To stay at the Francis Hotel in Bath is to dip your toe into the famous Bath Spa waters of history and marvel at its magnificent Georgian architecture; it has a Grade I listing and has been a private hotel since 1884. You might imagine that your room was once occupied by a periwigged and powdered dignitary entertaining his saucy mistress to a private supper, but let not this lead you to suppose that the Francis Hotel has had to make the step into the 21st century by any compromise on its charm. All the luxuries and comforts the modern traveller expects are available, beginning with its own car park so essential in the busy streets of Bath.

We arrived at reception overseen by a beautifully decorated Christmas tree and a welcoming and gracious young man who made check-in a seamless operation including talking us through the Covid regulations. Our room on the first floor had been recently refurbished in subtle shades of cream and grey with a commodious blue velvet chair and sofa and a most attractive black and white tiled bathroom. The things that most impressed my husband were the large Philips flat screen TV and Ruark bedside radio and alarm, class pieces of kit he said with a touch of envy, and for me the thoughtfully placed hardcover book about Bath, the excellent rain forest shower and the leather padded headboard that had directional reading lights concealed within it (ask any frequent traveller what makes the heart sink and it will be the glow-worm powered bedside table lamp at least four feet away from the bed).

One of the reasons we had chosen to stay at the Francis was their newly opened restaurant, The Boho Marché which we were looking forward to trying so after an invigorating shower, half an hour or so of lounging in the fluffy white bathrobes provided, primped and smartened we went down to dinner. The Boho Marché lives up to its name as a bit of a walk on the crazy and artistic side beginning with the life-sized statue of a black horse which greets you in the doorway. We were amused to note at this time he was adhering to all the rules by wearing a mask. The restaurant has mixed influences from both Morocco and the Mediterranean and I was interested to see that the lunch menu also offered poke bowls: a traditional Hawaiian or sometimes Japanese mixed salad bowl arranged with raw fish. However, we were not here for lunch and settling at the largest table for two I have ever encountered (passing the salt across was a major gymnastic exercise but happily we never had to do it) we looked through the menu.

I ordered falafel with muhammara to start, the muhammara being spiced with smoked paprika, and my husband took the pan seared tiger prawns with garlic butter and sourdough bread. After deliberation between fillet of hake with confit onion, cannellini beans and slow roasted tomato or truffled tagliatelle I decided on the latter and was very glad I did as it was amazing but more of that later. Him over the table was immersed in the wine list, which is extensive and well chosen, with wines available by the glass so you can do your own wine pairing through the courses. After deciding on his main course of duck confit with slow cooked apples in Valpolicella jus with a side order of truffle and Parmesan fries, he ordered a glass of Viognier to accompany our starters followed by Crozes-Hermitage for the main courses.

We loved our starters, especially the tiger prawns on the indulgently buttered sourdough bread and the glass of Viognier was excellent. Although due to the Covid restrictions there were considerably fewer diners than you would normally expect, the restaurant has a vibrant feel and the staff are endlessly cheerful and upbeat. Our main courses were delicious, the confit duck rich and tender with outstanding truffle and Parmesan fries, very worthy of a side order. My tagliatelle was spectacular with its nutty and earthy flavour of the black truffles from the Périgord region of France, cooked slightly al dente with just enough butter to loosen the mix. We were having a lovely time and when offered a look at the dessert menu naturally we couldn’t resist; vanilla crème brûlée with mixed berries and salted caramel chocolate fondant filled the bill and I’m afraid we demolished the lot. Suitably replete we tottered off to bed and I am ashamed to say I never did read that book about Bath as I fell into a deep slumber as soon as my head hit the pillow only interrupted by the alarm clock next morning! Then fortified by a hearty breakfast in the Boho Marché which transforms well from night into day we left in great spirits having enjoyed our dinner and stay very much.

Jacquie Vowles


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