“If our chefs were left to their own devices the kitchen garden would look like a bed of weeds,” jokes Jane Moore, Chelsea silver medal-winning head gardener at The Bath Priory hotel, referring to the kitchen team’s passion for micro-herbs. Instead the walled garden is planted with a rainbow-coloured variety of vegetables, from purple beans to yellow courgettes (anything green was getting lost in the general vegetation and not being picked, she explains).
“We also grow a lot of small herbs and salads,” she says, adding that the hotel has a policy that the chefs come and pick what they want when they want it. “If we gardeners picked it for them and delivered it to the kitchen we might be choosing things they wouldn’t use. This system works much better”.
Alongside the kitchen garden, in the three acres of beautifully tended garden and meadow (also home to a newly revamped ‘secret’ outdoor pool) that stretch out behind the hotel, there are two highly prized mulberry trees. Though these are notoriously difficult to harvest (the fruit doesn’t come away until it’s perfectly ripe, at which point it’s so soft it squashes at the slightest touch and withers within a few hours of being picked), the kitchen team is quick to leap into action once they ripen. Traditionally this coincides with the start of the grouse-shooting season, a concurrence head chef Sam Moody makes the most of in one of his favourite dishes (see ‘meet the chef’ below).
Visiting in June, we don’t get to put the combination of grouse and mulberry to the test. Instead we enjoy an exquisite menu of hand-rolled saffron linguine with girolle butter sauce, fine herbs and summer truffle followed by saltmarsh lamb and a show-stopping dessert; bitter chocolate ginger snap with Earl Grey ice cream, glinting with gold leaf.
A meal at The Bath Priory isn’t just about the food, however. While the restaurant is a well-justified site of pilgrimage for visiting gastronauts, the gardens are an equally big draw for local regulars who tend to flit in for afternoon tea on the hotel’s glorious terrace, or for a stroll around the roses and foxgloves before tucking into the restaurant’s great value (£22.50) two-course midweek lunch.
meet the chef: Sam Moody
Sam started his career at 16 and, within a decade, held a Michelin star at The Bath Priory following time in the kitchens of Gidleigh Park, Hibiscus Ludlow and Tom Aikens. Now executive chef at the hotel, Sam retains that Michelin star. Other awards won during his time at The Bath Priory include an Acorn Award in 2011 and, in 2013, a Hotel Catey award for Chef of the Year.
The best thing on my menu is roast new-season grouse with mulberry syrup, celeriac, pate on toast and game jus. Each year, on 13 August I put this dish on and it’s stunning. I’m very lucky to have two fruiting mulberry trees here in our garden.
In my fridge there’s always butter, truffles, lemons, native-breed beef and caramelised shallot vinaigrette.
My most-used cookbooks are White Heat by Marco Pierre White and My Gastronomy by Nico Ladenis. Both are inspirational books, giving you a glimpse into a chef’s world that doesn’t exist anymore (and an insight into how hard they were prepared to work to make it to the top). I first read them when I was a commis chef and I am still flicking though them today.
My favourite 15-minute supper is two hanger steaks cut into thick strips and stir-friend in sesame oil in a very hot wok for two minutes. Add fish sauce, soy sauce, honey, chilli, ginger, galangal, lemongrass (keep it in the freezer and microplane it from frozen) and reduce to a glaze. Take out and rest. Add sliced garlic, shallots or spring onions to the pan and stir-fry for three minutes. Add noodles and stock and finish with some choi or spring greens.
I know I shouldn’t admit it but my guilty food pleasure is a very well known brand of pizza that is delivered to you door.
A fellow chef I admire is Josh Eggleton. He’s always busy but always happy to help and is a really nice guy. I love his pub, the Pony & Trap.
I love eating out at The Pig, near Bath, because the food is simple and really tasty, using really fresh produce, and the service is really great – relaxed and informal but still serious about doing a great job. The piggy bit they start you off with is pretty much a meal in itself.
A place I love that not many people know about is The Scallop Shell at White Row Farm. Their fish and chips are amazing after a morning out in the countryside.
A food trend I see sticking around is reducing food waste. I hope this will become part of everyday life, including supermarkets selling fruit and veg that hasn’t been judged for saleability on the basis of its shape and size, but it’s flavour and true value.
If you gave me a tenner I‘d spend it on some really good quality sherry vinegar – perfect in sauces, to de-glaze a roasting tray or over roast potatoes. Macetilla Sherry Vinegar El Majuelo, from Waitrose (£4.89) is my go-to choice at home.
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