JANE AUSTEN, who wrote in her novel Northanger Abbey: "Oh! who can ever be tired of Bath?", might be amused to find, some 200 years later, that a centre dedicated to her life and work is to be found next door to the city's first Indonesian restaurant in Gay Street.

In fact, this most English of novelists is still correct it is very difficult, certainly for the adventurous diner, to tire of Bath, with such gastronomic options around every corner.

Java offers a huge menu, taking in everything from starters and soups to seafood, duck, lamb, beef, chicken and vegetable dishes, with a strong emphasis on authentic ingredients and flavours.

I was keen to try some of the more unusual choices, and had my eye on chao tom Vietnamese minced prawn on sugar cane served with sweet chilli dip but was told it had all gone... clearly there had been adventurous types here before me.

The Java platter, a starter for two, was also tempting, with satay chicken, vegetable spring rolls, minced pork dumplings, Java ribs, prawn crackers and Thai fish cakes, but at £7 each seemed expensive, so we opted to share a quarter portion of Chinese crispy aromatic duck (£7.50) served with hoisin sauce, steamed pancakes, slivers of cucumber and shredded spring onion.

We were rather confused when something entirely different was delivered to our table deep-fried vegetables and a dish incorporating hard-boiled eggs.

As we had just been served a complimentary dish of lightly pickled vegetables, we wondered if these, too, were on the house, especially when the waitress seemed to be encouraging us to eat up when we queried the dishes.

She eventually realised the mistake was hers, and exchanged the food for our duck, which was superb, and well worth holding out for.

There was plenty for two, but it's such a tasty dish, you couldn't be blamed for choosing the half (£14) or even the whole (£26) duck and never actually moving on to anything else.

Making choices at Java is simplified thanks to symbols denoting heat one chilli next to a dish on the menu denotes 'a tingle', two 'warm' and three 'fiery'.

But don't be misled, there is nothing fiery about the food here. My partner chose a two-chilli dish, Indonesian rendang, for his main course, and even I, whose eyes water at the very thought of a chilli, found it only very slightly spicy, even though he had asked for 'extra heat'.

No matter the flavour was exquisite, with galangal and lemongrass adding subtle overtones to the spicy dry coconut curried beef.

Still in pursuit of the unusual, my own choice was cuttlefish madura. The waiter looked concerned when I requested this, saying it was not like fish, but squid, which indeed it was, though squid in a kind of rolled up hedgehoggy sort of way. This is, apparently, a popular Indonesian dish, and, stir-fried with black pepper and spring onions in a sweet soy sauce, its appeal is its mild flavours and unusual appearance.

Various types of noodles or rice are ordered separately and we chose well nasiuduk (coconut rice), which was rich, creamy and very moreish, and mee goreng (very fine fried egg noodles with chicken and shrimp), a meal in itself.

We washed all this down with a bottle of the French house wine, which was extremely drinkable, and good value at £9.50. We also asked for a bottle of mineral water, but this failed to appear, and eventually we managed to extract a couple of glasses of tap water from the waiter. He, like the waitress who had brought the wrong starter, maintained a studied attempt to be relaxed and welcoming which veered a little too closely towards vagueness.

Perhaps this, along with the roughly plastered walls adorned with scary-looking wooden-carved faces, pretty carved wooden placemats and uncushioned wooden chairs is all part of the Indonesian experience. Either way, when the bill arrived just £39.40 for our four courses plus wine it was entirely forgivable.


39 Gay Street


Tel: (01225) 427919

Fact File

Open Monday-Saturday noon-2.30pm and 6-11pm; Sun 6-11pm

Takeaway service

All major credit cards accepted, but cheques are not

Vegetarian options plus vegetarian versions of other dishes on request

Disabled access possible but toilets are downstairs on the lower ground floor

Children welcome