Ralph Allen, the 17th Century Postmaster and Mayor of Bath, used to live in the pretty Georgian house next to Abbey Green which has been home, on the basement and first floor, to Demuths restaurant for over two decades. Owned by Rachel Demuth, who is also the founder of the cookery school round the corner, it is a veritable foodie find. And it just so happens it’s vegetarian.
Let than not put any carnivore readers off, because you will find it one of the most surprising vegetarian restaurants you have ever been too. Despite being small and divided on two floors, the dining room space is very light, bright, clean and stylish. Think modern day Shaker sparseness, pistachio ice cream coloured wood panelling, functional furniture, pale parchment coloured wood work, Emma Rose canvas art work on the walls, white ceramic tealight holders and pretty flowers dotted around.
The very best table is tucked away in a little alcove, where, at a pinch, four people can sit in a very private, quiet little corner, all by themselves, at the back of the building, where the windows look out on glorious Bath Abbey. We saw a young family with their two little girls colouring away with the restaurant’s crayon filled tumbler, as they munched on garlic flatbreads and chattered.
The staff are extremely smiley and attentive, and fit too, by the looks of things, going up and down the stairs to the small galley kitchen below all day long. There is only seating for 34-38 people, and so it is wise to book, considering just how popular Demuths is with locals.
And it is a revelation what can be done with just fruit, vegetables, pulses, grains, spices and herbs. The inspiration for the lunch time Menu is drawn esoterically, mainly from the core Asian and Mediterranean larders, and the popularity of those cuisines across the home cooking world means that zaatar, humous, dukkah, ramen, haloumi and ricotta are now familiar ingredients to us all.
Despite the limited number of ingredients that the kitchen brigade here can cook with, considering many of the dishes are marked as gluten free and vegan, they have come up with surprisingly ingenious combinations and wide-ranging cooking methods. There is a large selection of bites and nibbles, from Real Olive Company mixed olives, to The Thoughtful Bread Company sliced bread with artisan butter, smoky almonds and potato wedges with spicy dips. There are no less than six types of meals on toasted bread, ranging from roasted red peppers and creamy cannellini to slow roasted tomatoes with Old Winchester cheese (no animal rennet!) and smoked aubergine pate with pickled cucumbers and sesame seeds.
Our Zaatar roasted apricots with humous and preserved lemon oil and Puy lentil salad with roasted beetroots and pistachios were extremely flavoursome, well seasoned and fresh. This is just how vegetarian food should be: light, seasonal, inventive and bold. The portions are very big, and in fact we need not have ordered a main course, labelled “Bigger Bites” on the Menu.
But in the interest of writing an informed article we plumped for a very unusual sounding Watermelon and Homewood ewe’s cheese salad with pumpkin seeds and oregano and honey dressing and a more familiar Noodles with stir fried vegetables, cashews and ginger spring onion sauce. Nowhere in the pantheon of flavour combinations would one have placed watermelon and grilled cheese together but they worked: the cold, sweet juiciness of one ingredient foiling the salty, crumbly texture of the other. The dishes are presented in such a decorous and thoughtful manner you feel that this is a great treat and not a sanctimonious affair. As can be seen in the kitchens of many an Italian, Spanish, north African and Asian home cook, vegetables can take centre stage and hold their own as the main protagonists of a meal, and not merely the accompaniments.
Rachel Demuth has already written two cookery books, “Green Seasons Cookbook” and “Green World Cookbook”, and a third restaurant cook book is on the way. From reading the online comments from other visitors it is clear that the evening meals here are what really draw the crowds, as Head Chef Richard Buckley brings his own exciting fine dining imprint to vegetarian cooking.
We chatted to one of the other diners who commented that he had been coming here for years and loves the food, the simplicity, the ever changing Menu, how tucked away it is from the hustle and bustle of this 21st Century World Heritage City attraction and how many more people should get to know it.
In an era where, increasingly, the consumption of meat and fish is challenged for its health, sustainability and environmental impacts, there is no doubt this sort of restaurant can only get busier and busier. This is also coupled with the interest that food writers and restaurateurs such as Yotam Ottolenghi, Silvena Rowe, Sam and Sam Clark and Rose Elliot have sparked through their inventive recipes: cooking with only fruits, vegetables, pulses and grains is now firmly in the mainstream culinary tradition of our generation.
And with food as delicious and as good value as this, no one could possibly disagree that seasonal vegetarian cooking is good for the soul, the body and the wallet.
2 North Parade Passage
Bath BA1 1NX
Tel: 01225 446059
Follow the team on Twitter: @demuths