12 Sadler Street
Wells BA5 2SE
(0)44 1749 689 099
We are closed from 24 December until 3rd January inclusive
Wednesday - Sunday
12.30pm - 2.30pm
Tuesday - Saturday
7.00pm - 9.30pm
Mark Taylor at Metro Writes About The Old Spot
"Ask most top chefs and restaurateurs for a list of the most influential figures in their industry over the past 25 years and two names will inevitably crop up: Sir Terence Conran and Simon Hopkinson.
Conran's eye for design, twinned with Hopkinson's brilliant cooking, created a culinary dream team when they opened their London restaurant, Bibendum, in the late 1980s.
Although Hopkinson stepped away from the stoves more than a decade ago, many of his protégés have gone on to run some of London's best restaurants.
Ian Bates spent four years at Bibendum, working under Hopkinson before working in several London restaurants, including The Bluebird, The Chiswick and The Park. He then moved to the South West, where he cooked in Bristol's Quartier Vert and Culinaria while he prepared to open his own place.
He decided on Wells to launch The Old Spot, which opened without fanfare last week. Wells is not really known as a gastronomic hot spot and the number of tourists arriving to visit the cathedral makes it price-sensitive.
With this is mind, Bates has shrewdly kept his prices low. At lunch, two courses cost £12.50 and three will set you back just £15. For dinner, three courses cost £25, which still seems ridiculously low for the quality of the ingredients and cooking.
Like his mentor, Bates excels in simple, seasonal British/Mediterranean dishes with big, bold flavours. On the day we visited, the lunch menu consisted of five starters, five main courses and four desserts, and there wasn't a single dish on the menu that I wouldn't have gladly eaten several times over.
This is gutsy bistro/brasserie food, but what Bates has clearly learnt from Hopkinson is the art of restraint, which is something very few chefs possess.
Such discipline could be found in starters such as a warm, comforting brandade of salt cod, served with crostini, olives and a delicate drizzle of olive oil.
A creamy chicken liver parfait was served at the correct temperature and its richness was countered by a deeply flavoured onion confit.
A ceviche of organic salmon was flecked with some finely chopped red chilli, a sprinkling of fresh coriander and a smooth avocado purée.
Simple stuff, but brilliantly executed and packed with flavour.
Main courses were monuments to moderation. Two ultra-fresh fillets of mackerel came with slices of roasted beetroot, rocket, fiery horseradish and some crisp, fried potatoes. A thick slice of braised shoulder of lamb had been cooked slowly overnight and then pan-fried to order to give the tender meat a crisp, caramelised surface.
It was served with two caramelised shallots, roasted garlic cloves, spinach purée and a red wine sauce. A grilled piece of chicken took on a vague North African theme with couscous jewelled with roasted courgette, red pepper and aubergine.
Each dish was ably complemented by the summery bottle of Neil Ellis Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (£24.50), from a seriously good wine list by merchant Bill Baker, who supplies many top establishments.
Desserts were unashamedly seasonal and spot-on: a perfect peach trifle studded with pistachios; a deep, wobbly lemon tart with some pert raspberries and a dark, seductive summer fruit compote with crème Chantilly and shortbread.
This lunch for three ' including wine, digestifs, water and coffee ' came to just £89.40, which is less than what many places charge for a forgettable lunch for two.
With quality this high and prices this low, The Old Spot will make South West foodies squeal with pleasure."