Just two hours from his flagship Gidleigh Park, Michael Caines had to show all the traits of his cuisine at the Bath Priory when he took over the restaurant in March, yet differentiate it. Tom Vaughan reports
"We're not just making this a carbon copy," says Michael Caines of his new Bath Priory restaurant. "That would be a disaster."
He took over the reins from fine-dining's healthy-eating poster boy, Chris Horridge, earlier this year, and Bath Priory represents the closest business model to flagship hotel Gidleigh Park in the burgeoning Michael Caines brand. And while other star chef-headed restaurant group Gordon Ramsay Holdings might have branched out into different cuisine styles - Murano, Maze - as it expanded, Caines's strength is undeniably in the technically-able, French-based cuisine that rocketed him to two Michelin stars at Gidleigh Park.
Headed up by former Gidleigh sous chef James Sheridan, the restaurant honours Caines's promise to "keep all the traits of quality but do things differently". The basics all have their provenance in Gidleigh - the bread, the standards of service, the extensive wine list - and the food also has its roots firmly in Caines's impressive repertoire, albeit influenced slightly by the emerging talent of Sheridan.
The classic Michael Caines tasting is present in its summer format - priced at £90, £15 cheaper than it is at Gidleigh - boasting some of Caines's best creations from his 15-year tenure at the Devon hotel. There's crab ravioli, lemon grass and ginger sauce; roast Cornish sea bass, fennel purée and red wine sauce; roast squab pigeon with sweetcorn purée, rösti galette, asparagus and Madeira sauce. These dishes showcase the technical ability and dedication to flavour - the subtle enhancement of central ingredients and the skill to not overpower any one flavour - that gained Caines his two stars. Running alongside it is a weekly changing tasting menu, the baby of both Sheridan and Caines.
Among the à la carte dishes (£65 for three courses) there is a mix of signature Caines dishes such as quail ravioli with wild mushrooms and slow-poached Scottish salmon with herb purée, roasted fennel and fennel cream sauce; dishes that have been adapted for the new restaurant such as salad of white and green asparagus with globe artichokes, quail egg crouton with herb mousseline and truffle vinaigrette; and dishes created specifically for the Bath Priory such as John Dory with crispy belly pork and apple and ginger purée with a little cannelloni of crab and lemon and ginger sauce. A lunch menu at £25 for three courses also anchors the bottom end of the business model.
The drive, as ever with Caines, and Sheridan's brief is to cook seasonally and technically. It is also, it's probably worth adding, to cook slightly differently from Gidleigh. "Some go to Gidleigh Park then come here the next night. Imagine if you turned up at Bath Priory and had the same menu choice as the night before," Caines says.
His dedication to his French-based dishes might limit a less prolific chef looking to expand, but his extensive repertoire is his strength at the Bath Priory. For someone who has visited both Gidleigh Park and Bath Priory in the past six months there's certainly a distinction between sites, found largely in the length and adaptability of Caines's repertoire and the subtle influence of Sheridan on the menu. Roasted Brixham scallops with veal sweetbreads, pea purée and morel velouté was summery, sweet and light, despite the offal element; the John Dory similarly seasonally geared; while the rabbit was a plate of vast, miniature accomplishments, from the ballotine of leg wrapped in a mouse to the miniature loin.
Desserts on the à la carte also boast the mix of the trusted, the tweaked and the new; from the warm apple tarte tartin, green apple sorbet and cider apple foam to the rhubarb plate of warm rhubarb crumble, poached rhubarb and custard with lemon grass foam and rhubarb sorbet.
Sporting 70 covers and regularly serving 50 at lunch and 50 at dinner, the past four months since the Bath Priory reopened under Caines's umbrella has proved testament to the brand strength of the group, with the kitchen now looking to bump its staff numbers from 12 to 14. With Caines constantly involved in his role as executive and an emerging talent in Sheridan, the Bath Priory has hit the ground running, and bear's testament to the enduring appeal of Caines's much-vaunted cuisine.
The Bath Priory, Weston Rd, Bath, BA1 2XT
Tel: 01225 331922www.thebathpriory.co.uk
ALSO ON THE MENU
- Lamb sweetbreads, ragoût of wild mushrooms and toasted almonds (lunch menu)
- Pan-fried red mullet, bell pepper stuffed with ratatouille with chorizo and red pepper purée, gazpacho sauce (à la carte)
- Roast quail, herb purée, potato gnocchi, egg yolk vinaigrette and quail jus (classic tasting)
- Ravioli of butternut squash, baby leeks and a mushroom velouté (lunch menu)
- Sirloin of Lackham College farm steak, shallot and horseradish confit, braised beef cheeks, glazed baby carrots and red wine sauce (à la carte)
- Roast squab pigeon with sweetcorn purée, rösti galette, asparagus and Madeira sauce (classic tasting menu)
- Hot rhubarb soufflé, tonka bean ice-cream (lunch menu)
- Chocolate bar, praline and milk chocolate mousse on a hazelnut biscuit with nibbed cocoa ice-cream (à la carte)
- Chocolate orange conft mousse, orange sorbet and dark chocolate ice-cream (classic tasting menu)