Brilliant bottles – and not one of them over
The Beckford Bottle Shop is a Bath wine merchant, complete with restaurant serving up ‘small plates’, as well as a ‘curated selection’ of British cheese and charcuterie. How achingly on-trend. Throw in some strange, overpriced ‘natural’ orange wine, a couple of inked and earnest enthusiasts and we could be in Hackney. What’s wrong with big plates? And don’t curators belong in museums? But hey-ho, the place comes recommended by my friend Mark, who spent a very merry evening there the week before. And as I’ve said before, Mark is a man who can sniff out good scran like a Great White scents blood. He never lets me down. And this time, he’s outdone himself.
Because The Beckford Bottle Shop is a beauty, no doubt about that. It sits in a handsome Georgian house, with sash windows, and a surfeit of space and light, and comfortable leather chairs, and a ceiling covered in beaten tin.
Framed corkscrews take the place of bad art, and at night the place is lit by candles. For a small corkage fee, you can drink any of the wines sold in the shop with your lunch or dinner. Although there’s seems little point straying off a restaurant list that is not only immaculately selected but brilliantly priced too. There are 39 bottles, with nothing over £40.
We drink a Greek white that reminds us quite how exciting their booze can be, and eat a plate of British charcuterie that shows us quite how far our native meat curing has come. Bresaola made from retired dairy beef, smoked pork collar and punchy merguez from the excellent Tempus foods, robust Great Glen venison salami, and a glorious Suffolk salami chorizo. The menu’s so beguiling that we order the whole damned lot. And not a dish disappoints.
The quality of ingredients is peerless. Excellent anchovies, Ortiz at a guess, slyly sweet, mixed with pert pickled onion and a dribble of lemon, served on fingers of toast. Two-bite delight. And more toast, this time topped with chanterelles, glossy with chicken butter. Simple, but beautifully done. There’s silken whipped cod’s roe (of course there is), and a zingily sensational mackerel tartare, with soft chilli grunt, that possesses the ephemeral sweetness of the truly fresh.
Bath Chaps are chopped, lavished with mustard, then breadcrumbed and deep-fried until they resemble pig’s head nuggets. They come with a tart apple sauce, to cut through all that oinking excess. This food reminds me of Terroirs, and Brawn, and Noble Rot. Simple, straightforward, and joyously confident. Food you actually want to eat.
There’s a mini rabbit pie, where said bunny is mixed with great chunks of black pudding, all sat under a burnished and buttery crust. A slab of winter delight, it’s both subtle and muscular. Brisket, slow cooked in red wine, melts into succulent strands and comes swimming in a bold horseradish cream. Iberian-style beans come topped with a pair of immaculately cooked cephalopod legs. The acidity is beautifully judged.
Vegetables are treated with every bit the respect of meat and fish, a sure sign of an excellent kitchen. Creamed leeks loll in a lavishly cheesy Westcombe cheddar sauce, roast pumpkin sits under a blizzard of Berkswell and roast Brussels sprouts are mixed with Jerusalem artichoke. There are rarely more than two or three ingredients per dish, and young head chef Harry Russell (a talent to watch) puts them together with a learned hand. Each dish is as good as the last. Service comes wreathed in charming smiles, dogs are welcomed and – most amazing of all – I taste a goat’s cheese I actually like. Sinodun Hill, lasciviously creamy, with only the merest of goaty bleats.
It’s one of those lunches that gets everything right, with the minimum of fuss or pretence. Bath has a new star. Get there, before everyone else does. About £25 per head
Octopus, chorizo and black bean stew