Hole in the Wall, Bath - Restaurant Review
Katie Jarvis goes people watching and sees an Eastern European Keats lookalike sweep a young lady off her feet
It’s always an amiable pastime, watching fellow diners, especially when you’re with someone you’ve been married to for 20-odd years (some of them very odd) and you know what they’re going to say before they say it. My parents, who’ve been married for nearly half a century, (and - even more unusually - to each other), have entire conversations that go:
“Have you...?” “Yes, anti-clockwise. Just before the ear thing...” “That must have been the dandelions.” Either they’ve become psychic over the years, or they’re suffering from the sort of amnesia that makes you forget you’ve started a sentence. It’s a family thing: I frequently find myself standing in front of an open fridge, staring hopelessly at the shelves, with no recollection of how I came to be there or what the point might have been.
Here, at The Hole in the Wall in Bath, our Sunday-lunch companions are varied. There’s a chap with his two public-school sons (somehow it’s the gorgeous hair and never the accent that gives it away). They don’t have starters and all tuck into one pudding, so I guess the fees are high. There’s a curious couple, young and attractive, but smartly dressed in business suits (on a Sunday?). And then there are my favourite three, the students at the next table, all drinking tall glasses of tomato juice.
There’s a James Corden, a Paula Wilcox (remember? Man About the House?) and an Eastern-European-ish Keats but with shaven head and bobble hat.
We’d picked the Hole in the Wall for slightly off-the-wall reasons. (Which reminds me of a friend who, during her children’s infancies, chose restaurants according to the calibre of their ceiling fans, a category scandalously under-marked by Michelin. “It mesmerises the baby and means we can eat in peace,” she always explained.)
Anyway, our reason is that we wanted to eat lunch at 3pm-ish, ready for a theatre date at 6.30pm. And the Hole (is that its affectionate nickname, I wonder?) produces food until 4pm on a Sunday. We love that it does, but it is heart-wrenching that each of the waitresses, though courteous to a fault, has obviously suffered some deeply personal and terrible tragedy that day. That means they can’t, under any circumstances, smile or look at all happy. One woefully hands us a menu before disappearing off, possibly to deal with undertakers and funeral arrangements.
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It’s a nice menu, and not too badly priced (we spend around �75 for three courses and wine) (though, having said that, Sunday lunchtime generally sparks some awfully good offers). Ian starts with scallops and crispy lardons (fine but salad a bit thin) and I have a perfectly reasonable broccoli and stilton soup, served by a different waitress who’s obviously put her own troubles on hold while the first maybe takes a phone-call, possibly explaining that the company with which she’s booked her dream honeymoon has gone bust with no insurance.
The mains are nice. The choices are quite traditional, including a ‘Beast Feast- A trio of Roasted Meats with Yorkshire Pudding’; Ian has the slow-roasted shoulder of lamb with garlic and rosemary and homemade mint sauce, while I have a really rather nice nut roast, all served with plenty of veg, Yorkshire pudding (brownie points here; why only serve yummy Yorkshires with beef, for goodness sake?) and roast potatoes.
It’s a strange meal, really. There are high points – the open fire which, while possibly not real (hard to tell from where we’re sitting), makes a convincing attempt at seeming so; and it’s warm and cosy and not at all hurried. The downsides are the slightly worn tables (better with cloths, I’d have thought), the wrong wine being brought to us, and the sudden moving of furniture by the sad waitresses halfway through our meal; I have no idea why they have to do this, but it’s Pickfords-esque (bar the fact that they don’t stop for a cuppa every few feet).
The Hole in the Wall is rightly keen to point out that it uses small producers, which is good, and that everything is made on site, including the fresh and delicious bread, which is very good. My pudding is one of the highlights: a simple apple crumble that just hits the spot, while Ian munches through a decent brownie.
As we finish our meal, our original waitress exits with her coat on (possibly to call the whole wedding thing off).
And then something lovely happens.
As Cat Stevens starts playing on the sound system, Keats stands and gallantly offers his hand to Paula, who says, “I thought you’d never ask”, and they begin waltzing round the room. Two young students in a half-empty restaurant, at four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. When the music finishes and he leads her back to her seat, he sees us watching them. “That’s our song,” he says. “She just doesn’t know it yet.”
Ambience 6; Service 6; Food 7; Value for money 6
The Hole in the Wall restaurant, 16 George Street, Bath BA1 2EH, 01225 425242; www.theholeinthewall.co.uk
Three of a kind: pre-theatre eateries
Matcham’s Bistro, 7 Regent Street, Cheltenham GL50 1HQ, 01242 512515; www.everymantheatre.org.uk
Cheltenham Everyman’s second-floor bistro offering a wide choice of freshly-cooked food and fine wines.
Mezzaluna, 7a Kingsmead Square, Bath, BA1 2AB, 01225 466688; www.mezzaluna-bath.co.uk
Stylish Italian restaurant bang next to the Theatre Royal in Bath.
Malvern Theatres Restaurant, Grange Road, Malvern, Worcestershire, WR14 3HB, 01684 567751 (for restaurant) between 10am-3pm Mon-Fri, or e-mail Malvernemail@example.com; www.malvern-theatres.co.uk
In the heart of the theatre, you can begin eating at 5.30pm and even, if you like, take dessert and coffee at your table in the interval.