Melissa Blease goes in search of the best intimate restaurants in Bath for whispering sweet nothings

According to research by the British Hospitality Association, 14 February is the most booked date of the year for restaurants. In the build-up to the big day itself, restaurants across the land go into a seating plan rearrangement frenzy. Tables for two dominate the dining area, menus are rewritten to include the obligatory cutesy cocktails, sharing platters and ingredients that supposedly offer magical aphrodisiacal qualities, and swathes of red roses are broken down into single stems in readiness for an end-of-the-evening flourish.

For many people, Valentine’s Day is the ultimate date night – and if the way to your paramour’s heart is through his or her stomach, then you’d better book the restaurant of your choice today. But bear in mind that if you want to actually hear the sweet nothings that may possibly be whispered into your ear between courses, you’d better choose that restaurant very, very carefully indeed.

NOISES OFF

Too much noise can destroy the intimate table-for-two experience. Cue background music that’s loud enough to make the cutlery rattle; open-plan, echoing spaces with minimalist décor; and shared tables. Then there are tables adjacent to a busy bar, staff shouting orders into the kitchen, and the crash-bang-wallop of open kitchens.

Technology adds to the noise build-up: a cacophony of ringtones and text alerts, wall-mounted TV screens, fellow diners who are using the restaurant as a backdrop for their personal photoshoots. Seriously, kids, this is not just the opinion of an old fuddy duddy who’s failing to move with the times – it’s a worrying issue. More than 11 million people in the UK live with some form of hearing loss (an estimated 31 per cent of these under the age of 40), which makes coping with noisy environments problematic to the point of painful. Many more who are blessed with excellent hearing actively dislike noisy restaurants too.

A recent study published by the charity Action on Hearing Loss found that 81 per cent of respondents – the majority of whom were 18 to 54 – had experienced difficulty holding a conversation while eating out, so much so that they’d left the restaurant in question earlier than planned.

Cynical folk may deduce that this is exactly what a noisy restaurant is aiming for: surely high turnover equals bigger profits? But against the backdrop of a hospitality industry climate that’s competitive to say the least (and highly relevant in Bath), such a deliberately anti-social strategy represents a short-term advantage. If you felt shouted out of your favourite local independent eaterie last time you visited, you wouldn’t hurry back would you? Long-term loyalty and positive word-of-mouth reviews are as important to such restaurants as any amount of tourist footfall.

TURN IT DOWN

We’re lucky that many of the best restaurants in Bath know, from long-standing experience, that environment is as crucial as good service and great food – on Valentine’s Day and all year round. So if you’re searching for a quiet, romantic spot you are spoilt for choice. The smart but cosy Circus Restaurant (Brock Street) has an intimate, candlelit vibe in the evenings and you’ll find love writ large on the menu – from diver-caught scallops with Jerusalem artichoke purée to blood orange rosemary sorbet – and all manner of opportunities to whisper sweet nothings without fighting against a barrage of boisterousness.

When that much-loved, authentic dolce vita hotspot Martini (George Street) is buzzing with customers, backstage kitchen commotion is kept to a minimum and background music subtly enhances the vibe rather than dominating your affaire del cuore. The Olive Tree (Russel Street) encourages sophisticated whispers and Chez Dominique (Argyle Street) proves that the thrum of a proper, Parisian-style bistro doesn’t have to be dominated by the blare of an accordion. In Daniel Moon’s dining room at the Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel (Beau Street) the very notion of commotion while indulging a romantic whim would meet a response akin to the one that Guns ’N Roses would get if they performed live and loudly in Bath Abbey.

TRANQUIL ZONES

Supplementing our grown-up institutions, a handful of new kids on the Bath foodie block are blazing a trail for quiet zones, perhaps indicating that tranquil is becoming a trend. Noya’s Kitchen (St James’ Parade), Degustibus (Gay Street) and the second branch of Corkage (Chapel Row) have all cleverly managed to bury the blaring, glaring shock of the new beneath layers of relaxed bonhomie. This softer approach to furnishing allows the promise of fabulous food and sophisticated good times to shout for itself.

MELLOW INTERIORS

Meanwhile, there is a clear indication that times could be changing in terms of interior makeovers. Plush banquette seating, swathes of velvet drapes and luxuriously thick carpets have started to replace the hard wooden benches, roller blinds and laminated floors that have been popular of late and create an echo chamber for every single sound, from the tinkle of a teaspoon to the roar of the kitchen’s extractor fan. This bodes well for those who crave a side order of peace, so, bring the new-look, old-fashioned amorous restaurant vibe on! It can’t happen quickly enough.

So, as the most romantic day of the year fast approaches, seek out the places that turn down the volume in readiness for you to turn up the heat on your love life. As Shakespeare said in Love’s Labour’s Lost, “when love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes h­­­eaven drowsy with the harmony”… You don’t want to miss out on that experience because the noise of the dishwasher is drowning it out, do you?