[Chester] The Forge

When we read that Mike Robinson had opened a restaurant nearish to home, we had to go and give it a try. We ate at his flagship restaurant, the Harwood Arms in London some years back and had a really good meal. This is a new venture in partnership with Indigo Hotels and is, I think, the third of his restaurants in one of the hotels. With a name like the Forge, you might think that the furnishings and décor might be quite rustic but it’s very much the opposite – all sleek and modern. I presume they get the name from the fact they cook on wood and charcoal in the open kitchen (and, yes, it does make the room a bit smoky, even with good ventilation).

It’s a shortish menu with game featuring in both starters and main courses. We were drawn to the food provenance listed against each menu item – with the supplying farm duly noted.

For one starter, there were marinated tomatoes from the Isle of Wight. It was a bit similar to a dish we’d eaten all those years back at the Harwood. They come, well flavoured, with burrata and a basil oil. The other starter featured whipped chicken livers – a mousse by any other name. There’s crunch from toasted oats and the richness of the liver balanced by a little pickled rhubarb (of which there could have been more, for perfection). And a slice of a very nice brioche.

Loin of wild fallow deer followed, cooked to a perfect medium rare. This comes from the estate of the Earl of Bathurst who partners with Robinson in a venison supply venture. There’s spinach and what was described as “dirty” mash. I had to ask what makes it dirty. Apparently the amount of butter used – a 1:1 ratio with potato. No, I still didn’t understand why “dirty”.

We could see a chef in the open kitchen cooking cod loin or, at least, finishing it off. He was using a blowtorch which accounts for the charring on the fillet and probably accounts for why the centre had been cooked through but wasn’t piping hot. There’s roast potatoes and griddled Little Gem. And a caper “jam” for a bit of zing. We also shared a portion of summer vegetables – mainly broad beans and, in a first for us, cooked radishes.

Desserts are often a bit of a let-down after really good savoury courses and these were no exception. They were OK but nothing to shout from the rooftops about. Pavolva had a nice meringue but needed more cream to balance its dryness. The other sweet was trifle - a polenta cake topped with custard, cream and macerated strawberries. We finished with very decent coffee.

We’d eaten some very nice food and it had been worth the 45 minute drive. The restaurant industry is currently in a staffing crisis, fuelled by Covid and Brexit. I’d like to hope that this was the cause of the inordinate delays between each course rather than there being something more structurally wrong in the kitchen.

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I wonder if “dirty” is the equivalent of “naughty/decadent” here in the States. Perhaps that’s what the kitchen intended…“decadent mashed potatoes.” Because that’s how it came across to me. Yum.

You may well be right, digga. And it would tie with the explanation. But I’ve never come across the word being used as such before. Maybe it’s a “young person’s word”.

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Making noodles. Phongdien Town, Cantho City, Southern Vietnam.
Credit: CiaoHo