THE FRANCIS HOTEL & BRASSERIE BLANC
Each hotel has its own character. The Francis Hotel in Bath is jolly. From the bold colour scheme of its light-filled public rooms to the primary pigments of the décor in its 98 pristine bedrooms, a palette has been used of which even the most dedicated Fauvist would approve. The recent restoration, in other words, has been a wonderful success. Before its transformation, I recall it as a place which seemed rather neglected and a bit drab. But now the young General Manager, John Willcock, has every reason to be proud of his establishment. Its location, of course, is superb – in the heart of Georgian Bath, within easy walking distance of the city’s many attractions. It is easy to understand why The Francis is so popular with tourists and business people.
The façade looks both old and new. And such it is, for the building comprises seven 18th Century townhouses, which were bombed in 1942 and rebuilt in the original style. In one of the houses (which are still delineated inside) lived John Wood, the designer of so many of the architectural wonders which still draw us to Bath’s terraces and squares. In 1858 Solomon Francis opened his hotel at number 10, and by 1884 all seven houses had been incorporated into The Francis Private Hotel.
Walking in from Queen Square, I found the welcome friendly and the members of staff smartly turned out and eager to help. I noticed the handsome longcase clock in the entrance hall. Too often these timepieces are used simply as ornaments, but this one was working, and was telling the right time. I made a note to award a gold star to the hotel in my little book. And I was soon awarding another gold star, this time to the members of the Housekeeping department, for I found that they had – responding to my request – made my bed so deliciously soft that it was one of the most comfortable hotel beds I have yet encountered.
This ne plus ultra of the bed-maker’s art was in room 317, on the third floor. It was a ‘Superior Double’ and was therefore priced from £164 a night, bed and breakfast for two. (I would recommend readers of Bown’s Best to go for either the Superior or for the Feature rooms, rather than for the cheaper Classic rooms, which they might find too compact.) From its small hallway, the bedroom was on the left and the bathroom was directly ahead. The former was a cosy retreat (measuring, I estimated, 12 feet by 10 feet) of green (the walls), dark blue (the carpet), black (the wooden furniture) and white (the ceiling). Two armchairs upholstered in green velvet provided the seating. Within the fitted wardrobe I found a private safe (convenient for the sparkling cuff links) and a small refrigerator (convenient for the chilled mineral water). From the two windows I could look out over Queen Square. On the ceiling directly above the pillows of my wonderful bed was a framed picture of a pastoral scene. This proved a pleasing aid to my afternoon dozes. (At my age one should never neglect one’s afternoon dozes.)
The bathroom was small, but its black and white tiles and its chromium-plated fittings sparkled in a pleasing manner, and there was enough space for the wash basin, the loo and a tub of acceptable size (with a shower over). The orange-scented toiletries from Roger Gallet added a touch of luxury to my ablutions.
Breakfast was had in the John Wood Room (a reminder of the aforementioned architect), on the lower ground floor. At the rear, the windows of this long, low chamber looked onto one the hotel’s remarkable facilities: the car park. (Private car parks in the centre of Bath are virtually non-existent.) From the buffet I particularly liked the fruit salad and the fresh strawberries. Of the hot food, the best was the generous English breakfast, with all its usual ingredients, brought from the kitchen, although I also liked my large bowls of porridge. You will not go hungry in the mornings at The Francis.
Eating later in the day is done in the Brasserie Blanc. This outpost of Chef Raymond Blanc’s culinary empire occupies one end of the ground floor of the hotel. It can be reached through a door at the end of the drawing room, or through its own entrance on the street. Once inside, the style is Parisian – wooden floors, brown leather chairs and banquettes, chandeliers, candles, white tablecloths and waiters and waitresses in black waistcoats. The food, of course, is French – straightforward, well-done and enjoyable. The set menus are very good value: three courses for £13.95 until 7.00 p.m., and £16.45 thereafter. I chose four dishes from the carte.
Salmon gravadlax came with cucumber, crème fraiche and a dill dressing. A twice-baked cheese soufflé came with a deliciously indulgent sauce of Cheddar cheese. The chateaubriand was tremendously good beef, full of robust flavour. It was carved by the table by my waitress, Frances. With it I had Béarnaise sauce, dauphinoise potatoes and French beans. My pudding brought more intense tastes – a most effective confection of poached rhubarb, kirsch sabayon and toffee. (You should allow around £50 for four such courses.)
The wine list has 55 offerings, most of them French and 22 of them available by the glass. Prices run from £15.95 for the house red and white to £150 for Dom Pérignon champagne. Vintages are not given, so it is not possible to know, without further enquiry, whether wines like the Chateau Talbot at £86 and the Puligny-Montrachet from Louis Jadot at £55 are good value. My bottle of red bordeaux – Chateau Haut Roudier – turned out to be 2012, and was a decent, medium-bodied, easy-drinking claret for £22∙50.
I enjoyed my stay at The Francis. Its location, good service and level of comfort make it an attractive choice for a short break in the beautiful city of Bath. The Francis is not just jolly: it is jolly good.
THE FRANCIS HOTEL
Queen Square, Bath, Somerset BA1 2HH, England.
Telephone +44 (0)1225 424105
Double rooms from £129, including breakfast
Check the hotel website for the rates for specific dates and for special offers
Address as above
Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Telephone +44 (0)1225 303860