One of the neater things about traveling is occasionally discovering completely-new-to-me food concepts, the “Things that I did not know where a ‘thing'”. Like learning that the Valencian Orxata is actually a pretty different item than the Mexican Horchata. Learning what a “Debris Po Boy” is in New Orleans. And learning that a Reunionnaise “Carri” is a splendidly different rendition of a “curry”. In this case, a walk through the streets of Bath had us come across Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House, “Home of the Original Bath Bun.”
My first thought upon reading this was “What exactly is a ‘Bath Bun’, and are people foisting off inauthentic knock-offs?”. Well, a trip into Sally Lunn’s partially answered both of these. Apparently, ‘Bath Bun’ is one of those terms that anyone in the UK is expected to know, much like, say a “Parker House Roll” or a “Bulky Roll”. Wikipedia has a pretty concise history, but basically, several bakeries in Bath (Sally Lunn’s being the one still extant) that made a certain style of brioche-like large bun with sugared topping and caraway seeds. Several bakeries attempted to copy this style of bun at the 1851 World Exposition, but the result was primarily a smaller, denser, more sweet-roll-like bun that’s now what people think of as a “Bath bun”, or what the apparently dismayed crowd in Bath now calls a “London Bath Bun“.
In any case, Sally Lunn’s is still baking up rather copious amounts of their “Sally Lunn Bun” in a little converted house that’s remained mostly unchanged. The building itself is one of the oldest houses in Bath, dating from the 1400s, while Sally Lunn herself started baking buns in 1680.
It’s a little bit of a tourist trap (the Japanese-language menus and “this way to the museum!” signs being the tip-off”), but actually, aside from a bit of a wait for a table, it’s actually a fairly pleasant tea room.
Indeed, after a modest 15 minute wait, we found ourselves upstairs in a cozy little dining room, poring over a menu of various teas and teatime snacks. Myself, only lightly hungry (hey, the Cotswold Way walk was basically 5 solid days of pub food, plus a Full English breakfast most mornings), but I was really curious to try out one of the “original Bath buns”, so I ordered up a half bun (another quirk of the Sally Lunn bun is that it’s large enough that one is seldom served an entire bun, instead either a top or a bottom half, apparently chosen by the whim of the kitchen) with mushrooms and a cup of Earl Grey. The tea itself was quite pleasant, and a good Earl Grey remains one of my reliable go-to teas. The bun was quite nice as well. For the bun itself, I’d describe it as something halfway between a really large Parker House roll (do people in the UK know what those are?) and a brioche bun, and it does work quite well as, well, a nice sandwich bread, with a fairly yeasty and delicious soft interior. It takes a toast really well, and with a healthy serving of nicely done mushrooms and cream sauce, made for a good light late lunch.
Carol, meanwhile, decided to, as the American saying goes, “add a little cowbell.” Like me, she ordered tea, but she ordered their “adult tea”, which is served up in a teapot with a healthy amount of gin added. Also quite enjoyable. And she also opted for the afternoon tea service, which meant we had a rather impressive multi-tiered serving tray delivered up to our table, with everything from Sally Lunn buns with ham, to scones, to a reasonably good rendition of a brownie (another of those American foodstuffs that UK places seem to enjoying dabbling with, with mixed results). Overall, it was a rather good cross-section of the menu, and also allowed Carol to have both a nice scone, and experience the “Original Bath Bun” for herself.
While a bit touristy (the basement museum was at least a little interesting), the service was good and prompt, and their particular rendition of the “Bath Bun” is quite enjoyable. I’d certainly say it is worth a visit if you are around Bath.