Messers Koffmann and White need no introduction. So when it was revealed that they’d teamed up to offer Bath’s vibrant restaurant scene a brasserie concept combining French and English classics, loved and perfected by both chefs with an accumulative experience in excess of 90 years, it hardly seemed worth writing up. It was in fact an unnecessary exercise in reviewing, albeit an effortless one; the menu being a who’s who of favourite dishes on both sides of the Channel, executed with a lifetime of knowledge and an address book of the best local suppliers including Marco’s own cattle, Bertinet bread and cheeses from Alex James of Blur fame.
Located at The Abbey Hotel in the heart of Bath’s tourist drop-off, and replacing the former Allium Brasserie following the sale of the hotel, the new dining room is almost unrecognisable from the former Barbara Cartland pink version; its sultry, historic-feeling matte charcoal grey walls hung with gallery-style pictures creating a more sophisticated, grown-up tone, while come evening the mood is distinctly French, with marble-topped tables and candlelight adding to the atmosphere, not least when the lady next to me leant forward to kiss her partner and singed her hair.
The a la carte menu meanwhile offers a good range of well-priced French and British classics we’re all familiar with – shepherd’s pie, lamb Provencal, sherry trifle – and might make you wonder what’s so different to the high street eateries popping up on every corner such as Cote, Brasserie Blanc and The Ivy. Showcasing simplicity, local produce and the kind of food Koffmann and White enjoy eating, it’s far removed from the frills and pretentiousness of Michelin dining, yet the cookery elevates the humble into something sublime, with an attention to detail far beyond the chain brasseries you’re likely to circumnavigate after this.
Take French onion soup for example – an entrée that can so often go wrong due to poor seasoning, not enough cheese (or the wrong kind), or having so dense a topping that it’s nigh on impossible to penetrate the sweet, salty onion liquor below – this was worthy of any Paris bistro and recalled fond memories of just such an experience I once sampled in Monmatre. The soup featuring cider was well partnered with a top layer Bertinet sourdough crouton and meltingly, stringy Gruyere; a truly satisfying, dribblingly messy preamble that requires diners to possess a certain intimacy. If it’s a first date, then it’ll certainly be an ice-breaker.
Mains were equally precise; a fillet steak au poivre and beef fat chips featuring a skillfully-made sauce, while the chips more than warranted my husband ordering a portion to accompany his braised ox cheek in red wine à l’ancienne, even though it’s served with pomme puree. Complimenting both mains, a quality Malbec can be had for £28 and is testament to a savvy wine buyer. After dinner cocktails add a finishing touch, while desserts are elegant simplicity itself; a perfectly prepared Champagne poached pear with crème vanilla set in jelly nicely textured, albeit a little too sweet for me, and a well-balanced chocolate mousse packing the punch you’d expect from 72% cocoa.
The food, whilst not offering many surprises, is the kind you return for, so too the charming, well-trained and attentive front of house who anticipate your every desire before you know it yourself. Bath is fortunate indeed that Koffmann and Mr White chose their city for the launch of this exciting new partnership, let’s just hope that this flagship manages to retain that which sets it apart from others if or when they expand, and that the concept continues to feature local produce reflecting each venue. So far, so good. End the evening with an Espresso Martini or Brandy Alexander in the hotel’s ArtBar where, with a chandelier of assorted wine and cocktail glasses and expert mixologists, the mood is suitably relaxed after such rich fare, wing armchairs to boot should you feel as heavy-lidded as we did.
Koffmann and Mr White’s at The Abbey Hotel, Bath. For more information and reservations please visit the website.