Castle Bow, Taunton
Cocktails and fine dining in the historic heart of Somerset's county town
For a county town, Taunton has surprisingly few fine dining restaurants but Castle Bow, tucked away in the town’s historic 4-star Castle Hotel, could be one of the best restaurants in Somerset. The restaurant currently holds 2 AA rosettes (but watch this space), a Taste of the West Gold Award 2017 and the head chef comes with Michelin star credentials. And you don’t have to be staying at the hotel to enjoy it.
In the wisteria clad Castle Hotel on Castle Green, bang in the middle of Taunton, next to the Museum of Somerset. This is the historic centre of the town – the hotel was once a Norman fortress and Judge Jeffreys held his famous Assizes in the Great Hall. Oh and you can swoop up and park right outside.
Drinks and a perusal of the menu in the intimate Bow Bar, a cosy little place with padded wonderbar, tub chairs and cocktail-making paraphenalia at the ready.
There’s a soupçon of golden era Parisian brasserie – those turn of the century dining rooms you find all over the city – about the restaurant itself, with banquettes, tables covered in long white table cloths, mirrored walls and 1920s-style lighting and decor.
Gary Rhodes and Phil Vickery were both head chefs here at one time. Now it’s Liam Finnegan (ex Michelin-starred The Bath Priory with Michael Caines) who wears the tallest toque blanche in the kitchen, serving up a modern British menu. As you’d expect with a chef with his credentials, every dish is cooked with precision and beautifully presented. Service is impeccable but friendly – it’s the sort of place where waiters pour your sauce over your food for you.
Bouches were gently amused in the bar: crisp edible flutes filled with chicken liver parfait, and smoked mackerel and lime nestling in squid ink crostini.
And again in the restaurant, with this pretty pea soup.
Spectacular freshly baked bread: an Irish soda bread with Guinness, petit pain and rolls made with burnt hops and honey.
Starters of pan fried scallops and crispy chicken (a sort of chicken croquette) with pea, radish and beech mushrooms – and a Brixham crab tortellini with sea herbs, orange and bisque. All delicious.
Double take: perfectly cooked Stream Farm organic Dexter beef with watercress, courgette, garlic and potato dauphine (plus a side of super smooth creamy mash); and from the same farm, lamb served with runner beans, samphire and broad beans (plus chips and homemade bearnaise).
Our waiter suggested a Hungarian amber coloured dessert wine called Royal Tokaji to accompany dessert (excellent suggestion). The strawberry mousse with lemon balm and pistachio ice cream looked almost too good to eat.
Almost but not quite.
This is the slightly too sweet for me cherry ‘soup’: plump cherries in a rich cherry sauce served with a scoop of yogurt sorbet and almonds.
Back to the bar to squeeze in a few little petit fours before heading off into the night.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Foodies obviously. Dinner daters, special occasions or when you just fancy some posh nosh. There were (well-behaved) children eating there on our visit too.
Not for: those wanting a high energy eat-to-the-beat atmosphere; the restaurant is relaxed but somewhat reserved. Those wanting to rock up any time; it’s only open for dinner Wednesdays to Saturdays.
The damage: For the high quality of the food, the prices are reasonable with starters £9.50-£11.50; mains £17.50-£23; and desserts £5-£9 and cheeseboard £13. The seven-course tasting menu also looks good value at £55. An extensive but not overwhelmingly so, well-priced wine list – but if you want to push the boat out you can crack open a bottle of Dom Pérignon for £185.
Open for dinner Wednesdays to Saturdays 6.30pm to 9.30. You can book online.
Castle Bow Restaurant, Under the Archway, Castle Bow, Taunton, Somerset TA1 1NF. Tel 01823 328328. castlebow.com