Georgette McCready says “Vive the French independents!” after visiting Chez Dominique on Argyle Street, Bath
Picture the scene. A couple is scurrying along the rain-swept darkened streets of Bath, heads down against the wind. Their attention is caught by a row of candles in a restaurant window, a welcoming beacon on a chilly night.
Cut to the next scene, to find our couple toasting each other with a glass of delicious Merlot, seated at the window table inside a cosy French bistro. A jovial French waiter, Julien, is waiting to take their order and pretty much everything on the menu looks like something you’d want to eat. You might say, a promising start to a date night. And you’d be right.
Since our favourite French restaurants, Beaujolais and Bistro La Barrique closed we have been looking for another independent venue to indulge our taste in French cuisine. And family-run Chez Dominique, opened by husband and wife team chef Chris and front-of-house manager Sarah, on Argyle Street a year ago, ticks all the boxes. The lighting is dimmed to a satisfyingly romantic glow, there’s music in the background (at one point we caught the strains of a classic French accordian) and looking out onto Pulteney Bridge, with the grey clouds scudding overhead and umbrella-wielding pedestrians blowing past us, the mood was Parisian.
And the food is really very good. Traditional French with a light modern touch, and joy of joys, everything is served on plates and bowls, rather than boards. But when you look at chef Chris’s impressive CV you know you’re in safe hands. He cut his culinary teeth at the legendary Bibendum in London and was most recently executive chef at Bowood House and Country Club in Wiltshire. Chez Dominique is named after the couple’s oldest child and the family is happily settled in the west country, which is good news for Bath foodies.
My companion made classic choices for his dinner, opening with a creamy, silky leek and potato soup that’s clearly been made using a proper stock. And it’s served so hot the steam is still rising as he dips his spoon into it. His main course, another tried and tested favourite is a sirloin steak served with a Bordelaise sauce and proper pommes frites. This is so ‘seriously good’ (his words), he is reluctant to let me try it.
My starter of chicken terrine with pickled girolle mushrooms and crispy slices of Bayonne ham was a good balance of savoury meatiness, cut through by apricot purée. After that I ordered one of the dishes of the day, a huge bowl of Cornish mussels cooked in an Alsace bacon, leek and cider broth – this took me straight back to family holidays in Brittany, a wonderfully evocative dish. This too came with frites and Julien proffered a spoon and more bread for me to greedily mop up the broth.
Starters range in price from £6.50 to £10.50, while mains range from £12, for the moules, to £22 for a steak. Unlike many French establishments there are vegetarian options. It’s also worth noting another great French tradition, the prix fixe menu, is served at Chez Dom. Between noon and 3pm (3.30pm on Sundays) and from 5.30 – 7pm every day, diners can choose from a two course menu for £14, or three courses for £17. A typical starter might be, for example, dill and gin cured salmon with pickled cucumber, followed by onglet steak and pommes frites.
During the Great Bath Feast, which runs until Sunday 8 October, diners can enjoy a treat for a tenner at Chez Dominique at lunchtimes, Monday to Friday and before 7pm Monday to Thursday. Slurp your way through a generous portion of those Cornish mussels, cooked with cider, leek and bacon with a glass of sauvignon blanc, and pay for it with one of the new Jane Austen £10 notes. May I suggest, if you go at lunchtime, you ask to sit at the window in the private dining room at the back, which commands unrivalled views of Pulteney Weir.
The private dining room would be a great place to book for a group of up to ten people. If you’ve got one of those friends who laughs too loudly, or whose politically dodgy views, or bad jokes you don’t necessarily want to share with the entire restaurant, this is an ideal secret corner.
We finish our own French adventure with a simple vanilla ice cream for my trad companion and a crème brûlée for me. As you’d expect from a perfect pud, the surface cracked with a satisfying tap, releasing the moreish creamy custard beneath.
Our couple venture back onto the windy streets vowing, like Francophile Arnie Schwarzeneggers ‘nous reviendrons!’