SALLY’S SE­CRET

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

WHEN young Huguenot refugee Solange Luyon fled France for Eng­land to­wards the end of the 17th cen­tury, she es­caped with more than her life: she took with her a fam­ily recipe for a brioche­like bread that later en­shrined her place in culi­nary his­tory.

With her name an­gli­cised to Sally Lunn, she ar­rived in the West Coun­try and in­tro­duced her now fa­mous bun to preGe­or­gian Bath, which was be­com­ing a fash­ion­able spa town. In 1680 Sally set up a re­fresh­ment house at North Pa­rade Pas­sage, in the shadow of me­dieval Bath Abbey.

Here she baked and served the rich, round buns, which gained such a rep­u­ta­tion that they be­came known as Sally Lunn buns and her premises — built in 1482, the old­est house in Bath — sim­ply as Sally Lunn’s.

More than 300 years and count­less buns later, they are still baked here by hand us­ing Sally’s orig­i­nal recipe, and her re­fresh­ment house is one of Bath’s most pop­u­lar at­trac­tions, as fa­mous as the city’s glo­ri­ous Ge­or­gian ter­races, the Ro­man baths and the as­sem­bly rooms fre­quented by writer Jane Austen, per­haps Bath’s most cel­e­brated res­i­dent.

I’ve walked past Sally Lunn’s — a nar­row, four-storey town­house built in Bath’s famed honey-coloured stone — many times, but never yet tried its sig­na­ture bun, de­terred by the in­evitable queue. To­day, a week­day, I find a tiny ta­ble squeezed into a cor­ner of the tea­room’s ground floor. So dis­tracted am I by the con­ver­sa­tion of those at neigh­bour­ing ta­bles — a mix of over­seas vis­i­tors and Bath ma­trons, all rounded English vow­els with much high-vol­ume talk of gar­den­ing, golf hand­i­caps and grand­chil­dren — that I barely have time to scan the menu be­fore I am­be­ing urged to make my choice.

The buns are served with a variety of sweet and savoury top­pings, rang­ing from cin­na­mon but­ter to creamy brie with cran­berry sauce, and I plump for a re­gal-sound­ing Queen Vic­to­ria: half a bun served with lemon curd and clot­ted cream, and a pot of tea for £6.18 ($13.90). It ar­rives quickly, is placed be­fore me with­out cer­e­mony and I sense that I am­re­quired to eat up quickly and va­cate my seat for the next, per­haps more lav­ish­spend­ing, cus­tomer.

In truth, a Sally Lunn bun is much like a tra­di­tional English tea­cake mi­nus the sul­tanas, al­beit on a much grander scale. It’s the size of a din­ner plate, about 25cm across, and I am re­lieved that a serv­ing con­sists of only half a bun, toasted to a golden brown and a sturdy plat­form for the cream and lemon curd I pile upon it. I’m not a great tea-drinker but the house brew is de­li­cious, a blend of In­dian, Sri Lankan and African teas.

The bun is tasty, but no one is sug­gest­ing a Sally Lunn pro­vides much of a culi­nary thrill: the plea­sure is all in its her­itage and his­tory. (Charles Dick­ens ate here, as did Jane Austen and, th­ese days, Face/Off star Ni­co­las Cage is a reg­u­lar.)

And Sally would have no trou­ble recog­nis­ing her home, so lit­tle has it changed over the cen­turies. Even her orig­i­nal cook­ing range re­mains, one of the ex­hibits in a small kitchen mu­seum in the base­ment. As for the recipe, that re­mains a closely guarded se­cret, passed with the deeds of the house to each new owner. Sue Milne

www.sal­ly­lunns.co.uk

Her­itage trea­sure: Sally Lunn’s

Oven fresh: Bath’s fa­mous bun

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