It’s not every day you get to eat in an igloo, complete with a stark white arched ceiling, ice-block-effect bar and Northern Lights-inspired lighting. In the vaults beneath the Abbey Hotel in Bath, where executive chef Chris Staines presides over the kitchen in its much-revered Allium restaurant, a new event space is now being put to similarly good use as the venue for Chris’s monthly supper club.
Chris opened Allium back in 2012, fresh from seven-years as head chef of the Michelin-starred Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental, before which he worked under Marco Pierre White at his three-Michelin-starred Oak Room. He has, he says, always been a fan of Asian cooking, and attributes his love of Eastern-inspired flavours to an event he did with David Thompson, widely touted as “the world’s best Thai chef”, who earlier this year was given a lifetime achievement by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants for changing the face and reputation of Thai food globally.
The great thing about the supper club, apart from the friendly communal vibe and family-style dining, is that Chris gets to cook the food he’s really passionate about, something that’s not always apparent on the menus proffered upstairs at Allium. And while Chris has never been a seeker of the limelight, he also gets to talk about the cuisine he loves, and the bin-end wines he’s carefully chosen to go with each course.
Sharing starters such as cucur udang (crisp, juicy prawn fritters originally introduced to Chris by his good friend, MasterChef champ and Bath local, Ping Coombes) were served with Sriracha mayo, while soft, pillowy pork and prawn dumplings came with a salty, spiky soy and chilli sauce for dipping.
The Asian noodle salad was the star of the show. The simple, yet totally addictive mix of rice vermicelli noodles with green papaya, baby gem and fist loads of coriander, Thai basil, mint, peanuts for crunch and a nam jim dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, soy, palm sugar and chilli, was so good that digging in for thirds came as a natural reflex. It’s also safe to say, that when dining with Chris, that initial fear of there not being enough food, passes quickly.
The main course, which saw us all lining up for a simply-served plateful of steamed sea bream and sticky rice, was only marginally less successful. What it lacked in finesse, though, it more than made up for in incredible flavour, with the preserved and salted umeboshi plums packing serious twang, lifting the delicate fish with its clean-tasting ginger and soy dressing and greens, to smile-inducing culinary heights.
Oenophiles will be very happy too, as Chris’s palate and ability to pair wines with his food, has always been a massive strength. As such, there’s everything from classics such as a Waipara Springs riesling and Paul Cluver gewurtztraminer, to the odd wild card, such as a chilled Escarpment pinot noir served with the fish.
Dessert, a light coconut panna cotta, which came with requisite wobble-factor and a brilliantly fresh lychee sorbet, strawberries and honeycomb rubble, was the perfect end note to an incredible meal.
Expect the luck-of-the-draw element with who you get to sit next to at one of Chris’ supperclubs – bloggers, keen foodies, Allium virgins, Chris Staines’ super-fans and just those looking for an intriguing new experience or night out. It’s a dinner party with a difference, with awesome Asian food and a few celebrity chef collaborations in the pipeline. It’s also a steal at just £22 per person (excluding drinks), which means you can – and you probably should – make it an every-month occurrence.
The Igloo, Abbey Hotel, North Parade, Bath
Words by Kate Authers
First published August 2016