Sometimes you come across a new business and think, ‘What are they doing?’ The food might be great, but the service terrible. The location is spot-on, but the interior design woeful. Other times, you rock up and they’ve nailed every aspect, right off the bat.
So it is with Eight, a slick townhouse hotel tucked away next to Bath’s Abbey, on the same pedestrianised walkway as Sally Lunn’s, Acorn and The Hideout. And the smart thinking here begins with the name, which not only references the fact that it has eight guest rooms but also that it features eight main dishes on the menu. And then there’s the ‘ate’ pun, of course. (The actual address is 3 North Parade Passage, but you can’t have everything.) The minimalist logo is good too, featuring a pair of equally sized golden balls (or are they dinner plates?), one hovering above the other, as if Auric Goldfinger had somehow developed telekinesis and used it to build a snowman.
The street-level dining room here is a small space – just 16 covers by my count – but perfectly put together, the judicious use of glass interior walls making it feel larger than it might. While seemingly quite formal, the atmosphere grows lively as it fills up, the tables so close together you can easily rubberneck next door’s choices (or just lean over to ask what they ordered). There’s also a cosy bar in the cellars – you can eat there too – with oversized stone fireplaces, a legacy of this building’s time as a Medieval refectory.
The food? Well, that’s fancy. Co-owner Nathalie Brown’s French partner Fred Lavault is in the kitchen, and it’s hard to choose between his prettily presented dishes. Not tapas-small but not quite the size of regular mains, either – think the sort of thing you might get as a main on a five-course tasting menu somewhere starred – you’re encouraged to order a pair of them, to come in whichever order you like, which should leave just a little bit of room for pudding. Two are vegan, two more vegetarian, and about half are gluten-free.
There’s also a ‘short eats’ menu, full of finger food priced between a fiver and a tenner: a trio of hot cheese straws with pesto and goat’s cheese is at the cheaper end of the spectrum, and deep-fried scampi at the top. To get our hand in, we shared the hot homemade kettle chips (£4.95), and predictably more-ish they were too.
Onto the main event, and I went for the sympathetically cooked fillet of hake with black ink risotto and calamari (£14.50), followed by braised beef cheeks, juicy and tender, with crispy bacon, roast garlic mash, chestnut mushrooms and deep-fried parsley (£13.95). Both were excellent, though the hake just edged it.
Across the table, our Jess chose the butternut squash, goat’s cheese and sage raviole (£12.25), which sat in a generous helping of light and velvety goat’s cheese and parmesan emulsion.
Inside, the squash was soft and sweet, complemented nicely by the earthy crunch of hazelnut, and on top was an impressive ‘do’ of goat’s cheese and parmesan foam, capped by a crown of bright edible flowers. Fancy.
Next up, beautifully soft, gleaming white rabbit meat was wrapped up with apricot stuffing in a thin slice of dry-cured ham to form a ballotine (£13.75). Two long, spindly carrots rested on it, their flavour echoed in a swipe of cumin-spiked carrot purée, while the stout chips nearby were stacked like bricks. Another nicely put together dish, Jess guarded this one jealously, only afterwards telling me it was probably the best bit o’ bunny she’d ever had.
All very impressive so far, then, with the clever menu construction extending to the by-the-glass wine matching, giving two contrasting choices for each dish printed right on the menu; it’s a nice touch, and the ones we tried were interesting and well-chosen.
Desserts were impressive too, with five options – including a lemon meringue pie and a flourless chocolate cake – at a reasonable £6 a go. Our picks: red berry trifle with almond sponge, saffron custard and coconut Chantilly, presented in a Martini glass, and a multi-element vanilla poached pear dish, which comes with ice cream, toasted pistachios and gingerbread cake. Festooned with edible flowers, this one tasted as good as it looked. Jess’ trifle was perhaps slightly less well-received; having somehow missed the fact that it was both vegan and gluten-free, she’d hoped for more defined layers and found the almond sponge a little grainy.
Pretty much full on a Wednesday night, Eight has obviously found its audience already, and joins the likes of Henry’s and The Circus Restaurant as an interesting, unpretentious but undeniably special option in central Bath. Staff are top-notch too. I could do without the bland elevator jazz playing in the background – music’s fine, just not that music – and would perhaps suggest keeping a keener eye than we did on what’s vegan and gluten-free. That said, in every way that matters this is a most welcome and impressive new gaff.
Eight, 3 North Parade Passage, Bath BA1 1NX; 01225 724111