Visiting Somerset is always a pleasure. Mark's mother lives in a village a short drive from Wells and Bath, so the setting is totally different from our day to day living in suburban Coventry. When we are there, we like to spend most of our time relaxing, cooking, and helping with odd jobs, punctuated with country walks (weather allowing!). On one of the days, though, we will often pop in to either Bath or Wells for a meander around the shops and a spot of lunch.
Any of you familiar with Bath will know that when it comes to decent restaurants or quality produce, the affluent spa town is not short of either. On our most recent visit, Mark's sister booked us in for lunch at Menu Gordon Jones. They offer a 5-course surprise menu at lunch, and a 6-course surprise menu for dinner. These menus are derived from whatever seasonal ingredients Gordon picks up for the day from local suppliers, and so as long as you're not a picky sod and approach your meal with an open mind, you will not be disappointed.
We knew we were in for an interesting meal as soon as the appetisers arrived. A brown paper bag with a beautifully-lettered description contained our bread, and a rack of test tubes filled with oils and vinegars arrived with a nugget each of something deep fried, which turned out to be snails. I'm not adverse to escargots, but usually there is something I prefer on the menu and so I never order them. These were a delight: hot, crisp and juicy, and the bread flavours were fantastic, especially when mixed and matched with the dips.
The menu continued along the same vein: a wonderful combination of great produce and interesting flavours: hand dived Orkney scallops and a course of English rose veal with baked coco beans were particularly lovely. The beauty of these surprise menus is that you can find yourself being introduced to ingredients and flavours you might often bypass when making a choice from an à la carte. Dishes such as skate knobs with raw Mylor prawns and popcorn, and the artichoke soufflé with potato and blackberry for dessert come to mind. You're wondering why the chef has planted vegetables in your pudding as the server introduces the dish, to then find yourself scraping out every last delicious morsel from the ramekin.
Every course was presented and seasoned perfectly and there wasn't a single dubious dish among them (apart from when we realised a neighbouring table had received bigger soufflés than us, but we'll let them off). The kitchen itself is positioned in the corner of the small dining room, and a lovely touch is how the Chef is able to overhear inquisitive conversations and nip over to chat to you about the food. At one point he leaned out with a pair of mighty Orkney scallops in his palm to demonstrate their massiveness before they are sliced in to thirds to be served. As scallop lovers, we were thrilled!
The dining room of this cleverly conceived restaurant is small and intimate (but not cramped), with a capacity of only 20 covers. It can be difficult to get a reservation, but we highly recommend you get in there early and book yourselves a table. A great experience at a very reasonable price.
Menu Gordon Jones, 2 Wellsway, Bath
N.B. We booked and paid for lunch at Menu Gordon Jones ourselves, and all opinions are our own.