December 5th, 2006

Feast

Olive Tree/Blackstone's

Olive Tree

Location: Queensberry Hotel, Russel St., Bath BA1 2QF

Down a slender flight of steps, in the basement of the Queensberry Hotel, lies a suite of white dining rooms, tastefully decorated with cubist renditions of Monet's waterlilies and modern, clean-lined chairs. At lunchtime, crossed white table runners are weighted with a miniature succulent garden, and white linen napkins frill the waiting wine glasses.

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All in all, it was a decent meal, indifferent at worst, and very good in its highlights. Service was generally attentive and always friendly, and the space comfortable. The menu changes frequently, and many of the items on the menu we were choosing from were tempting.

Blackstone's Restaurant

Location: 10A Queen Street, Bath BA1 1HE

Blackstone's Kitchen across the street is still a takeaway place but, from what our group's local told me, the owners' attention is now focused on their relatively new venture, the restaurant across the street. Furnished at the intersection of modernist plastic furnishings and early twentieth-century upholstry, the restaurant was welcoming of a pleasant variety of parties, from families with infants and toddlers, to larger gatherings of friends.

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Blackstone's Restaurant seems like a competent, reliable restaurant, a decent all-rounder in a very convenient location, with a versatile-but-not-too-big menu. I didn't get to try what must have been the best dish of our evening, so I don't know how good it gets. There were no real hits in what I eat, but it was all properly cooked and respectably presented. And I really do approve of restaurants with a good non-alcholic drinks list.
Fishy Circumstances

Bath

Terraced houses encompass Bath's hills in peached cream, rows of stony façade tidily bedecked with cornices and columns. The guidebook promised a Palladian city, but I was astonished by how true that was. The eighteenth-century houses which dominate the city into pleasing uniformity are the result of crossing Palladian villas with British architects. Pediments balance on clean Ionic columns or crown windows. The city's status as a World Heritage Site ensures that windows once stoned over against the window tax will stay so. Cobbled roads swerve through crescents of houses, edged with wide sidewalks, the merit of a city which came to prominence when promenading was in fashion. Parks are compact, but lush and green even in the opening days of December, and the long rays of midday sun limned the serried rows of houses with glow.

My mother swears I've been to Bath before, but I didn't remember it. It's a handsome city, a healthy one, given the limitations that its historical significance gives it. Our hotel was once a country mansion; my eyes superimposed the doorways to its ballroom on the walled-up arch behind the check-in desk. The expanse of the still-usable ballroom in The Assembly Rooms was a relief - big enough for proper dancing, for large numbers of well-dressed visitors gathering by the hundreds for an afternoon of cards, conversation, and dancing. Original chandeliers glittered in transparent crystaline clarity above, hanging from a capacious ceiling. Bath is full of ballrooms.

We walked into town, across a narrow toll bridge to the canal. Docked houseboats lined its banks, one with a wood stove, another with a bicycle. Greenery fell away to the railroad below, while trees edged the hill which rose gradually above us. Houses graced the water's far edge. Closer at hand was a bench hewn from a tree trunk. We looked down on the approaching city. I paused to photograph the sun in the still waters; C. took pictures of Bath's stone.

The annual Christms market was mad. The crowds were nearly solid most of the time, and I couldn't see why. There were too many people passing through, not enough stopping to look and browse and shop. We wedged ourselves in the corners of booths to browse, dodged the oncomers progress further. The others speculated that the crowds are drawn by a general lack of Christmas markets in Britain, a recent import from the continent. In the midst of the crowd, coincidentally, we ran into friends from Greenwich. We come so far to see those so close. The abbey church offered hourly carol services for the shoppers. We stopped in to look at the last pre-Reformation cathedral in Britain. Its fans seemed plastic, smooth curves, as if extruded, carved by practiced hands for the vaulting above.

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