Melissa Blease devours the croquettes, gets her skate on the plate and manages to fit in the best crème brûlée ever consumed. She also chats to Alex Peters about the last year at Green Park Brasserie and is blown away by positivity.
As we all know too well, times are hard for the hospitality industry at the moment. At the tail end of a 18-month-long crisis that resulted in an imperfect storm in eating out world, it would be easy to forgive restaurant owners, when asked how they’re coping, for allowing a mindset revolving around optimism and gratitude to slip down the menu a bit. But ask Alex Peters – director of marketing and strategy for long-standing Bath institution the Green Park Brasserie – where he’s at right now, and the only storm you can expect to have to weather is a great big wave of positivity.
“Getting our team back together and doing what we love doing again was a big moment for us, and hugely exciting. To welcome both locals and those visiting the city back to the Braz has been an absolute pleasure.” And that’s it; no ‘poor us’ moans, no self-pity, no blame – just gratitude for where he’s at this summer.
Even when lockdown was at its most severe, Alex kept calm and carried on, keeping GPB life as ‘new’ normal as possible. “We’re lucky to be a versatile business, which helped us remain optimistic for the future while we tried to make the most of such challenging times,” he says.
“While the Brasserie was forced to close completely, we took the opportunity to give the building some love and get on with less sexy but essential jobs like flooring, plumbing and ventilation. It gave us time to focus, too, on re-evaluating our commercial offering and positioning to make sure that, when re reopened, we’d be an even better business than we were pre-pandemic.
“Meanwhile, we opened our little sister operation the Bath Pizza Co as a takeaway for six of the eight months of lockdown. I was totally overwhelmed with the fantastic support our local community offered us throughout the pandemic, particularly in the cold depths of winter; even then, we still saw our regulars picking up a takeaway. Being one of the very few places that remained open is something I’m really proud of; we were able to offer a sense of normal life in the most challenging of times, and maintain a sense of community for our customers and our team.”
The team of which Alex talks so fondly (“led by our outstanding general manager Alex Pitts”) has a huge part to play in the uplifting vibe that suffuses the whole GPB experience now the doors to the business are open again, from warm welcome to nightcap by way of menus that offer fully flexible food for thought (à la carte on a modern bistro theme, or perfect pizzas firing up more casual tastes). And if you visit on any evening between Wednesday to Saturday, live jazz, funk, swing and/or soul adds a subtle beat to the eats.
I ask Alex what aspect of this buoyant, multi-faceted operation, opened by his father Andrew back in 1992, he’s most proud of today. “Broadly speaking, the atmosphere! And simply seeing how much guests enjoy being here when the terraces are buzzing, the cocktails are flowing and there’s live music inside the restaurant,” he says. “I honestly don’t think there are many other places in the country that have the unique environment that we offer.”
Indeed, our most recent visit to GPB reminded me of visits to London’s Shoreditch, or New York’s Union Square – there’s something unselfconsciously, comfortably cool about the whole affair; it’s a ‘welcome to the neighbourhood’ party to which everybody’s invited.
After pre-dinner drinks on the lively terrace on the Green Park Road/James Street West intersection to the front of the building, we took to a cosy little corner table in what was, between 1870–1966, the Green Park Railway Station booking hall and is today the dining room at the heart of GPB, as suitable for families and party groups as it is for a smoochy supper for two.
While local swing/jazz supremo Gavin Lazarus crooned dreamily on the little stage, we dived into starters of exceedingly moreish crispy/creamy smoked west country pancetta and leek croquettes and divine Monkfish scampi; one course in, and the going was very good indeed.
From the main course selection, Alex cites the steaks (“sourced from our producers Hugh and Celia at Newton Farm, who are just up the road with their herd of North Devon Reds; the fillet cut is incredibly tender and flavoursome, and our head chef Steve Derry produces a world-class peppercorn sauce that’s very popular and goes with it incredibly well!”) and Bath Pizza Co head chef Jonah Pole’s goat’s cheese, mushroom and truffle oil pizza as his personal current fave raves.
Alex’s tried-and-trusted recommendations will have to wait until our next visit to be sampled though, because on this occasion there was the irresistible offer of skate wing on the specials board (huge, creamy, delicate but not fragile, and sweetly meaty) and a tantalising dish of chargrilled, lemon and herb-marinated Castlemead Farm chicken breast served with chilli-roasted cauliflower and cumin and turmeric crème fraîche on the à la carte, which turned out to be even more fascinatingly foodie-complex than the description suggested.
But if those dishes tempt you into playing copycat, move fast and be warned: GPB menus are strictly seasonal and always wrought from locally sourced ingredients, including as much produce from the thriving Green Park Station Farmers’ Market as possible. As a result, a dish that’s trending today might well be consigned to the files marked ‘last season’ by the time you read these words. When it comes to puddings, however, GPB’s legendarily good signature dessert crème brûlée is always in vogue, so make like us and try one; I guarantee it’s the best crème brûlée you’ve ever tasted.
Even before the enormous challenges and devastating restrictions that the pandemic era threw at the hospitality domain, questions around how restaurants survive in such a competitive market subject to the whims and vagaries of fashionability, fads and an insecure financial climate have always loomed large over the most successful business plans. But for over almost three decades now, GPB has skilfully moved with the times while still retaining all the original charms that made it so popular from the get-go; in so many wonderful ways, Bath’s beloved brasserie is still very young for its age. Is this youthful outlook the secret of its success… or are dedication, adaptation and diversification the key factors in play here? As in all the best recipes, it’s clear that all these ingredients go into the pot.
“Aside from the pandemic, we’ve been able to grow the business over the years while building on the strong foundations that my dad Andrew laid in 1992 – and I’m really, really proud of that,” says Alex, who stepped into his directorship role in 2018. “I feel a strong responsibility to Bath to ensure that this magnificent building is a place that people can love coming back to time and time again. I want our future to hold and offer yet more of the best things in life: great food and drink in a wonderful setting to enjoy with the people you care about. We’re committed to doing what we do; next year, we’ll have been doing it for 30 years… and we’re hoping we have at least another 30 to look forward to!”
If you too fancy accentuating the positive, the good times at the glorious Green Park Brasserie offer multiple reasons to be cheerful.
The Green Park Brasserie menu offers starters from £7.50, mains from £14.95, steak from £19.95, desserts from £6.50