Restaurant Review: Sally Lunn's House, Bath
PUBLISHED: 14:11 25 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:17 05 April 2013
A bun with my soup and a bun forming my main course began to seem a bit bunny. After all, we've discovered the secret art of plate-making now
Restaurant Review: Sally Lunns House, Bath
A bun with my soup and a bun forming my main course began to seem a bit bunny. After all, weve discovered the secret art of plate-making now.
Were sitting, high up in the rafters, at Sally Lunns Buns in Bath, where history surrounds us. Both in a good way and in a conversely interesting way. Life was sterner, in the past.
It is a tradition that all our guests are delighted; please tell us if you are not, warns the menu.
Not unnaturally, I panic. What if Im thrilled? I ask Ian, whos busy perusing the menu which, probably not unexpectedly, has a heavy bun-bias.
Umm? he says.
Thrilled, I say. Is that above delighted or below? And if Im just very, very pleased with the meal, is that a cause for complaint?
He flicks a glance at me.
Besides which, I add, whose complaint would it be? Do I complain that Im merely entranced? Or do Sally Lunns complain that Im not keeping within the spirit of tradition? And is this a peak reading or an average?
The main midday choice, if you want something substantial, is the Trencher Lunch a trencher, as the menu helpfully explains, being bread that served as a plate before anyone clapped their hands to their forehead, saying, Ive just thought of how to invent washing up! At 15.78 or 18.38 for two or three courses, this isnt an obvious bargain in this recessive day and age, as well as being a puzzling amount. But who knows. Today, it consists of leek and potato soup, any trencher dish (from a choice of four) and a Somerset apple cake and clotted cream. (Bitter NB: remember that last bit).
The waitress just extremely pleasant who takes our order doesnt seem madly concerned to rate our pleasure levels. This seems a missed opportunity, to me. Surely a face-colour chart (slight blushing indicating the presence of mild pleasure to full ruddiness indicating the presence of John McCririck), blood pressure monitors, ECG machines, etc, would take away some of that stressful guesswork for customers.
It must be difficult being a dog in these circumstances, Ian broods.
Not being a conventional man, hes not talking about the difficulties dogs tend to have in booking restaurant tables. No, he elucidates. Its the tail-wagging. It gives away your emotions, you see. Imagine you went to complain about a meal and to try to get your money back. All it would take is for the proprietor to ask whether or not you enjoyed it. If your tail wagged, youd be sunk.
How unnecessarily cruel life is to dogs, we muse.
We push our sadness aside to order, alongside the soup and cake, our trenchers a chicken, and a vegetable version with aubergines, tomatoes, courgette and peppers. Both come with plentiful side potatoes and vegetables and both are filling and eminently edible. Not packed with flavours; but a good, traditional meal. If it all seems a bit bread-based, then thats its USP for the last 300 years, Sally Lunns have been baking buns to a secret recipe, that you can order in the form of sweet dishes maybe topped with chocolate or homemade cinnamon butter (which looked delicious; the nice couple at the next table, who shared their map of Bath with us, had them). According to legend, Sally was a Huguenot refugee, who arrived in this very spot in 1680, combining local eggs, butter and warm milk into a brioche-type bun. The recipe, found in a secret cupboard, forms part of the deeds of the house.
As I eat, I think of all the things that would delight me. One of my children becoming ruler of the world, but in a nice way; one of my restaurant reviews being a surprise recipient of a Nobel Prize for Literature; discovering I only dreamt Id woken myself up snoring in the theatre during that quiet bit of the play. I try this on my friend, Emma, who agrees with me that, however you work it, its hard to fit a bowl of leek and potato soup into a shortlist of Lifes Greatest Delights.
Anyway. The big disappointment is the apple cake, which arrives without garnish, proving somewhat dry. We gnash our way through it, only to find only to find, I say as Im writing this review and rescanning the menu, that it should have been served with clotted cream. There, you see. If Id explained that I was short of delighted, that would have been put right at the time. Mea culpa.
So lets reflect on the good bits. For the tourists, this is surely a must: a tea and eating house, in a fantastically historic building, thats famous for having been around a long, long time. You can also pop into the museum, based in the actual kitchen Sally Lunn once used to undoubtedly fully delight Georgian Bath. And it is very, very nice that a restaurant, nowadays, is still aiming at full-blown delight. The savoury food is plentiful; but its more of a fun fancy (and a perfectly valid fun fancy) than something youd want often. A bun with my soup and a bun forming my main course began to seem a bit bunny. After all, weve discovered the secret art of platemaking now.
Sally Lunns House, 4 North Parade Passage Bath, BA1 1NX, 01225 461634; www.sallylunns.co.uk