Editor Georgette McCready enjoys a summery dinner before experiencing the Roman Baths by torchlight
In our Delicious Guide we sing the praises of Bath’s best restaurants, but one venue must stand out, because of its historic and cultural significence, which surely deserves a place on our culinary bucket lists. The Pump Room dining room, with its dramatic high ceiling, huge windows and magificent, priceless glittering chandelier has remained elegantly, pristinely unchanged ever since I can remember. The crisp white tablecloths, the polished cutlery, the smart attentive waiting staff and the statue of Beau Nash presiding over all from his alcove, help to make this a setting to rival any historic tearoom in Prague or sophisticated salon in Paris.
The Pump Room experience can be enjoyed for the price of a coffee. You can come in off the street, via those rumbling revolving doors, and receive the same courteous service from in-house caterers Searcys’ staff as if you were visiting royalty. And for two months every summer tourists and locals can enjoy dinner in the evenings, as the neighbouring Roman Baths are lit by torchlight and open, until the end of August, until 10pm.
We booked an early evening package to the Pump Room and Roman Baths, beginning with supper and ending with the chance to play being tourists in our home city by exploring the treasures from two centuries ago. I’ve long had my eye on that gilded head of Minerva from the original Roman temple, that would look very fine on my mantelpiece at home.
Back in that dining room we were welcomed by maitre d’ Luke. His genial, professional manner has been honed after 18 years working at The Pump Room – many of the Searcys team have worked here for years, which reflects well on the company. Also long-serving is Jools the resident pianist, who takes the grand piano through its paces via some classics, such as Land of Hope and Glory, through some good old Beatles numbers, even some Star Wars and, delighting our table in particular, a fine rendition of the Game of Thrones theme tune. Do we clap, we wondered, looking round at our fellow diners?
The answer is yes, please do clap. If you appreciate the efforts of this professional musician, then show your pleasure.
Diners can choose from a set menu of £17.50 for two courses, or £22.50 for three, or go for a la carte choices. The menu is modern British, acknowledging its seasonal and regional ingredients. Starters range from £6.75 to £8.95 and main courses are £13 to £23.50. My overture was salmon, served three ways; as a light mousse, a classic smoked and some gin marinated, all served with French toast, while John’s starter was a piquant, warm crab bisque risotto topped with crispy shallots and a large crispy deep fried prawn.
Sit back and enjoy the ambience, while you eat. Consider the diners who have sat within these walls over the years since the Pump Room was built in the late 18th century and, as you gaze out of the windows over the waters of the old King’s Bath, imagine the centuries of people who’ve visited this spot. Sometimes it’s good to look at our World Heritage city (one of only three in Europe – can you name the other two?*) as first-time visitors might see it.
While we’re on the subject of this being a significant historic place – come on, people, couldn’t we make a bit more effort in our appearance to dine here? I put on a frock in deference and John respectfully wore a shirt with a collar. But the guy on the next table was positively scruffy in shorts and trainers, and looking round the room, no one really matched up sartorially to the magnificent surroundings. If we’re dining out somewhere this special shouldn’t we rise to the sense of occasion? Well, that’s the whinge from the Style Police over.
Our main courses were, for him, rump of tender-as-you-like Wiltshire lamb served with Cornish new potatoes and, for me, chicken breast (again perfectly cooked) with delicate tarragon infused gnocchi and summer vegetable broth containing favourites from the British garden – including peas and broad beans. We enjoyed a light, chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio with our supper. While we ate and enjoyed the music we agreed that this was an experience that we locals should make an effort to enjoy, not simply when we have people to stay.
Before picking up our hand-held audio guides at the Roman Baths we couldn’t resist pudding. I was tempted by the cherry cheesecake. So pretty with its serving of dark cherries atop a pink mousse, with a scoop of frozen strawberry yogurt, while John enjoyed a single scoop of Marshfield ice cream.
Searcys menu is a good ambassador for Bath. It’s British, seasonal, tasty but not heavy. There’s still enough spring in our step to enjoy our tour of the romantic torchlit Roman Baths. And don’t forget, if you’re a B&NES resident you qualify for a FREE Discovery Card which gets you into the Baths free.
* The other two cities in Europe which, like Bath, have World Heritage status are Venice and the Vatican City.
The Pump Room, Bath, BA1 1LZ
Tel: 01225 444477