How to go on an exotic trail without ever leaving home? Why, visit Boho Marché in The Francis Hotel, says Emma Clegg.
I have never before eaten a meal under the gaze of a horse with tassels draped around its ears. But there’s a first time for everything. This was also, and more importantly (because, okay, the horse wasn’t real), my first time at Boho Marché at The Francis Hotel. The full-size standing horse and its tassels with layered ethnic-style drapes under its saddle represents the Berber steed once used in desert warfare. It sits well with the restaurant’s food identity, hatched in 2020, to celebrate the culinary cultures found along the hippy trail to Marrakesh.
The décor duly emanates Moroccan souk – with pink-hued and crumbling stone walls, banquette-style booths, wicker chairs and a tangle of vegetation in a green ceiling over the bar capturing a French Colonial café culture. The bohemian vibe is perhaps an unexpected spin on the restaurant in this opulent Regency hotel in Queen Square – once the home of Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie Blanc – as you transition from the foyer of The Francis Hotel with its luxurious carpeted polish to a more exotic, free-spirited setting punctuated by expanses of tropical parrot jungle wallpaper.
The Hippy Trail was an overland route followed by free spirits and peaceniks from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, passing through Istanbul and towards Nepal, culminating in Kathmandu, the home of spiritual enlightenment. Therefore we were not surprised to encounter Falafel Muhammara, Moroccan Harira Soup and Slow-braised Ox Cheek with smoked creamy mash on the menu (although it does also includes a smattering of Mexican flavours).
Our serenely beaming waiter Jake guided us through the menu, recommending the sharing board (provided for two or more people) as a starter. This was the apotheosis of Moroccan-style food, with a wide wooden platter holding small plates such as Moroccan falafel fritters, harissa marinated olives, chimichurri, Muhammara (walnut and roasted red pepper dip), Moroccan hummus, Lebanese aubergine dip made with grilled piquillo peppers and walnuts, Barbari bread spiced with Za’atar, and toasted sourdough. You can also add Braised Ox Cheek, Confit Duck, Grilled Chorizo or Chicken Skewers to the board.
It may not have been cooked over a smouldering charcoal fire, but the Middle Eastern flavours powerfully infused the dish
We drank Camden Hells beer and elderflower pressé, which would have been perfect in the heat of Marrakesh, but took attentive note of the extensive cocktails menu, including The Francis with tequila, blue curacao, coconut milk and pineapple; Midnight Kisses with dark rum, blackberry, orgeat syrup and lime; and Lost in Marrakesh with tequila, Cointreau, and pomegranate, alongside a host of signature cocktails and mocktails.
As a main meal we had Confit Duck cured in the house spice mix, slow cooked in duck fat and served with sous vide caramelised apples, sweet potato mash and red wine jus dramatically encircling the duck legs. Also a Vegan Moroccan Tagine with couscous – to which can be added chicken, lamb shank or ox cheek – served in a traditional conical tagine pot. It may not have been cooked over a smouldering charcoal fire, but the Middle Eastern flavours powerfully infused the dish.
Our choices leant towards the Moroccan tasting experience, but the menu choices also encompass sirloin and ribeye steak; cheese, chicken and jackfruit burgers; pasta dishes such as truffled tagliatelle; Caesar salad; and couscous poke bowls.
Despite being rather full, there was just room for a crème brulée and scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice-cream. Jake shared with us that he is planning to live in Taiwan for a year and learn Mandarin at the university, which impressed us no end – his role at Boho Marché may have given him the taste for adventure. This was an evening of discovery, giving us the spicy experience of exotic food in chilly Bath. The January temperatures sadly didn’t match the extreme heat of Istanbul and Kathmandu, but thankfully the trail home was a short one. n
Our meal for two at Boho Marché, without drinks, totalled £73.