PUBLISHED: 22:03, 23 November 2019 | UPDATED: 22:03, 23 November 2019
15 Argyle St, Bath BA2 4BQ
Chez Dominique is a small French bistro just off Pulteney Bridge in Bath, where simple things are simply well done. The room is small but comfortable, the ceilings high, the walls a discreet shade of gull’s-egg blue. An iron, spider-like chandelier has eccentric charm. Tables are bare and napkins made of paper. But it has a feeling of unpretentious comfort, rather than bleak sparsity, a room very much made for eating.
The menu is equally straight-forward, as you’d expect from a chef who trained under Matthew Harris at that temple to bourgeois classicism, Bibendum. Sure, it occasionally wanders into Italy and Spain, but its heart beats to the sound of La Marseillaise. Chris Tabbitt, who owns the restaurant with his wife Sarah, has little time for trends, whims and extraneous ingredients. Smears and garnishes have no place here. Specials are chalked up on the blackboard, there’s a soupe du jour and a three-course menu prix fixe for £18 (£15 for two courses). The place is suffused with the natural murmur of well-fed satisfaction.
Our waiter, the gloriously Gallic Georges, is a man who looks as if he actually enjoys the food he serves. Better still, he downsells us a bottle of Côtes de Bordeaux. ‘It’s a wonderful wine. I know that because I drink it myself.’ He pats his tummy proudly, and grins. Bread, warm and crusty, comes from that great Bath baker, Richard Bertinet. We smear it thickly with good, primrose yellow butter. A classic rabbit terrine is served in a generous wedge, a lusty mosaic of Thumper, bacon and pork. Well-seasoned and generous with the fat, too. Spiced prune chutney adds rich autumnal allure, providing warmth and succour to the meaty mélange.
My crab risotto is exactly as a crab risotto should be, all’onda (‘like a wave’), and just runny enough to ooze across the plate. With each grain of rice still left with a little bite. The crab is sweet and fresh boiled with a gentle sigh of white, and more forthright grunt of brown. A few sliced cherry tomatoes add pert bursts of acidicy.
Mains are equally splendid. A great breast and leg of crisp skinned guinea fowl, wonderfully succulent, sit atop a white bean piperade. Chunks of crisp chorizo add saline, paprika-soaked chew, while peppers are suitably soft. The kitchen does this Basque dish proud, as generous with the flavours as they are with the portion. Outside the wind whistles and the rain beats down, and harried locals set their faces against the bitter gloom. Inside, though, all is warm and well.
Mark eats partridge, simply roasted, with slow-cooked, winter-spiced plums. An expression of late British autumn, with the gentlest of French accents. ‘Immense,’ he says between bites. ‘No sous vide here.’ Tables come and go as we eat, but the room stays eternally full. The place has been open for three years, and is already very much part of the culinary landscape. Nearby, restaurants sit half-empty. Chez Dominique, on the other hand, thrives.
For pudding, a prune and Armagnac tart with buttery, crumbly pastry, and a great blob of ice cream. The sort of tart that every young plum dreams of being part of when it grows up. Like everything else here, it’s generous, uncomplicated but accomplished, old-fashioned cookery in the best sort of way. ‘I wish there were more places like this,’ says Mark, as we reluctantly get up to leave. ‘And more young chefs cooked like this. Nothing fermented, or foraged, just food you actually want to eat.’
The formula may seem simple: good cooking, expert front of house and proper value for money. But places like Chez Dominique are relatively rare, a tribute to experience, hard work and that ever-elusive je ne sais quoi. Long may it flourish.
About £35 per head