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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.

The 2006 Good Food Guide gave Olive Tree second-highest praise of Bath's restaurants, and so it was that C., lazyknight, and I made our reservation for noontime fare. Indeed, giving the throngs swarming the city for the Christmas market, I was glad of any reservation at all. Before we'd even ordered, a baskets of cold rolls arrived, nicely displayed with napkin and bowl. Our waiter obligingly brought samples of two possible wines to have with our mains, after I asked him for advice, and both C. and lazyknight agreed in opting for the Las Casas del Toguri Cabernet Sauvignon Reservado (2003, Chile). Between them, they finished the bottle, so it must have been decent.

To begin with, I tried the tomato tarte tatin with goat cheese fritters. The ruddy soft tart was topped with a tangle of greenery, which gave a refreshing lightness to the other ingredients. The cheese within the fritters was pleasantly tangy, but the fritters themselves were cold, the deep-fried coating heavy for being no longer fresh from the frier. The drizzle of pesto dressing on the side helped enlivened the dish. Mains are frequently a disappointment for me: it's built into the style of having mains be a substantial and more subtly-flavored course, the sustenance between showpieces. Tender pheasant breast perched atop blandly smooth bubble-and-squeak in a welcome sauce of braised lentils. The sauce was easily the highpoint of the dish; the lentils still had a touch of bite to them, and the sauce was reasonably rich. C. and lazyknight were more enthused about the roast pork.

Agreeably, we each opted for a different one of the three non-cheese desserts available. C.'s chocolate pudding was not very chocolately - more toffee-like, in his view. lazyknight's pannacotta was superbly silky, with a good balance between creaminess and the orange which flavored it. My nougat parfait was fun and Christmas-like, speckled with candied fruit and pistachios, and delightful honey-marinated pears.

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.

I was particularly impressed with the attention paid to non-alcholic drinks, an often-overlooked category of menus. Ginger beer, elderflower pressé, freshly-squeezed orange juice, and sparkling orange-lemon, among others, helped to round out the selection. C. and I, chilled from a day's wandering, started with indifferent french onion soup with gruyere toasts. The cheesy bread was nicely done, but - sad to say - the in-house made onion soup couldn't compare with my current partiality to Waitrose's own canned french onion soup. lazyknight did better with the pumpkin ravioli with sage butter, crumbled local goats cheese and toasted pecans. The portion was modest, so he kept it all to himself, and raved about it afterwards.

For a main, I had one of the two fish speciials, pan-fried turbot with champ and wild mushroom sauce. The fish was the star, delicate, flavorsome. Champ, as I now know, is a form of mashed potatoes; the decent-but-not exciting sauce wasn't enough to enliven it for me, for all I admired the variety of mushrooms in the sauce. C. had a very generous portion of Steak and Guiness pie.

For dessert, still dreaming of lazyknight's lunchtime pannacotta, I ordered a pannacotta of my own, lightly touched with vanilla, and accompanied with poached clementines; good, but not as good as what lunchtime had offered.

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.