According to Laurence Beere, the life and soul of a hotel is its restaurant. So, when he and his wife, Helen, bought Bath's Queensberry hotel in April 2003, the first thing they refurbished was its 65-seat Olive Tree restaurant.
The duo have created a contemporary dining space, using cool blues, natural greens, luxurious velvets, oak and leather. "We wanted a place where people can relax, enjoy sophisticated surroundings, and leave having had a great time," explains Beere.
That philosophy extends to the menu, which has been fine-tuned to offer what head chef, Jason Horn, describes as "good, honest food". Most of the meat is sourced locally and the fruit and vegetables come from a shop down the road. "People like to know where the food they're eating comes from," says Horn. A former Young Chef of the Year in Ireland, he joined the Queensberry as a sous chef four-and-a-half years ago and is now in charge of the kitchen's six-strong brigade.
The revamped lunch menu offers either two or three courses, at £13.50 and £15.50 respectively. Both lunch and à la carte menus offer a wide choice, ranging from contemporary items to more traditional favourites - or, rather, Horn's own take on them. A starter described simply as "fish, chips and mushy peas" (£8.95) turns out to be a pan-fried scallop on pea purée topped with chips.
With the onset of spring, braised lamb and pork dishes, popular during winter, have given way to lighter meals featuring chicken, ham and fish. Horn's passion for cooking all manner of fish and seafood, from shark and conger eel to gurnard and razor clams, was fuelled by a nine-month stint at Rick Stein's Seafood restaurant in Cornwall.
Echoing Stein's principles, Horn's approach to cooking fish is to keep it simple - just pan-fry and add a squeeze of lemon - and let the flavour speak for itself. Fish accounts for about half of the dishes, but meat-eaters are not left out. Creamy-textured Cornish milk-fed lamb, marinated in rosemary, wild garlic and oil, then oven-roasted, is served with fondant potato, baby carrots, peas, broad beans and asparagus (£19.50).
Desserts (all £6.50) are the work of pastry chef Rachel Milson, now in her 10th year at the restaurant. A coffee-flavoured crême brûlée comes in an espresso cup, topped with frothy milk. Those seeking chocolate heaven find their prayers answered in the chocolate plate, comprising chocolate tart, chocolate fondant, white chocolate mousse, white chocolate ice-cream, and dark chocolate sauce.
For both Beere and Horn, chasing after accolades is not a priority. Three AA rosettes would not be unwelcome, but Horn asserts he would rather have the best two-rosette establishment than an average three-rosette venue. As for Beere, "It's enough just to have people say that we've got it right," he says.
The Olive Tree Restaurant
Bath BA1 2QF.
Tel: 01225 447928.