Does a regular diner reach the same conclusions about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Critic Kate Authers and reader Sarah du Feu compare notes on Pierre Koffmann and Marco Pierre White’s joint venture
The duo behind Bath’s latest hotel restaurant need little introduction but here’s a foodie refresher. Pierre Koffmann has been on the British restaurant scene for the best part of 40 years. It was at Chelsea-based La Tante Claire that he reached the heady heights of three Michelin stars, a feat his former employee, Marco Pierre White, was to later repeat at his own eponymous restaurant in Hyde Park. Now the much-lauded chefs have rekindled their professional relationship, this time as restaurateurs, in Koffmann & Mr White’s, a pared-back French-English brasserie inside the Abbey Hotel.
Minutes from the city’s train station, the restaurant has a menu of French and English classics, from shepherd’s pie and steak au poivre to sherry trifle and pain perdu. There’s other familiar names to look out for, too – from Bath-based baker Richard Bertinet’s sourdough, to Cotswold adoptee and former Blur bassist Alex James’s cheeseboard. Head to the hotel’s ArtBar for after-dinner drinks.
At Koffmann & Mr White’s there are immediate glimpses of both culinary greats’ heritage stamped all over the space. It’s decked out in historic muted colours, with an original Georgian floor and lovely old artworks lining the walls. Flickering candelabras add to the romantic vibe; globe lights, taupe leather banquettes and marble tables make the space feel fancy yet relaxed, in classic Parisian brasserie style.
Service is friendly, though gets off to a chaotic start, and our own waitress doesn’t seem especially enamoured to be there. *I wasn’t recognised.
The menu reads a little like a greatest hits list – minus Pierre’s famous stuffed pig’s trotter – and it all seems incredibly affordable, for a collaboration between two three-star chefs. Not that you’ll find them in the kitchen day to day, of course.
Starters are a definite win. The English farmhouse salad comprises soft ham hock paired with crisp romaine, golden croutons, generous amounts of gruyère, piquant homemade salad cream and plenty of nostalgia. French onion soup, sweet with cider, salty and wonderfully moreish, comes topped with more burnished gruyère and a local Bertinet sourdough crouton. Each spoon delivers mountains of melting, stringy cheese, and a hidden golden egg yolk is the perfect smile-inducing treasure.
Our mains are hit and miss. The ratio of filling to mash on the shepherd’s pie feels a little mean and lacks seasoning, though the accompanying peas à la Française are buttery and delicious. Fillet steak has a dark, charry exterior and a meltingly soft and ruddy heart, but it’s a mistake to douse it with the accompanying heavy-handed poivre sauce. Luckily, the pinot noir is dangerously drinkable, the vine tomatoes sweet and flavourful, and proper beef-fat chips are as crisp and fluffy as you like.
To finish we shared a soft, champagne-poached pear, a bit too laced with honeyed sweetness but rescued by a light crème vanilla with masterful wobble.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The food is joyous in parts but in others slightly misses the mark. It’s early days, so a few cracks to smooth over are understandable and it feels like the team here haven’t quite hit their stride yet. I’d go back for the onion soup alone and with an extra soupçon of Messrs Koffmann and White’s culinary magic, it could be an obvious go-to for Bath.
We were a party of four with a small baby and a vegan to boot. There were no vegan dishes on the online menu but a quick phone call assured us that all would be well. On arrival we were greeted by friendly staff and shown to a table with enough space to accommodate the little one. It would appear that they had created a vegan menu especially for our party, which was a lovely touch.
The restaurant has a Parisian café feel to it with dark interiors, an eclectic mix of art on the walls and jazz playing. It was buzzing, even at 6.30pm, but with enough staff to feel smooth and slick. The wine list was extensive and varied.
The menu has a French-meets-English feel. Our selection of starters included an English farmhouse salad of ham hock, hen’s egg and homemade salad cream. The ham hock was dry and bland, and the alluring promise of the made-from-scratch salad cream was in reality a token gesture of something that could have come out of a bottle. The brandade of Scottish salmon, fennel and white wine jelly was also underwhelming. The fish was pleasant but the dish as a whole lacked seasoning. A vegan starter of soft quinoa with marinated tomatoes and asparagus with a tomato sauce vierge was the best of the bunch, with a nice balance of textures and fresh flavours.
For mains, braised ox cheek in red wine à l’ancienne was tender and fell apart beautifully, but the sauce lacked depth and had a slightly off-putting fatty taste. The fillet steak should have been medium-rare but was definitely more on the medium-plus side. Creamy polenta with wild mushrooms and baby spinach was well seasoned, with bite from the vegetables.
Highlights came in the form of desserts. The pain perdu with custard and toasted almonds was light and creamy, with just the right amount of sweetness and a welcome hint of citrus in the custard. Tender champagne-poached pears came with crème vanilla and a sweet syrup.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is a restaurant with a great atmosphere, impeccable service and a really reasonably priced menu. If only the food could match the ambience it would be great – instead it’s just good.
Total bill for four, excluding service: £187.70
Koffmann & Mr White’s Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating: 5.5
The selection of classic dishes on the menu at Koffmann & Mr White’s focuses for the most part on British ingredients. While the selection of vegetable-based dishes is not huge, pretty much all of the veg is from these shores. There is a wide variety of meat dishes to choose from, most of them from animals raised free-range and the braised ox cheek dish is a good example of nose to tail cooking, giving diners the chance to enjoy a lesser used cut and ensuring all parts of the animal are eaten. It would be good to see a wider variety of sustainable seafood on offer, stretching the selection beyond salmon and sardines (the latter can be hard to find from plentiful stocks). There is English wine on the menu and the kitchen team make visits to their suppliers which is always a good sign. There are also plans in place for working with local schools and to establish an apprenticeship scheme. With packaging a hot issue right now, diners will be pleased to know that suppliers have to use reusable boxes or take back and reuse the packaging.