Avoiding the rush of the main event, The Boy and I tend to celebrate Valentine's Day some time before the commercial hype well and truly sets in. This year, giving each other the gift of a little quality time, we entertained the concept of a mini-break and, travelling the short distance from Bristol to the picturesque City of Bath, spent a couple of idyllic days making the most of each other's company. Subsequently, a great deal of walking and a little ad hoc exploration brought about the discovery of a cutesy Italian restaurant; a find seeming to support the notion that however well you think you know an area (having myself spent three years living-it-up as a Bath-based student), you can never remain totally 'in the know' when it comes to keeping abreast of the hidden gems that indubitably pop-up around every corner...
Date and Time: Monday 13th February 2012, 19:00
Name of Establishment: Joya Wine Bar and Italian Restaurant*
Location: 6 Grand Parade, Bath
Reason for Visit: An attempt at a touch of Valentine's Day fervour
Situated a mere stones-throw away from Pulteney Bridge and weir, Joya instantly appealed. The cluster of heart-shaped balloons bobbing against the breeze just outside its sweet-shop style, criss-crossed windows enticed us to read through the reasonably-priced set-menu posted within, (which, no doubt intended for its Valentine's-visitors, left us spoiled for choice). Thus, venturing inside to book a table for later that day, The Boy and I were at once won over with, what we considered, a charming, intimately arranged and stylishly decorated space. What's more, given that the deep, wooden hues of the furniture had been offset with swirled upholstery in varying shades of red and pink - not to mention the fact the each table had been dressed with a single red rose - it certainly looked the part for the prequel to the most romantic day of the year...! Returning later that evening and ushered towards our 'reserved' table-for two, we toasted our complimentary Kir Royales in anticipation of the evening ahead and, with a small fire gaining momentum in the hearth, fairy-lights twinkling overhead, flickering candlelight and the subdued buzz of our neighbouring diners, (which incidentally, multiplied somewhat as the evening progressed), the scene was set for a sick-making level of mushy merry-making! That is...with the exception of one fundamental faux pas...'It's Britney Bitch!' Why yes, instead of the customary crooning and ditties of devotion that tend to dominate our airwaves during this passionate period, Joya chose to treat its clientèle to a generous helping of, and I quote, 'the legendary Miss Britney Spears' – hence, not quite in keeping with the romantic ambiance achieved thus far but rather amusing nevertheless!
Moving on to the menu and first, an explanation of the history behind the name of this establishment; Joya is the way that Gioia is pronounced in Italian and Gioia, the shortened name for Gioia Del Colle in Puglia, is the home-town of the brains behind this space. In light of this and as I will explain in due course, there is a clear drive towards providing an authentic Italian dining experience whereby ingredients have been thoughtfully sourced and are of a good quality and dishes balance home-cooked warmth with a fresh, modern stance. Both opting to choose from the set Valentine's Menu (upon which, two courses amounted to £14.95 and three, £19:95), The Boy and I settled for two courses each; he a starter and a main and I, a main and a dessert (naturally). Whilst we were waiting, I glanced at the drinks menu – unsurprisingly, with Peroni and Moretti on tap alongside a range of hand-picked Italian wines, it was rather in keeping with the ethos of the establishment. That said, Bellinis (at £3.95 each) were a nice touch; the 'Bellini Rosa' for instance, combining prosecco with raspberry purée, sounding especially divine! And with that, The Boy's starter made an entrance; a creamy red pepper and tomato soup which, swirled with crème fraîche and topped with crunchy croutons and parsnip crisps, was reportedly piping hot, well-seasoned and therefore, entirely well-received. Embodying the rustic qualities of what was unmistakably home-made fare, I commented that a little bread; perhaps a slice or two of a lightly warmed sourdough, would have accentuated the dish and yet, The Boy disagreed; assuring me that the wholesome appeal of the soup spoke for itself, meaning that anything further would have been surplus to his requirements!
Our main courses were met with approving glances all-round (perhaps even a touch of salivation on my part); the duck in particular proving so beautifully presented that it had been visually devoured before even a mouthful had been taken. Lovingly slathered with a bitter-sweet cherry glaze, this was both tasty and satisfying; the meat itself had been prepared to a standard that I would expect of any restaurant regardless of its supposed calibre and was, quite frankly, a triumph. Separate (warmed) bowls of seasonal vegetables supplemented our mains; here, both carrots and broccoli had been amply provided and well-prepared, though not quite al dente enough in terms of their disposition for my taste! In addition to this, buttered and halved new potatoes lent to the ensemble the satisfaction of a filling carbohydrate and yet, without the fatty pitfalls of their fried counterparts; suitably saintly even if I say so myself! The Boy opted for the 8oz rump steak and based on his 'medium' instruction, had to return the rather bloody cut that he had been plated. What he received the second time around however, besides outstanding service (and a reassuringly long wait), was a brand new steak; this time, perfectly executed and drizzled with a 'brandy, cream and peppercorn sauce'. Furthermore, an apologetic approach to this momentary glitch secured us complimentary shots of iced lemoncello to accompany dessert – bellissimo! Speaking of dessert, I chose to indulge in the chocolate cake – a moist, lightly-textured and wonderfully moreish sponge; sandwiching a thick, fudgy layer of chocolate sauce which, although had a lovely, rich flavour, had been a little over-melted in, dare I say it, the microwave! Despite what we will write-off as an evident lapse in commendable technique, this was a distinctly decadent pud which, adorned with a single strawberry and coupled with an abundant portion of vanilla ice cream, was only begrudgingly shared with The Boy who sat across the table from me with his mouth open like a baby bird - I'm afraid that when it comes to chocolate, any sense of 'sweets for my sweet' goes out the window...at least on my part!
|A Passionate Pud?!|
In conclusion, an 'Ode to Joya' whereby our visit constituted the highlight of our city-hopper-style excursion...thus, for The Boy and I, the relaxed ambiance, top-notch service and, most importantly, cracking cuisine etched this mellow yet memorable establishment on to Bath's rather cosmopolitan gastronomical map – true, there were a couple of slip-ups but nothing that wasn't immediately rectified and in fact, over-compensated by a real aim to please. And thus, amidst the momentary flirtation we engaged in with this beautiful City, The Boy and I just so happened to stumble upon one of the jewels in its crown – recommended...
And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave this establishment a rating of 9/10 and in three words concluded that at Joya, it was a 'joy to eat.'