Pint to pint: The Salamander, Bath

Date:15-01-2014 08:59:09 read:1

Pint to pint: The Salamander, Bath

Our guide to the best British pubs. This week: The Salamander, Bath

The Salamander in Bath: 'You’re more likely to discover locals, office workers and the odd phalanx of rugby fans here than hordes of camera-clicking tourists' Photo: Alamy

Even though Bath is usually associated with Jane Austen, the author who springs to mind on first discovering The Salamander is Thomas Hardy. Far From the Madding Crowd to be precise, as it’s hidden away down a sparsely populated road off the properly peaceful Quiet Street. You’re more likely to discover locals, office workers and the odd phalanx of rugby fans here than hordes of camera-clicking tourists.

Those holidaymakers are missing a treat. The Salamander is a gorgeous Georgian building, set in the obligatory honeyed limestone terrace, facing the world through a wide bay window hung with flower baskets.

Inside there are three distinct areas. In the front you can sip your pint overlooking the street and spy on folk going about their business. A collection of games piled high in an old fireplace offers extra distraction. Farther in, past the bar, there’s a den-like area in which to practise the philosophy of the pub, the Tao of the tap room, the Path of the Pint, etc – to have a quiet beer or three, in other words.

As for the décor, it’s a mix of pared down, artfully distressed wooden floorboards and minimalist cream-coloured walls – though a framed Bath rugby shirt signed by erstwhile local legend Stuart Barnes adds a worldly note. The bar is imposing and sturdy, backed by mahogany brown shelves and alcoves, all comfortingly packed with wine and beer bottles. This is a solid pub, rooted to the earth.

The “Sal” has been owned by Bath Ales brewery for 10 years (the barman lets slip that it had a “reputation” previously), and four of its cask beers are on show. What to choose?

Stuart Barnes pops up again, this time in beer form (the transmigration of souls – must be all that philosophy). I order a glass of Barnsey and repose on a bar stool. Good call. It’s a stocky chestnut-coloured ale of 4.5% ABV, pumped up with chocolate and toffee notes and a dry, roasty character in the background. A rugby player’s pint indeed.

The menu is similarly robust: black pudding croquettes, cheeseburgers, sticky red wine pork belly. The pie of the day is shin of beef cooked in Bath’s Dark Side stout – my mind is made up.

This is a rich concoction of meaty juice and crisp pastry, one of the best pies I’ve had in a long time. And as I eat I’m accompanied by the quiet murmur of conversation from a scattering of drinkers, while a couple sit in the window reliving their youth with a giggly game of draughts. As time passes, knowledgeable locals and one or two particularly intrepid tourists drift in, and the pub slowly wakes up from its mid-afternoon siesta.

The Salamander is, to use the name of one of Bath Ales’ other beers, a Gem, offering relaxation, people-watching, civilised conversation and highly accomplished food and drink. Just don’t tell the madding crowd.

The Salamander, John Street, Bath BA1 2JL (01225 428889; Bath Ales)

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