It’s funny how the minute a new business opens, you can’t for the life of you remember what was in its place before, no matter how recently the switch. (Please don’t say that’s just me.) The space that Beckford Bottle Shop now occupies on Saville Row used to be home to an antique shop and a tearoom – both of which I’d been into on multiple occasions but still had no memory of until someone helped me out. (While my brain fails to remember any details of a street I walk down almost every day, it has, however, chosen to hang onto the lyrics of every pop song released between ’98 and ’04. Why?)
This versatile bar-cum-restaurant-cum-wine-shop opened in Bath last autumn and, with the group’s pedigree (their other wine bars and pubs are already well-loved, and the founders have the likes of Soho House on their CVs), there were some seriously high expectations surrounding it.
The facade is all hand-painted in black and gold with floor-to-ceiling windows, behind which hang pendant lights with old-school glass shades on the restaurant side and, on the other, you can see the 250-strong collection of wines displayed. There’s an antique feel here, with polished wooden flooring and embossed tin ceiling tiles. In the ‘tasting rooms’ you’ll find dark wood tables, gold-studded seating and leaded sash windows, and there’s a cosy lounge downstairs in the basement too, with bare stone walls, armchairs and table lamps.
Any of the wines in the shop can be drunk on the premises for a corkage charge, but otherwise there are plenty – just shy of 40 – to choose from on the restaurant’s list, thoughtfully ordered from light to intense and available by the glass, carafe or bottle. An organic Italian white was recommended to begin with, and it turned out to be an ideal partner for the impending seafood.
The menu is made up of small plates and, while there’s a whisper of European style about it, most of the dishes are actually boldly British – like the wild garlic rarebit, roast new potatoes with Westcombe Cheddar, and creamed turnips (all of which made the eyes of my mildly hung-over lunch date light up in carby anticipation), as well as boards of British cheese and charcuterie.
Stuff-on-toast came first. Sharp-tasting anchovies – nice and pokey but not as overwhelmingly flavoured as they often can be – along with tiny rings of shallot were an unapologetic wake-up call for our tastebuds. The mushrooms and lardo on toast (£7) was thrown in as a last minute order by my pal, but ended up being one of the most surprising dishes of the meal, all salty and punchy and moreish. It may not be as big in size as you might expect for those seven English pounds, but it was certainly bigger than anticipated in terms of flavour. Rabbit, cider and wild garlic rarebit (£9) saw three slices of well-toasted bread (yes, more bread – there’s more to come, an’ all) draped with gooey cheese sauce containing hunks of soft, white meat.
The young kitchen team (we hear the three of them are all but a sprightly 23) have sexed up some rather unloved British crops, too. Turnips, as mentioned earlier, came creamed with little cubes of smoky chorizo (£6), and marrow was chipped, coated with a light batter and deep-fried (£5), the crisp fingers served on a bed of nicely balanced, vivid-yellow aioli. If you’re going in on the fried bites as we did, the Gruner Veltliner Federspiel is a spot-on wine for cleansing the palate of that oiliness – props to our server who suggested it.
Octopus and chickpea stew (£10) featured beautifully tender meat and flavoursome harissa-spiked chickpeas, and the cold smoked trout with yoghurt (£8) was a fresh, tangy end to the mains.
For dessert, the Madeleines (£3) could have perhaps done with a touch longer in the oven – the texture was slightly doughy in the middle – but were otherwise light and delicate.
The vibe here is cool and casual (the playlist of Mystery Jets and Blur had me tapping my cutlery, probably to the annoyance of my achy-headed mate), helped by the team which reps a mix of ages and backgrounds (the more seasoned servers, especially, bring great expertise). This three-in-one venue is a welcome addition to Bath and is already being well appreciated, it seems.
Beckford Bottle Shop, 5-8 Saville Row, Bath BA1 2QP; 01225 809302