Nestled in the basement of the splendid Georgian building that is The Queensberry Hotel, the dimly lit Olive Tree restaurant is intimate and quietly glamorous. The décor here is sophisticated but simple, with clean white walls and wood flooring creating a classic, relaxing environment, and a touch of elegance from the dark wood and leather furnishings. The restaurant can afford to be simple, though, because here it’s all about the food. Which is, in short, excellent.
In fact, the menu is award-winning. The Olive Tree has been awarded three rosettes by the AA, it’s been listed as Bath Life magazine’s Restaurant of the Year, and most recently was awarded Gold in the 2014 Taste of the West Awards Restaurant category. Then there’s the wine list, which recently won The AA’s England and Overall Wine Award 2014-15, among plenty of other recognition.
So, expectations were high when we entered the restaurant last week, but it was instantly clear that those awards have been justly given. Particularly when we glimpsed the mind-boggling wine menu, which is fantastically extensive and also very unique. Queensberry owner and drinks aficionado Laurence Beere created the wine list, working with six main suppliers to source unusual but top quality wines which fit in perfectly with the hotel’s quirky atmosphere, but it was the unique layout of the menu that I really enjoyed. The staggering 25 page list has been laid out according to the characteristics of the wines, with headings like “Warm and Spicy” or “Nutty Whites with Intense Aromas” helping guests choose the perfect drink. Still though, choosing from such an enormous collection was tough, so we took a recommendation from restaurant manager Joss Rousanne, who picked out a sweet, juicy rose for us. I love my wine sweet, so the Moulin de Ronge Rose de Provence 2012 was the perfect choice for me, with floral and red berry notes and a juicy drinkability.
If we found it hard to choose from the drinks menu, the food was almost impossible. Head chef Chris Cleghorn – protégé of Michelin Star chefs Heston Blumenthal, Michael Caines and Adam Simmonds – has put together a sumptuous menu packed full of delicious, locally sourced and in-season ingredients from the finest West Country food producers. Creative dishes like quail with charred sweetcorn purée, mangetout and popcorn and crab lasagne mingle with more classic choices such as braised pork belly with dauphinoise potato, creating a stunning menu that had our mouths watering long before the food appeared.
Again unable to choose, I followed Joss’ recommendations and started with the crab lasagne, an incredible looking dish with neat circles in striking orange and green, surrounded by a smooth and creamy bisque. Sam’s choice, the rich and flavoursome duck liver, served poached and roasted with gooseberry, shimiji mushrooms and candied walnuts, was a work of art to look at and tasted incredible.
Our mains, both recommended by Joss, were two of the latest in-season dishes and were simply stunning. Sam’s loin of venison, perfectly pink and tender, came with a sumptuous chestnut and blue cheese purée, fig and cavalo nero. My breast and leg of partridge, also perfectly cooked, was served with leek on a bed of creamy spelt, trompette mushrooms, wholegrain mustard and thyme and doused in a smooth, heavy sauce. It was rich, autumnal food that truly celebrated the best of British flavours, and built on those classic flavours with an unexpected twist.
It was great to see so many delicious local ingredients on the menu: the duck from Madgetts Farm at Chepstow, the partridge from shoots in the Midford Valley and Norton St Phillip, and even the vegetables grown at a family farm in Little Solsbury. Not only are the ingredients as fresh and as high quality as possible when sourced locally, but from a tourist’s perspective it’s great to be able to taste local flavours when staying in the area.
For dessert, always my favourite course, the menu was even more enticing, with a list of mouth-watering dishes like hot chocolate fondant and perfectly on-season blackberry parfait. Since Sam’s choice, the soufflé, took longer to prepare, the kitchen served up a delicious pre-dessert while we waited, a glass of cream cheese, raspberry, and lemon. That little taster was fantastic enough, but then our desserts arrived and blew us away. Sam’s Earl Grey Soufflé with spiced bread ice cream was rich and warming, although it was strange to taste the soufflé, which had the distinct taste of tea. Sam loved it, but the soufflé – forgive the pun – wasn’t my cup of tea. Instead, I was in chocolate heaven, with a hazelnut and cardamom mouse- warming and spicy – wrapped in a crackly shell of chocolate “crunch”, served with a heart-breakingly beautiful manjari chocolate sorbet.
Every dish was beautifully cooked, artistically presented and simply perfect, with delicious local flavours and brilliant twists on classic food. The Olive Tree aims to provide beautiful food for less than you’d think, and it really is just that; high-quality food for very reasonable prices. This is a fabulous complement to a stay in Bath, an understated but sophisticated space with a quirkily British menu and sumptuous food that celebrates the kind of indulgence that Bath is famed for.
The Olive Tree – The Queensberry Hotel & Olive Tree Restaurant, Russel Street, Bath, BA1 2QF
01225 447928 – firstname.lastname@example.org