Georgette McCready reviews The Bunch of Grapes in Bradford on Avon
It’s always sad when a historic pub closes, even sadder when said pub stays empty, its peeling paintwork catching the eye every time you pass the site.
But cheers went up just under a year ago when The Bunch of Grapes in Bradford on Avon re-opened following a total overhaul. Even better, the new owners turned out not to be a chain intent on shipping in one-size-fits-all fittings, but instead a trio of Francophiles who understand and love good food and good wine, both sides of La Manche.
Anna and Andrew Barwick and their partner/head chef Steve Carss have all spent many years in France, some of them at the Barwicks’ prestigious Chateau Rigaud in Bordeaux. So, they brought a flavour of French chic to the Grapes, tastefully furnishing the bar downstairs (a lovely bit of marble which it turns out doubles perfectly as an oyster bar) and the dining room on the first floor. And, luckily for its customers, they offer an excellent approach to service.
You want to come in for fresh croissants and coffee on a Sunday morning to read the papers? No problem. Or pop in for a pint of Butcombe while out walking the dog early evening? You’re more than welcome, and here’s a bowl of water for your pooch. Or you want a mid-week supper but don’t want a huge meal? How about a tempting array of small plates with such delights as a melt-in-the-mouth hot cheese beignet or a vibrant, zesty seasonal salad with shavings of hot radish, sweet leaves and hazelnuts? And, although cocktail hour technically doesn’t begin until 6pm, in an emergency a dry Martini could be expertly mixed and delivered.
The accolades have already been pouring in for the Grapes. Its Sunday lunch offering just picked up the Observer Food magazine’s best roast in the west and the Michelin Guide 2017 picked it for inclusion, quite an honour. It has a Local Gem listing in the Good Food Guide 2017 and has just been voted pub of the year and best food outlet in the Bradford on Avon business awards.
We’ve enjoyed drinks with friends at the Grapes, but the other day felt we should try the food and see what all the fuss has been about. I generally operate on the basis of ordering something I wouldn’t make at home, so a shared platter (£14.50 for two) containing no less than seven tasters was an obvious choice. It looked appetising when it came. There was a croque monsieur I’d happily eat at any time of day, sweet potato and red pepper fritters with smoked garlic aioli and what John called a French pork pie – a divinely savoury textured pork terrine studded with green pistachios. Another stand-out was the Charentaise sausage slices served with the gentlest, tastiest pickle onion and smoky tomato parfait.
On Tuesdays the moules frites are on special offer – normally £14, but on Tuesdays they’re £10. Head chef Steve was inspired to emulate the fabulous moules served at Chez Hortense on Cap Ferret, which incorporate chorizo along with the garlic and parsley. A simply enormous pot of juicy, plump moules with crisp, tasty slim frites made for a happy, hearty supper.
It’s hard to tell you how good my main dish of sea bream was. The last fish I had as memorably delicious was on a beach in Pembrokeshire when friends served fresh mackerel wrapped in foil parcels and cooked over a driftwood bonfire. It turns out the secret to the crispy, smoky crust on this perfectly cooked sea bream, is the pub’s oven. The oven is called Bertha and each day it’s stoked up with oak and birch, which helps impart fabulous flavour to all manner of dishes, particularly steak and seafood. It turns out you don’t need to be on a beach to capture that elusive taste.
Rather cleverly too the fish was accompanied not by a dish of veg (I’m so bored of the carrot, cauli, broccoli combo) but by a big bowl of mixed leaf, lightly dressed salad containing thinly sliced apple. I had forgotten how well the right fruit and fish can go together.
We have a saying in our family, that wine is red and comes from Bordeaux. Luckily we were in the right place to enjoy wine bought direct from the region by people who know the growers. We enjoyed a bottle of Chateau La Verriere, a classic velvety smooth Bordeaux.
This is a very thoughtful establishment. When it comes to pudding, for those who dither between the tarte tatin, the cherry sorbet, crème brûlée, or the orange and chocolate delice, there’s the option of the Café Gourmand, which is a little bit of everything with a shot of espresso. Replete as we were a dish of vanilla and coffee ice cream – impressively handmade on the premises – ordered for sharing, with two spoons, finished this francophile feast in fine style. The bill for all this came to £69.
We plan to sample the award-winning Sunday roast – the meat cooked in beautiful Bertha – in which controversially perhaps, roast potatoes have been replaced with dauphinoise or boulangère potatoes, but fear not, the British Yorkshire pud with gravy is very much a part of that delightful sounding lunch.