Sally Lunns in Bath is a not-to-be missed experience, both for the ambience and the buns.

A Bun! A famous Bun, I agree, but it's still hard to believe all these people are actually waiting to get in to eat a Bun. Braving the sharp, silvery drizzle, we too join the long queue outside Sally Lunns, home of the original Bath bun, in U.K.'s famous spa-town.

The door opens, and two very satisfied looking people walk-out (think cat-that's-just-polished-off-the-cream satisfied), unmindful of the rain, now tipping down by the bucketful. We hurry inside and squish ourselves into the line waiting for a table. A kind hostess hands-out menu-cards, and promises it won't be long. “About 15 minutes,” she says, but she looks doubtful. We're gutted, as we have severe time-constraints. So after a last, lingering look at the appetising menu, we reluctantly leave.

Wait in line

We phone back the next morning, and ask for a lunch booking. “We don't do that, I'm afraid,” we're told, politely, but firmly. “You won't have to wait beyond 15 minutes though.” It's our turn to look doubtful, but we are heading into town anyway; besides, it's a bright, beautiful day, with sun-beams bouncing off the golden Bath-stone, the whole city, draped across the hill, glowing like its been freshly gilded.

A stone-throw away from the neck-crickingly tall Bath Abbey, Sally Lunns — in the winding, medieval North Parade Passage — comes highly recommended by every single tour-operator/guide-book/B&B owner.

And yet, interestingly, in a city that's fêted for its Georgian Architecture, Sally Lunns (supposedly Bath's oldest house, dating from 1482, long before the many King George's left their indelible mark in Britain's only World Heritage city) is an attractive — if modest — three-storied building, with pretty flower-boxes hanging from the windows and a handsome gabled-roof.

We get a table (eventually) by the empty fireplace and we take in the great, big beams of dark-wood that hold-up the ancient low-roof, the charming displays on the bow-windows and the old-fashioned, if unexceptional pictures that adorn the white-washed walls. It's fairly crowded, but nobody seems to mind, for they're in, at Sally Lunns! The menu is excitingly different; it features lots of Buns (all Sally Lunns specialities) served with various toppings and trimmings, besides the usual soups and sandwiches. We order a Sally Lunns cream-tea and, as a concession to Bath's famous daughter, a Jane Austen Cream-tea.

Excitingly different

The tea arrives quickly; the buns take their time. We spend our time productively by reading up about them. Sally Lunn, we learn, was a young refuge from France and arrived in the city back in 1680. A clever baker, she came-up with an original recipe for a rich, round and mildly-sweet bun that was then named after her. The bun's popularity soared during Georgian England and Sally Lunn earned many fans, among them Charles Dickens.

All that high praise, naturally, heightened our expectations, and when the buns arrived — duly slathered with golden butter in the case of the Sally Lunns cream-tea, and wonderfully gloopy jam for the Jane Austen one — with generous servings of clotted cream, there is a frisson of excitement! The buns were enormous, deliciously crumbly and light (though not quite scone-crumbly), and adequately sweet to let the home-made jam and thick, clotted cream shine through…They were a tad fiddly to eat, as using just fingers and the teeth (as the daughter happily did) seemed a bit gauche, but the fork and knife were, for a bun that size, too much hard-work! The portion – toasted half of a bun – was sufficient for an adult with a hearty appetite (ahem, me) while the daughter was clearly ‘stuffed' after her Jane Austen serving. At just over 6 quid a pop, these were excellent value, and came, besides, with a large pot of tea.

The tea room, we felt, as we waddled out into the glorious sunshine, was surely worth the wait just for the experience of eating in a place that's simply brimming with history. We might never find out the closely-guarded “secret recipe” (found in a secret-cupboard in the old-panelling when the house was extensively restored in the 20th century) but it's sufficient to say we completely agreed with Dickens, who heaped lavish praise on “Sally Lunn the illustrious author of the bun”.

Fact File

Bath can be easily reached by train from London (1.5 hours from Paddington station), or as a day-trip, on an escorted coach-tour.

Sally Lunns is one of Bath's celebrity visitor-attraction, along with the Roman Baths and the Abbey.

Do visit the quaint ‘Kitchen Museum' in the basement, where excavations reveal that the site has been occupied since Roman times!

Cream-teas are attractively priced from £6.18 onwards


Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012