Melissa Blease goes behind the menu to talk to Michael Nizzero, executive chef at The Bath Priory
Paris has the George V; Los Angeles, the Beverly Hills. London has the Dorchester, New York’s got the Carlyle and, when in Rome, it has to be the Raphael. But what has Bath got that all those cities haven’t? The Bath Priory Hotel and Spa, that’s what. Our very own quintessentially characterful, long-established world class escape-from-it-all sanctuary, complete with a Michelin-starred kitchen headed up by executive chef Michael Nizzero.
Before relocating to The Bath Priory in January, Belgium-born Michael cooked his way across the UK, Europe and Dubai, enjoyed a spell working under Michel and Alain Roux at the three Michelin starred Waterside Inn and, most recently, experienced a stint at The Ritz, London, where the team was awarded its first ever Michelin star. Michael also gained and held a Michelin star as executive chef at Hostellerie La Briqueterie between 2011 – 2015. When it comes to professional pedigree, he epitomises the very meaning of the words. Might Michael and The Bath Priory be a match made in heaven? We think so, and he’s settling in very nicely here indeed.
“I’ve had a lovely welcome to Bath, from my colleagues, our diners and from friends across the city,” says Michael, in a très seductive Belgian-French accent that subtly exudes those classic intonations of chefdom. “It’s been a great experience getting to know our guests, and everyone has been so friendly when I head out of the kitchen after service to introduce myself and say hello.”
But even those guests who might still expect to encounter former Bath Priory executive chef Sam Moody (who relocated to the Ballyfin, County Laois, Ireland in the autumn, after seven years at the hotel’s hob) wandering around in his whites most definitely don’t have anything to fear when they come to meet Michael. “My overall vision is to cook good food that pleases the people who eat that food; taste and flavour are my main priorities. I’m not not in any way trying to reinvent cooking!
“My style could probably be described as modern classical French in theme. I aim for clean flavours with a delicate touch, but all our menus are prepared with seasonal ingredients, sourced as locally as possible and inspired by the places I have worked, but twisted my own way. You’ll encounter the classic stocks and sauces you’d expect from a French style but with plenty of citrus, for example, to lighten and lift. We’re working on our summer menus at the moment, and I aim to introduce updates of some favourite plates from the Waterside, Ritz and Hostellerie La Briqueterie, as well as some completely new dishes. I really look forward to hearing what guests think of them.”
And even though Michael is still a relative newbie on the Bath good food scene, feedback from those guests is proving that he and The Bath Priory are a perfect partnership. While there may indeed be plenty of shiny new ventures keeping our little city firmly on the urbane urban foodie map, Bath maintains strong foundations built on heritage – and Michael’s refined, genteel prandial playground is today living, lively proof that a long-established ‘fine dining’ establishment can also feed contemporary great expectations in au courant fine style.
Still, The Bath Priory has a very important personal legacy that surely must be upheld: the not-so-small matter of regular visits from the Michelin men. “Michelin is a big part of my career and my life,” says Michael. “I won my first Michelin star when I was 29 years old, in 2012. At the time, I was the youngest Michelin-starred chef in France. Accolades such as that, once achieved, are treasured and give you confidence moving forward. No one can ever take the feeling those Michelin stars have given me away from me, but you can never afford to be too sure of yourself. I am under pressure to maintain The Bath Priory’s Michelin-starred status, yes of course I am! But I always ask myself what I could do better, and constantly improve what I do.
“My very first job – in which I probably learned most of what I know today – was working under three Michelin starred chef Jean Pierre Bruneau in Brussels, many years ago; that experience taught me what excellence and high standards are all about, and I have brought that experience to Bath with me.”
But Michael’s personal foodie heritage goes back even further. “I fell in love with food at a very early age, and grew up within a culture of eating well,” he says. “My earliest food memory is probably my mother’s onion Stoemp (the Brussels variant of the Dutch Stamppot potato dish, but much richer) and my nonna’s tomato sauce. My dad was a very good cook too, so we always ate well at home. Dad was the first person who inspired me to cook professionally; he was maître d’ at the The Hotel Amigo Grand Place in Brussels for 45 years. I was passionate about listening to the stories he would tell me about his role, which is why I enrolled for catering college myself. He also taught me to work hard too. I owe a great deal to my dad!”
Back to the future and I’m already eagerly anticipating my next booking at The Bath Priory, where Michael is keen to push a new dish of steamed wild sea bass with a seaweed crust and Champagne sauce into the summertime spotlight (“this was the first strong dish I created, and it’s been my signature dish since I got my very first Michelin star,” he says). Personally, I’d be happy to return for just a sniff of the lamb loin dish that’s on the menu at the time of writing (which comes with courgette, fregola, lemon confit and basil), while I could gladly live on Michael’s salted caramel fondant with butterscotch, banana sorbet and lime.
If you’re looking for stylish creations that look as good as the menu description promises, you’ve definitely come to the right place. But an added bonus of The Bath Priory experience is the surprisingly non-scary price for such sophistication: a three course lunch here costs £30, which easily allows a mini-stretch of the budget to include a gin and tonic on the hotel’s glorious alfresco terrace, offering views across those beautifully-manicured lawns and kitchen garden, and conveniently adjacent to The Pantry – the hotel’s informal upmarket all-day dining area, which even offers the option of The Bath Priory Burger on menus that really do cater to all tastes, all day long.
“Bath is an amazing city, and coming here has been a good move for me, on many levels,” says Michael. Welcome to your new home, chef – your residency here is definitely a very good move for us too.
The Bath Priory, Weston Road, Bath BA1 2XT. Michael’s seven-course tasting menu is from £98 per person, or you can opt for the three course a la carte option for £85. Lunch at The Bath Priory: three courses £30 (£35 on Sunday). Afternoon tea is served every day between 3 – 4.30pm, and costs £30 for a full afternoon tea, or £42 to include a glass of Champagne. The Bath Priory also offers informal dining options in The Pantry. For further information or to book, visit: thebathpriory.co.uk or call 01225 331922.