• Jake O'Brien Murphy

Bath On a Biscuit Tin

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

Bath really is a very charming place. After my first twenty-four hours in the city I realised it was going to be unfeasible to maintain my usual levels of calloused cynicism. It’s just too nice to be a dick about. It’s the kind of place that can only exist on the lid of a fancy biscuit tin in the cupboard of a kindly granny. The citizens of Bath seemed genuinely pleased by my existence and continued presence on their streets. In London, if I was ever barmy enough to attempt to spark up a conversation with a stranger, I’d be immediately speared through my softest organs by the sharpened shin bone of the last person daft enough to interrupt my nameless murderer’s commute. What is more, I reckon they would be entirely justified in doing so. So it was somewhat of a surprise when a lady stopped my fiancee on the street to lavish genuine praise on the trousers she was wearing and in general her exemplary taste in trousers. The idea of this unsolicited nicety was so abstract to both of us that we were left jaws swinging. We didn’t quite know how to act under the circumstances - it was as if this stranger had just flashed us both while clutching fistfuls of her own bloody pubic hair. Which, in honesty, I think I’d rather. At least then I could have provided a proportionate response. As it was, we thanked her in the way a hostage might their captor and with furrowed eyebrows, we toddled off in astonishment. This was no isolated incident either, things I can only describe as quaint kept on happening. I watched a lady thank a pay and display parking meter in earnest while a silver-haired man ambled passed, whistling a jaunty tune and carrying a peregrine falcon on his arm. Nary a head was turned by this and as that final puzzle piece fell into place it became abundantly clear. Bath was a different kind of place altogether.

Architecturally the city is gorgeous in a quintessentially well-to-do way. There’s always something arresting to take in, it’s like putting on a comfortable jumper and spreading thick-cut marmalade across your corneas. Whether it be the honey-dipped facade of the Great Pulteney Street townhouses or the Royal Crescent and the surrounding parks. A stretch of the scenery so monumentally impressive that it seemingly sprang straight from the pages of a Tolkien novel. You’d half expect to see Elrond putting the bins out. A trip to see the Roman Baths themselves is an afternoon well spent, described in pamphlet form as “one of Britain’s great sights”. It is remarkably well kept and true to all of the pamphletized literature both informative and fun. All you have to do is squint and you can see how life once was for our besandled forebearers. A side note on watching the equally interesting swathes of feckless tourists who’re all preoccupied with taking numerous selfies instead considering anything of vaguely Roman design. I saw one man taking a close up photograph of the water itself. As if you could take two separate photographs of some water or two selfies of the same idiot and pick them apart. A personal favourite quality is how every woman over a certain age in Bath seems to be taking part in a Judi Dench look-alike competition that they know nothing about. So, if it wasn’t obvious I was thoroughly enthusiastic about Bath and was of the mindset that nothing, short of sudden and repeated trauma to the groin, was going to change that. Then we ate at a restaurant called Oak and my enthusiasm sidestepped into a full-blown, scrapbook making, breathing down the phone line at 4am obsession.

Let me be clear, I am predominantly interested in flavour. As such, I eat whatever I feel like. With the express caveat that I don’t gorge myself into an early grave. Though on occasion I have given this some serious consideration. Because of that, I try my hardest to eat well. Not a gross amount and mostly plants. There’s a prevailing sentiment amongst some that a meal isn’t complete without meat. If you think, for example, that a carrot can’t be delicious of its own volition and are therefore of the opinion that deliciousness is in fact contingent on the proximity of veggies to flesh. Then I’m afraid you are missing out. Don’t worry, I’m not writing this to chide and prod you about the moral implications of our current food systems. As I said, I’m interested in flavour and at Oak, plants taste better. This is where it gets a little difficult for me. Because it’s tough to hyperbolise about a carrot without seeming clinically mad. I will say that the brutalist description of my favourite dish of the evening “carrot and hazelnut pate” is an unexceptional and sparingly humdrum way to summaries something so unfathomably gratifying. As an experience, it was like knowing someone for most of your life and accidentally finding out that they are actually a savant Jazz pianist on the side. Luxury and quality are not mutually exclusive, regardless of our click to buy consumer assumptions. To that end luxury basically translates into “this is expensive” and that makes the associated experience of any kind of quality an exercise in “look how much I am spending on any old shit” voyeurism. That’s why Gucci sliders exist. This was different, it was a luxury born of a humble ugly carrot. Which was so generous in flavour I’ll still be tasting next October. Then there was “Beckie’s beetroot tartare” which played keepy-ups between the contrasting earthiness of beetroot and an acidic/sweet backhander of blackberry. All finished with one of those fancy little quenelles of whipped Sinodun Hill goats cheese. A final flurry that was so good it made me mop my brow.

After an evening floating around bars of Bath in a heady funk of full bellies and contented souls, we went back to Oak for breakfast. Just to check if it was as good as we thought. Sage fried eggs set the foundation for most of the reasons I smiled for the rest of the day. It was an intoxicating mix of brown butter and that pungent savoury aromatic quality you only find with sage or when someone is rolling a joint on the night bus. All in service of a fried egg with a yolk so vivid it left sunspots dancing across my field of vision. It was substantial and sustaining. The coffee was good and the cinnamon rolls were better. The staff were patient and kind, even when we were struck speechless and giddy by the quality of the place. We picked up the book “Plants Taste Better” which I have thumbed through ever since imagining each dish the way one might do of themselves on a beach when looking through a holiday brochure.

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