I’ve owned up to a few obsessions in my time, gambling on horse racing being the most expensive. Others have come and gone, or been surrendered more or less willingly, but one pleasure I couldn’t live without is strong coffee in the morning – especially if there’s the prospect of it being accompanied by an authentic French pastry or croissant.
My lifelong enthusiasm for French food and wine was intensified by four years spent living in the south of France, and four more commuting between there and the UK. I count myself lucky, therefore, now to be living just outside Bath, which is particularly well served with places to buy pastries and coffee, including the Saturday morning farmers’ market in the old Green Park station. But shrewd residents of the spa city and its surroundings know that nowhere comes close to matching the Bertinet Bakery, which has a shop in a narrow lane in central Bath, and a café and shop in Brunel Square near the Great Western Railway station (as well as running an acclaimed cookery school).
Its French owner, Richard Bertinet, spent eight years working as a baker in his native Brittany before moving to England and opening Bertinet’s cookery school in 2005. Once tasted, his large and small sourdough loaves (£3 for 400g), rye sourdough with raisins and caraway seeds (£2.65 for 400g) and scrumptious almond croissants (£2.10) are hard to go without. His specialities also include abricotines (£2.10), the luscious confection in which apricots nestle in puff pastry, andtarte aux fraises (£3.25). Everything is baked daily and finished and moulded by hand and, if you want to learn Bertinet’s special recipes and methods for working the dough, you can enrol in the bakery school’s week-long breadmaking course.
If I’m passing through Bath during the daytime I may pop into one of the shops to buy a fresh loaf or baguette, and if I’m on the way to London by train in the early morning I’ll try to make time to dash to the Brunel Square branch to buy a croissant (£1.05) and a flat white (£2.60) for the ride to Paddington. If all this conjures up the image of a writer piling on the pounds indiscriminately, I’d like to add that my wife and I have a dog who needs lots of exercise and the beautiful countryside around Bath is full of steep hills. That’s my excuse anyway!