For me, the joys of December cannot truly begin until my annual trip to Bath's popular Christmas Market* is under-way; a shoe-in to the festivities whereby over 140 traditional wooden chalets – selling the likes of locally-sourced edibles, decorations and gifts - adorn the cobbles near to the city's iconic Abbey. On this particular visit, the girls and I decided that to kick-start the proceedings, a spot of brunch was in order and fortuitously stumbling upon The Bertinet Bakery Shop and Café at the height of our hungriness, we ascended from the hustle and bustle (not to mention, the wonderful sights and smells) of the bakery to the intimately-arranged dining area on the first floor...
Date and Time: Sunday 2nd December 2012, 11:30
Name of Establishment: The Bertinet Bakery Shop and Café*
Location: 6 New Bond Street Place (on the corner of Upper Borough Walls), Bath
Reason for Visit: A little respite from the cold and preparatory replenishment for the afternoon ahead..
After the success of his cookery school, it's fair to say that the newest outlet for French chef and baker Richard Bertinet - the quaint-looking establishment on the corner of Bath's Upper Borough Walls - is an asset to the city's café culture; offering a thoughtful assortment of sweet treats and savouries which you can opt to eat-in or take-away. Overall, this is a calming yet quirky space; unmistakably underpinned with an air of 'Le Français' which is channelled through the likes of a crisp colour scheme and its minimalistic décor. That said, punctuating the sophisticated ambiance with distressed wooden furniture, cushions made from Hessian flour sacks and framed images from Richard's cookery-book; 'Pastry', just about managed to promote a homely feel which would have been otherwise lost to the winter whites and cool greys that for me, also seemed to reflect the service which was at best; a little stand-offish and at worst; really rather rude. In line with this, one of my dining companions reported that she had been unapologetically bumped by a member of staff whilst she stood in line to pay for her fare – an experience that unsurprisingly tarnished her opinion of the venue before she had even sampled its wares. Furthermore, there was a right old kerfuffle in regards to our order which had obviously been incorrectly noted given that even our drinks took an age to make an appearance and were not quite right when they did so...
|Calming yet quirky|
Though table service has been eschewed in favour of a pay-at-the-till arrangement, I rather liked the help-yourself ethos when it came to toasting the contents of the 'Bertinet Bread Bucket' (£3.25) and portioning jam into little ramekins for a spot of free-hand spreading. In fact, this is exactly what I finally decided upon and although I was disappointed by the sliced, white twosome that skulked between the crinkled sheets of parchment paper, the sour dough was fantastic; thickly cut, fresh-tasting and quite frankly, delicious. I think it would have been preferable to be offered a choice of breads - especially given the varieties in abundance downstairs and the fact that, on the large part, white bread is nutritionally useless, (plus for me personally, pretty hard-going). Friend 'H' ordered the Croque Monsieur (£5.25) which although looked the part, was ruined somewhat by the amount of vinaigrette that had been added to the side-salad; soaking the bottom-half of the sandwich which resulted in an unpleasant acidic sogginess. She suggested that the overall ensemble would have fared rather better had the salad-dressing been included in the self-serve remit as the ingredients were essentially of a good quality, generously portioned and attractively plated. In light of this, we harboured some pretty serious food envy having noticed the couple on the table next to ours tucking into a rather spectacular cheese board (£7.50), especially upon discovering that this featured a number of my favourite cheeses: namely, Trethowan's Gorwydd Caerphilly and Homewood's Old Demdike.
|Bucket of Bertinet Bread|
When it came to the all-important matter of cake and confectionery however, it was quite a different story; the 'cloud meringue' (served with a choice of decadent toppings) or salted butter caramel tartine proving particularly appealing. Besides this, there is a tempting array of scones, croissants and pastries on offer which can also be purchased 'to-go'; something which only the strong-willed can resist upon exiting the shop!
To wash down our fare, we found ourselves split between tea-drinkers and coffee addicts...and, firmly within the latter camp, I sipped at my authentically continental 'Cappuccino' which had been well-executed and richly-roasted – just lovely! Tea was served in sizeable pots alongside dainty, floral tea-cups made of the finest bone china yet disappointingly brandished with the odd dirty mark which ruined the appeal somewhat. That said, we liked that milk had been provided in old-fashioned bottles and later discovered that kiddies (or the young at heart) can opt for flavoured milk (caramel, chocolate, raspberry, strawberry or vanilla) which comes complete with an old-fashioned paper straw. It was also lovely to find that the Bertinet Bakery Café offer a 'breakfast bowl'; a typically French concept that I happen to be rather partial to having been introduced to it in Toulouse as a teenager. Here, this basically constitutes a choice between coffee or hot chocolate which is served in...yep, you guessed it...a soup bowl which is destined for some serious dunkage – a croissant proving (for me at least) the perfect accompaniment to this novel way of enjoying what is commonly considered the most important meal of the day!
|Time for Tea!|
In conclusion, there was definitely a hit and miss feel to The Bertinet Bakery Café; although many aspects of the experience looked the part, when it came to the conflict between style and substance, the latter seemed to fall a little short. Collectively, we felt that although the attention to detail made for an aesthetically pleasing visit, a little care needed to be applied to the delivery of the fare and most importantly, the standard of the customer service which was arguably, the most prominently French aspect of the venue overall! Criticisms aside, it's fair to say that if you're after affordable edibles and/or something to satisfy your sweet tooth; this is, without doubt, the place for you – though at present the shop fares rather better than the café, with a few tweaks here and there, I'm sure it could improve considerably; you might say, allowing its clientèle to have their cake and eat it...!
And now for the second opinion...
Friend 'H' gave The Bertinet bakery Café a rating of 6/10 and chose, 'pretty questionable service' as her three-word summary!