the lovechild of a Parisian Haussmann creation and a classic Bath Georgian townhouse. Well designed and put together, there’s something antique-like and almost otherworldly about the setting, with its olive green walls covered in framed art, dark wood floorboards, tufted banquettes, bistro chairs and marble-topped tables.
Whilst the a la carte menu doesn’t carry what you might consider ‘everyday’ price tags, the prix fixe offering is well-priced and available every weekday, from noon until 7pm, promising two courses for £14.50 and three for £17.50. The two menus are slightly different, but both appeal to fans of French and British cuisine equally.
We started, as felt fitting, with an aperitif. Two Negronis were served in satisfyingly heavy, cut-glass tumblers that had all the style that the drink deserves.
To eat, there’s a strong selection of dishes for each course, with both chefs having put their stamp on the generously sized menu. It was a toss-up between a few choices to start, so we put our faith in the waitress’ recommendations. The gazpacho (£6.50), one of Pierre’s creations, came in a deceptively deep bowl, with cubes of cucumber and red onion scattered on top to add texture to the otherwise smooth, puréestyle soup. Cool – but, thankfully, not fridge cold – it had fresh flavours and garlicky depth. The classic 1970s prawn cocktail (£9.50) was served retro-style (Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham would be proud) with a finely chopped boiled egg base, iceberg lettuce middle and a topping of peeled prawns in a silky Marie Rose sauce, finished with a dusting of paprika. All just as expected.
For mains, the braised ox cheek (£17.50) came with pomme purée and was a great comforter on this cold, wet afternoon. The meat had been very slowly cooked in red wine for fall-apart texture and super rich flavour. The nicely formed crust was almost black (as was the deeply flavoured jus that pooled around it) while the inside of the meat was a promising claret colour and fell away in flakes. Tiny carrots and onions bought some sweetness and were aided by a side of petit pois (£3.95), which arrived in a tiny cast iron lidded pot. A straight-up traditional dish done right. No frills, no surprises.
The poussin grillé (£15.95) was also enjoyable. The meat needed very little encouragement to fall away from the bone and was succulent and flavourful with – importantly – well-seasoned, crisp skin. The aioli dip was put to good use by a side of beef fat chips (£3.95). To drink alongside were tumblers of rich red Tempranillo, another recommendation – and a good one.
Pudding. Arguably the most important course (I’m surely not on my own, there?) was oeufs à la neige (£6.96) and tarte au citron (£5.95). The former saw a lovely light and thin vanillary custard support a floating island of fluffy whisked egg white. Its brittle caramel topping gave a satisfying crack under the spoon, but the island itself tasted (and smelt) a touch too eggy. The latter, an iconic French dessert, did its home country proud, full-flavoured and perfectly cooked. No soggy bottoms here. The sorbet on the side, while nice enough, served merely as a distraction from the god of all puddings.
Marco and Pierre go way back, of course. Marco began work as Pierre’s apprentice at La Tante Clare in 1984 and has famously admired Koffmann ever since, so asked him to get involved when he was approached to take over this hotel restaurant. Their French and British backgrounds make for a classic feeling but well-ranged menu, although, of course, neither of them actually cook here (and to expect the standard of food that made them famous is going to end in disappointment). That doesn’t detract, however, from the fact that this is a solid addition to the city’s ever-growing restaurant scene.
Koffmann and Mr Whites, Abbey Hotel, North Parade, Bath BA1 1LF; 01225 461603