"Menu Gordon Jones" is a name that teases. It raises expectations of one kind and delivers another. In effect, chef Gordon Jones's restaurant doesn't have a printed menu; what he cooks is what he has to hand. Customers walk in the door, sit down and take it on trust that he'll feed them something they like.
He opened in Bear Flats, an unfashionable backwater of fashionable Bath, a year ago. Inheriting a run-down eaterie, he spent £3,000 refurbishing the site and started trading - the word is operative. "Chefs," he says, "are as much traders as artists." Since opening, he has been consistently packed, in a city top-heavy with tourist eateries.
Turned 30, his CV includes stints with Michelin-starred chefs Martin Blunos and Martin Wishart before taking over the kitchen at the former Von Essen hotel, the Royal Crescent.
Personal touch Less name-droppable, but as relevant to his cooking style, was his first brush with catering when, aged 14, he washed up in an Indian restaurant. Seasoning - low on salt, discreetly marked by spices - means that every plated element has a personal touch.
With only seven small tables and one apprentice, it's fair to describe him as a one-man band. Out front, Sara Marzougoui, a business studies graduate from Marseille, combines the roles of restaurant manager, waitress and sommelier. Their interactions - a couple of tables are within touching distance of the tiny galley where he cooks - create the intimacy of an old-school bistro.
Making his choiceless "menu" work has its own protocols. When customers reserve tables they need to be aware of what's on offer. They get a call back on the day they're booked in and are asked about dietary requirements. On their arrival, Jones meets them personally and "weighs them up". What he won't do, he insists, is ask them about their likes and dislikes.
The five-course lunch costs £30 and six-course dinner £45, prices which, according to Jones, reflect his informal but personal style: "We don't want people to think of us as a poncey high-end restaurant."
What he cooks day to day isn't planned. Yes, he admits, he has a water bath and vac-pack, both bought second-hand, but he isn't dependent on mise en place for what he serves. "Fortunately, I'm a professional - I cook to order and don't have to rely on them," he says. He's more dependent on a trusting relationship with suppliers. If his butcher recommends lambs' tongues, he'll take them. They figured on a pre-Christmas starter with Shropshire Blue risÁ³lis, beets and capers. If his fishmonger suggests cods' tongues, he'll take these too.
He points to his left-handedness to explain his instinctive talent for making food look good. A main course combining guinea fowl (with a hint of lemon grass) salted pigeon breast, red-legged partridge and duck confit could seem bitty, but he balances both the tastes and visual impact.
Weighting the separate courses so they form a whole also appeals to him. It allows him to mix classic and modern styles seamlessly. An amuse-bouche of lemon-scented roast chestnuts with an artichoke and white truffle espuma can make way for a bowl of pan-fried wild sea bass on wilted spinach with a velouté containing diced chorizo, celeriac and wild mushrooms.
Working by himself to his own agenda helps him, he admits, to cope with his low boredom threshold. It also stops him over-egging certain dishes, a fault he concedes he was guilty of in his mid-20s. A creamed rice pudding soufflé and mulled wine sauce, served with compote of dried fruits (he dries them himself) and a quenelle of ice-cream make the perfect winter dessert.
The sense of style permeates the room. Water from a Murano glass jug is subtly flavoured with fresh mint. Bread comes in a brown paper package fastened with a paper clip. Organic and biodynamic wines from Vintage Roots suit the restaurant's independent approach.
"We don't," chef Jones underlines, "have any accolades." What he has done, despite breaking a few rules along the way, is win over Bath's notoriously fickle public.
Lemon-scented roast chestnuts with an artichoke and white truffle espuma
Foie gras banana bread and milk chocolate
Smoked eel, salted purple potatoes, lime jelly and maple
Main courses Braised pork cheek, candied citrus and celery risotto
Cods' tongues, Pink Fir potatoes, chorizo and smoked cream emulsion
"Four birds" - red-legged partridge, guinea fowl, salt-cured pigeon and duck confit
Desserts Blackberry sorbet, red cabbage water and cucumber dice
Rice porridge soufflé and mulled wine sauce with a dried fruit compote
Five-course lunch £30, six-course dinner £45
Menu Gordon Jones
2 Wellsway, Bath BA2 3AQ