A steak restaurant in Bath – that conjures up an image of luxury and sophistication already, doesn’t it? How about if I tell you it forms the restaurant part of a Premier Inn – what image do you get then?
It was with these two conflicting expectations that I rocked up at Bar + Block on James St West after being invited to put their menu through its paces – a few steps away from the complex which houses a Wetherspoons and Odeon, but also within staggering distance from the flashy new 5-star Gainsborough Hotel and Thermae Bath Spa. Such is Bath – part student haven, part tourist trap and part playground to the super-wealthy. How you even begin to tailor your offering in the city centre here is beyond me.
Bar + Block opened in September last year, and has been plying its trade steadily and happily since then. As you’d expect, most custom comes from the Premier Inn above, and on the night we were there, a few groups of young professionals, plus the odd date.
The restaurant doesn’t shout its existence from the outside, but once you’re inside it opens up into a spacious series of areas – booths towards the sides, small tables at the back, longer and tall tables with stools towards the front. Lots of exposed brickwork, slogans etched on walls…pretty standard on the snazz rankings. Ambience was a bit lacking during the time we were there, but it is a large space, and the segmentation of the room does mean it will be hard for it to feel buzzing unless it’s fairly full.
Once settled into our table after a warm welcome from the host at the door and our incredibly pleasant waitress, we were given the menu to peruse.
The Express Menu is a popular choice – the aim is to serve dishes within 10 minutes of ordering (steak in 10min? Eeesh), and all options come in at under a tenner. A good lunch option – but we were here for a grand steak dinner!
For our starters we decided to get a selection of ‘Grazing Plates’, including the burnt ends (£4.95), Mixed wild mushroom toast (£5.95) and the chicken wings with raspberry (!) & Tabasco sauce (£5.50)
The burnt ends had a good deep and smoky flavour from the rub, but were a bit too dry for me – they had a nice crisp on some corners but overall just tasted a bit like they’d been left under a heat lamp for a bit too long. More liquid or oozy fat needed!
I enjoyed the mushrooms, cooked in a creamy truffle-infused shallot sauce, served on a slice of ciabatta and topped with a poached egg and tarragon. It was a lot of tarragon (which would have probably tasted a bit more balanced if chopped rather than placed whole across the dish), but I love the taste of tarragon, so not too bad for me. The amount of bread made this quite a dense starter, especially with the generous amount of mushrooms.
On to those chicken wings with raspberry & Tabasco sauce – understandably I was incredibly apprehensive about these, but also knew I had to try them. In the end the flavours went together surprisingly well – the glaze was just the right level of sticky, spicy and slightly sweet – the raspberry flavour started subtle before levelling up the more wings you ate. Not sure I’d have them again, but surprisingly moreish – I even licked my fingers afterwards.
On to mains. Bar + Block buy their meat in whole, so steaks can be cut to size of your choosing, but sizes are also suggested on the menu.
My usually steak-avoiding friend (he has that anxiety of paying £20+ for a main and it not being to his liking) ordered the 10oz Spiral Cut Fillet (£25.50), described as ‘A unique dish created by spiral cutting the fillet and marinating it in garlic and parsley for 24 hours for tenderness and flavour’ – I’ve had something similar at a few Argentinian steak restaurants so it’s hardly unique, but it was damn tasty, and my friend was suitably impressed by the quality and tenderness of his meat. The garlic wasn’t that present as a taste, but there was a gorgeous char,
I went for the 14oz Tira De Ancho (£26.95), described on the menu as ‘Spiral cut ribeye, marinated in garlic, parsley and chilli, served with chimichurri’ – I bloody love chimichurri, I make it a fair bit at home and love it with steak, so immediately knew I was going to order this beauty. Unfortunately it turned out that they’d run out of chimichurri (I was told once my order was already being cooked, so a bit late to change my mind sadly), although the steak had been marinated in it during the day, so there was a very slight residual taste – mainly cooked off by the grill though.
Even so, again my meat was cooked just to the level I like and had a wonderfully soft texture (with the exception of one end bit which was a bit too gristly to eat). The samphire was a nice addition too, and the chips were just fluffy & crispy enough – nothing to write home about though. I ended up requesting a peppercorn sauce in lieu of my chimichurri, which came out quite thin and not packing much punch – in the end I mainly used it as a dip for the chips rather than sully my very tasty steak.
Despite rapidly flagging from full-ness, we were encouraged to try a couple of desserts.
I went for the Churros Sundae (£5.95), a behemoth served in a jar with two large churros popping out of the top, followed by layers of vanilla ice cream, lemon sorbet, lemon curd, cream, lemon drizzle and meringue. It all tasted nice, but it was a bit too much after such a hefty dinner, so I only had a few mouthfuls of ice cream and tangy lemon curd before giving up.
My dining companion ordered the Toffee Apple Cheesecake (£5.50), which he said was thoroughly tasty, although again quite rich and heavy after our meal.
So that was the food – what about the booze? The wine list is fairly average in pricing, with bottles of house starting at £14. We plumped for the Beefsteak Malbec (£16.95 for a bottle, or £4.55 for a 175ml glass), which was so tasty that we couldn’t help ordering a second bottle (so much for a cheap night out).
Service was very attentive, super friendly and knowledgeable throughout our visit. We followed the tips on wine and desserts, as well as which steaks and sauce combos work best. All turned out to be on the money.
Overall, Bar + Block is an odd beast. It’s a product of the strange hybrid Bath has become, and we all know how hard it is to turn a hotel restaurant into a hip and happening gastro destination, especially somewhere as snobby and simultaneously price-conscious as Bath.
I was really impressed with the quality of steak, and the slightly odd interior at least offers a lot of seats in a city where it can be hard to find a table in the evenings. It’s hard to know who it will appeal to in Bath, although it was pretty busy on night we went in (Tue around 7pm), so maybe once word gets out that the steaks are tasty they’ll fare a bit better. Prices aren’t far off the superior Hudson Steakhouse on the other side of town, however, so I’m guessing they’re stuck with their hotel guest and student audience for the forseeable.
Bar + Block
4 James St West
Disclaimer doodle: We were invited to try these dishes free of cost, however we were not asked to send any copy in advance and this didn’t affect our opinion of the meal – all thoughts are our own. We also shelled out for extra wine and nibbles, because we’re super greedy (especially when it comes to Malbec).