The Olive Tree at the boutique Queensberry Hotel in Bath, has long been reaching for the stars, with Head Chef Chris Cleghorn’s enviable career working alongside Michelin chefs such as Heston Blumenthal, Michael Caines and Adam Simmonds having set him on a path to perfection. Passionate about local produce, with seasonal menus reflecting the best of the South West, it ticks all the boxes in terms of modern fine dining; a destination food experience that will enhance any sojourn.
As we all know, it isn’t just the food that wins you a Michelin star, and whilst Cleghorn’s cuisine has always been unquestionably meritorious, the front of house team have upped their game to offer the kind of service and attention you expect from what is the city’s only Michelin star fine dining restaurant. With news of the Olive Tree’s Michelin victory announced just prior to our recent visit, it was exciting to witness the dramatic changes that have happened since last dining here a few years ago, including a more sophisticated interior with clever spot lighting to ensure the food remains the star of the show, quite literally.
Classy and elegant without erring on the formal or fussy, The Olive Tree’s relaxed ambiance is in line with the current trend for unpretentious gourmet experiences where you no longer feel obliged to whisper to your dinner companion. Jazz rather than classical, think wooden tables devoid of linens, with a grown-up vibe that merges fluidly and harmoniously with the kitchen’s offering. The Michelin Guide in turn have thankfully adapted their approach to judging over recent years, and now recognise that food doesn’t always have to be presented under a silver cloche to demand attention.
Newly developed dishes highlight Cleghorn’s affinity with local ingredients, whilst the clean, slick presentation allows his talent to shine with no unnecessary pomposity. Satisfying a bugbear of mine, the waiting staff will even leave the remaining jus behind should you want more. In addition to the à la carte, choose from 5 or 7 course tasting menus with optional wine pairings – the waitress kindly informing us of the approximate running time for each, perhaps in case we had a train to catch. Alas, this restaurant was one of the reasons we moved to Bath, so we opted for a leisurely evening. Canapés of crispy chicken skin with cod roe, along with a pig’s head croquette and pineapple purée awakened our taste-buds and kicked off our culinary journey, with an opening course of smoked eel, celeriac, apple and a hot cheddar sauce offering a dose of autumnal comfort.
A sweetbread, simply pan-basted and undisguised as chef’s so often do to make them more appealing to diners, amplified the natural sweetness, as did the roasted butternut squash, pecan nuts, veal jus, carefully placed thyme sprigs and a soy sauce gel which tasted rather like Bovril and offered that much boasted umami. One of my favourite courses was brill served on the bone partnered with a piquant black garlic purée, leek, mussels and beurre black in a modern twist on the traditional blanc version. The main was equally satisfying; fallow deer with Jerusalem artichokes, blackberry, cocoa and foraged rainbow sea kale, its saltiness and iron-richness the perfect accompaniment to the superbly prepared venison.
The strikingly simple cheese course was a masterclass in simplicity and beauty; an exquisitely neat oblong of toasted home-made white bread a well-crafted vessel for Tunworth, a brie-style soft cheese; its earthy, mushroom qualities complemented by slivers of autumn truffle and precisely arranged dots of Madeira gel. In the five years since Cleghorn joined the Olive Tree, we have watched a young chef admiring of other culinary legends become one in his own right.
The first dessert of blackcurrant mousse doubled as a palate cleanser, with sherbet-like elderflower meringue kisses, fresh blackcurrants and pear pearls displaying great technique, while the crowd-pleasing finale of chocolate delice with passion fruit, almond and a refreshing yoghurt sorbet illustrated yet more attention to detail and a chef confidently flourishing his skills. Not only is each dish layered with textures and flavours, but the entire tasting menu is carefully balanced between freshness and richness. The Olive Tree may hold Bath’s only Michelin star, but it would stand proudly amidst a whole constellation, and if you’re a wise man you’ll make a foodie pilgrimage.
The Olive Tree at The Queensberry Hotel, 4-7 Russell St, Bath BA1 2QF. For more information and reservations please visit the website or telephone 01225 447928.