Regular readers will know that I never turn down an
invitation from Bath’s independent restaurant gurus, The Pig Guide – so when I
received an email a few weeks ago inviting me to try the autumn tasting menu at
Combe Grove Hotel, I said yes even though I knew nothing about it. It turns out
that this hotel, although once a rather smart & fashionable place, has
spent recent years being passed around various unimaginative hotel chains,
which accounts for why I’d never heard much about it. Recently though, it was
rescued by some new, independent owners – and they’ve got serious plans for
restoring its former glory.
Combe Grove is perched on top of Bath’s Brassknocker
Hill, with 70 acres of gardens and woodland spread about it. The views are
quite literally breath-taking - strolling through reception, we were all
irresistibly drawn to a wide doorway, flung open to let in the night air,
beyond which the gardens tumbled vertiginously into the glorious Limpley Stoke
valley. The new owners of Combe Grove pride themselves on an exceptional
collection of artworks, which are displayed throughout the hotel, but I must
confess that I completely lost my heart to this view, like a living, breathing
landscape hung on the wall.
With such a setting, the interior of the hotel has a lot
to live up to, but Managing Director Rebecca Whittington is throwing herself
into the task with all sorts of beautiful touches, from hand-painted ceilings
to antique fittings and fixtures. We were shown into a gorgeous private dining
room set for fourteen, softly lit by the most stunning lamps which Rebecca told
us formerly graced the iconic Liverpool Central Library, built in 1860 and now
Grade II listed. The décor was rich, gloomy and deeply stylish, from the
beautiful gold and turquoise wallpaper on one wall, to the table set with
painted candlesticks and ochre glassware. Full of anticipation, we sat down for
a six course menu from award-winning chef Leigh Evans, paired with cocktails
from expert bartender Shane.
We started with a cured tuna tartar, served with
watermelon, cucumber, radish and wasabi, and washed down with a frozen shot of
Jinzu, a spectacular new gin created in Bristol. The flavours were
fantastically fresh and zingy, perfect to wake up the tastebuds, and although I
wouldn’t normally drink gin neat (honest) it worked perfectly with this dish.
Our second course was wood pigeon (left), with black pudding, granola and orange – I
must confess I wasn’t so sure about this one, maybe because of the granola,
although I did enjoy the accompanying Black Manhattan, made with bourbon and
orange to really bring out the orange in the dish.
The third course, though, was probably my favourite one
of all – stone bass, served with a BBQ chicken leg, sweetcorn, polenta and
leeks (right). To be completely honest, it’s probably not something I would have
ordered, but I loved it – the combination of the firm, juicy bass with the
chicken was fabulous. I even loved the sweetcorn, which is not my favourite
thing at all – I do love it when a chef makes me enjoy something I thought I
didn’t like! To pair with this one, we had possibly the most unusual cocktail
of the evening – the pepino fumar, or
smoking cucumber, made with tequila, smoked ancho chilli liqueur and cucumber.
It had a hell of a kick but it really worked with the dish.
Our fourth course was a lovely wintry recipe - venison
haunch, with red cabbage and an incredible smoked garlic dauphinoise which
frankly, I could have eaten a whole plate of. To wash it down, we had another
really unusual cocktail made with beetroot, which was really delicious – I’d
definitely order it at the bar – but in my opinion a little too sweet for the
Doesn't this look like a
fabulous piece of modern art?
For our first of two dessert courses, we were served a
gloriously tart and tangy passion fruit brulée with mango salsa (left), and my
favourite cocktail of the evening, a basil daiquiri. My normal policy for a
cocktail flight like this is to only drink half of each (and if you’ve ever
tried to live tweet a meal after six different cocktails, you’ll know why) but
I couldn’t resist polishing this one off. Our final course was an iced parfait, with a blackberry
& liquorice beignet and a tonka bean panna cotta, accompanied by cardamom
lemonade. This was another really unusual idea that worked surprisingly well –
I especially loved the beignet, and the parfait was gorgeously creamy.
Throughout the meal, I was so impressed by the creativity
and originality displayed by both Leigh and Shane. There were some incredible
flavour pairings and the presentation of all the dishes was stunning. I was
also blown away by the setting, and chatting to Rebecca during the meal I was
so excited by her plans for the future of the hotel. This is definitely one to
To find out more about dining and staying at Combe Grove, visit their website here.