King William in Bath (below), circa 2006-ish. I came across it while writing another review of the same glorious eaterie a couple of weeks ago, and decided to give the original another airing ‘cos it sort of reads like a diary entry... and what’s wrong with a bit of nostalgia?
The King William, Bath
Until the zeroes really started to get underway, describing an eating out experience as “like going round to a friend’s house for supper” was an insult (and if anyone were to liken such an experience to supper at my house at the time, it would have been). These days, though, it’s likely to be the formal starch’n’snoot philosophy that brings on the disparaging sneers (“They still do white linen? You’re kidding!”). A decade of global unrest and the constant threat of recession has killed the £400 dinner date stone dead; chefs who cling to Novelli aspirations in the hope of hearing the squeal of the Michelin man’s tyres on the (raked, herbaceous-bordered, floodlit) driveway end up in AA, dress codes (along with which-fork-should-I-be-using paranoia) have been consigned to the ‘fine dining’ compost heap and the gastro-bistro is the new pub. A handful of smart, local, down-home diners with major foodie appeal flourish on every neighbourhood corner, and the King William – situated on a none-too-glamorous London Road junction – is vying to wear the Bath crown.
Once a really grim, grotty pub, now a smart little bar with a cosy snug in the basement and a gorgeously pretty supper room upstairs, the King Billy is the epitome of right-now chic. Yes, the upstairs experience is indeed a bit like going round to a friend’s house for supper – if, that is, you have friends who have a tastefully decorated, airy dining room that seats 40 and a couple of mates who happen to be kitchen gods. The furniture is artfully mismatched, the staff look really happy, the welcome is natural rather than rehearsed. Within seconds, even the traffic that thunders by below the window starts to feel like a whole world away.
From a beautifully understated, thoughtfully balanced set menu that further bolsters the zeitgeist theme (local organics, seasonality and impeccable sourcing skip lightly around the otherwise plain descriptions), we went for potted English lop and crab risotto starters, followed by red mullet and roast sirloin mains. Our wine arrived with a saucer-sized taster treat (you can’t say amuse bouche in a place like this) of Serrano ham and something figgy, swiftly followed by a basket of chunky home-made bread; ah yes, the yum-yum ball was rolling. The lop (it’s a sort of rustic pork pate, you plebs) was a totally flavoursome babe, served with succulent pickles and yet more fresh crusty slices, while the risotto was a perfectly gooey plate of sweet, sumptuous grains emboldened in all the right places by very fresh lozenges of crabmeat. The starters brought on a personality about-turn at our table: he began to wax gushingly lyrical while I was lost for words; suddenly I knew how it felt to go out for dinner with me (god, how do those ‘guests’ stand it?).
Next up, my roast sirloin was absolutely massive: a wholly carnivorous, juice-oozing, boldly fatty slab of beef, topped with fresh horseradish and teamed with a real, proper Yorkshire pud. It was a big man mountain of a meal that put a whole new spin on the notion of a roast – and further shut me up. He, meanwhile, was moved to prose now, uttering some sort of sonnet in praise of his mullet – apparently a juicy, plump oceanic goddess with shell-on prawns and mussels lounging against her lascivious flanks and spinach providing a bed on which the whole, moving experience took place. Crikey! That old adage about the way to a man’s heart, etc, must be true. While he continued to articulate his delight, I quietly ordered myself an English cheese platter that, even though it was a perfectly fitting doll’s house selection of top faves, I couldn’t finish, and instead just gazed on in awe as his rhubarb fool turned him into the bard of the King Billy supper room. I’ve never seen him so animated, so excited, so inspired – god damn it, I've never seen him so sexy*! If only I'd known, months ago, that all I had to do was fix him up with a lop and a mullet, the course of my personal history could have been rewritten. All hail the King Billy. It rules.
*Update: the King William is stil very, very good but the dinner date man turned out to be the very opposite of sexy.