[Chester] Simon Radley

There’s much to like about the restaurant. There’s a nice bar to sit and have a drink while you read the menu and scoff the nibbles. The chairs in the restaurant itself are comfy. Staff are both efficient and friendly – a tricky combination to achieve when you’re quite a formal restaurant. And there’s an interesting menu. Now, that’s “interesting” in the sense of some food combinations that you might think don’t sit too well with each other and, as such, you find your choices a tad limited, or you take a punt and keep your fingers crossed.

There’s also some rather odd single word names given to the various dishes. For example, a starter called “Cauliflower”. Now, reading the menu, you’d assume that it was going to be the main event on the plate but it isn’t. The centrepiece is actually a very tasty fritter using pig’s trotter and brawn. The cauliflower only appears in a supporting role, as a puree and as a couple of thin slices of pickled veg (or, “flavours of piccalilli”, as the menu has it). Good dish, even if it was one that was somewhat misleading. It went well with our selection from the bread trolley – around a dozen loaves. There was excellent baguette and a black sourdough, as well as a potato bread and another incorporating cheese.

One of the main courses was an absolute belter. Herdwick mutton loin was perfectly cooked at medium rare. There was a crunch from shavings of asparagus, a scattering of girolles and little balls of ewe’s curd. A powerful offaly gravy set it off. It was much better than the plate of beef on the other side of the table. This was an unknown rare breed, supplied by Edge’s from Wirral. There was sirloin which had an odd flavour and texture. Not “odd” as in “off”, of course. But oddly chewy and there was “something” lacking in the flavour. The oddness of menu descriptions continued with the other bit of beef on the plate. This was described as “cheek bresaola” – now, in our experience, bresaola is thinly sliced, air dried beef. Here, it’s a long cooked braise - lovely but misleading. The best things on the plate were actually the vegetables – charred baby leeks, shallots and cocktail onions.

I was intrigued by the dessert titled “Catalan Tomato”. One of the things they do in Mallorca and, presumably, other parts of the region, is to air dry tomatoes to store for winter use. It preserves the sweetness of the flesh and gives it a chewy texture. Here, they’d taken one of the tomatoes and stuffed it with fruit. Alongside, a quenelle of ice cream. It was really rather nice. Across the table, cheese was not a wild success. There was a disappointing lack of British cheeses – not even a Cheshire! That’s not to say that there was anything wrong with the mainly French selection on the trolley – everything looked in perfect condition. But, when you’ve got one of the country’s best cheese shops, literally a couple of minutes walk away, it seems such a shame more isn’t being given to local produce.

To round off what had been a really nice evening, we ordered coffee and petit fours. They were a bit disappointing. Fruit filled cannoli were a great idea, but the pastry had started to go soft. The chocolate “cigars”, served from a cigar box, were fine.