Emma Clegg finds a gastronomic experience at Cloisters restaurant at Bailbrook House Hotel; the building is on a hill and the food and wine combine to form high-level dining
A Grade II architectural listing brings all sorts of wonders – and the Bailbrook House Hotel on Eveleigh Avenue off the London Road West doesn’t disappoint with its modillion cornices, stepped friezes, Ionic pilasters, bellied balconettes, and chamfered rusticated arcades. It was Bath architect John Eveleigh – of Camden Crescent and Somerset Place fame – who designed the building which was started in 1710, although because the Napoleonic War interrupted progress it wasn’t finished until the early 1800s.
Until Hand Picked Hotels purchased the property in 2012 – along with another property Bailbrook Court and 20 acres of grounds – and converted it into a hotel, the building had already assumed many roles. It had moved from a lavish 18th-century home to being taken by the Crown as reparation for the owner’s corrupt dealings and from providing a home for the Ladies Association – patronised by bishops, duchesses and Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III – to becoming a nursing home and then a training college.
The Bailbrook House Hotel, located on the eastern side of the city and at the top of a long, winding drive, has expansive views over smooth downward sloping lawns and clusters of trees along the Avon Valley and this setting defines the experience – it’s a refreshing, green, peaceful escape from the bustle of central Bath that’s just a few minutes drive away. The Georgian building, also accommodating a modern wing from the 1970s, has a grand entrance with Bath stone floor slabs, fluted cabled Ionic columns and a semi-elliptical cobweb fanlight. There’s the option for drinks in the bar before heading to Cloisters, the fine-dining vaulted restaurant set within the original basement of the mansion house, with its original (cloistered) archways made from Bath stone. We had a table overlooking a secluded woodland scene, which set up the digestion well, as we enjoyed cheese gougères and mini lamb croquettes served with a glass of Bruno Paillard Brut Champagne.
… Chalk Stream Trout and Herring Roe nestled inside a creme fraiche boat next to a grass-green puddle of lovage vichyssoise
The menus at Cloisters – which has a 2AA Rosette – are extensive. Head chef Michael Ball likes to use big, bold flavour combinations as well as subtle tones harnessing the natural larder on our doorstep and he has a penchant for venison, rhubarb and wild garlic, the latter picked daily just outside the kitchen when in season. The bold flavours were apparent as we considered starters such as Rabbit Cannelloni and Glazed Dingley Dell Pork Belly with shellfish bisque. We chose Lamb Shoulder Croquettes with smoked aubergine purée and salsa verde and Chalk Stream Trout and Herring Roe nestled inside a crème fraiche boat next to a grass-green puddle of lovage vichyssoise.
Mains had a selection of eight dishes – plus grill options with sirloin steak, spatchcock poussin and chateaubriand – and we covered vegetarian and fish, with Roasted Cod Loin with saffron potato, lovage, new season peas and beer onions with a side of fries, to Plant-based Pea Risotto with beer-pickled onion, vegan feta and crispy onions and a side of fine beans and confit shallots, with all kcals specified (if you are counting).
With our respective meals we sampled glasses of Villa Saletta Raccolto a Mano Rosso from Tuscany for the risotto and Validivieso Sauvignon for the fish, both high-flyers; the red was smoothly soft and the white herbal with citrus elements. Julia Hands, owner of Hand Picked Wine, a wine aficionado and lay judge for the International Wine and Spirits Competition, initiated a programme of seeking out young wines from the finest producers and laying them down to mature. This has resulted in a range of Hand Picked wines available on the menu. There is also a wide selection of cocktails, cognacs and liqueurs. A range of price points and knowledgeable waiting staff (in our case, Bogdan) makes the whole drinks menu delightfully textured for lay drinkers and aspiring sommeliers alike.
It was hard to nail the best choice from Dulce de Leche Mousse, White Chocolate Parfait or Brown Sugar Tart, so we instead chose Plant-Based Mango Pannacotta with mango salsa, cardamom and lime sorbet, and Lemon and Lime Set Custard with sable, lime macaroon and milk ice cream. We didn’t opt for the cheese course but this is undoubtedly a good after-dinner option, with cheese including Bath Soft Organic, Solstice semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, Wyfe of Bath semi-hard cheese, and Bath Blue, served with grapes, celery, quince jelly, chutney and crackers.
Take a journey to Bailbrook House Hotel to escape the crowds; get out of the city without going far; be dazzled by cobweb fanlights and balconettes; find some peace in the cloisters; and treat yourself to some fine food and wines.
This meal for two at Cloisters, without drinks, totalled £82. The Cloisters is open Mon–Sun 6.30–9.30pm and for Sunday lunch from 12.30–2.30pm. Eveleigh Avenue, London Road West, Bath BA1 7JD; Tel: 01225 855100; handpickedhotels.co.uk/bailbrookhouse