There is something appropriate about my Mum (known to the family as ‘The Duchess’) and Dad (known to the family as, well ‘Dad’) celebrating their Diamond wedding anniversary in the year the Queen is celebrating her own 60 year achievement. My sister and I wanted to mark the occasion with something special and as a tour of the Commonwealth or a party in Buckingham Palace was outside the budget, we wanted it to be a memorable family affair.
Geographically, the historic city of Chester was the perfect location for the parents travelling from North Wales and my sister and I travelling from Manchester. It is a City we knew well growing up, but have never stayed in as visitors. We wanted a hotel that would be as much a part of the experience as the food we wanted to sample and the newly opened Abode was the unanimous choice. The Hotel Group website declares:
“ABode is dedicated to offering our guests the very best. From the finest local specialties and most memorable city locations, to unique surroundings and ambiance, our hotels are destinations in themselves. We are totally dedicated to making your stay simply exceptional”.
And we were keen to find out if that was true. Having alerted the hotel to the reason behind the trip, our parents were delighted to be greeted by a bottle of Michael Caines Blanc de blanc NV Champagne (£49.95) and chocolates in their room along with a congratulations card. It set the tone for the whole stay – thoughtfulness and nothing too much trouble.
We booked a table in the restaurant for 7.30pm and enjoyed (another) glass of champagne each in the Michael Caines Champagne bar whilst ordering. The views from the fifth floor are spectacular wherever you are sat and do help to create an atmosphere of being somewhere special in a city somewhat special.
Whilst I had eaten there before, I was curious to see how the new Executive Chef, Chris Cleghorn, formerly of The Fat Duck and Gidleigh Park, was shaping up in the kitchen and whether eating in the restaurant could satisfy all the different culinary tastes and demands of our intimate group. Mum wanted a starter and main only. Dad wanted main and dessert with beer and my sister and I wanted to sample as much as possible!
There are three menus on offer: Grazing, A La Carte and Tasting. The parents chose from the A La Carte, whilst we opted for the Tasting menu with matched wines (£72 without wine or £107 with matched wines). The waiting staff did point out that the tasting menu is usually for the whole table only, but were kind enough to make an exception for us and made sure that the dishes were evenly interspersed. My own view is that they are quite correct to insist tasting menus operate for the entire party as the wait for the non-tasting menu diners can seem overly long and whilst our parents were happy to put up with the wait, other diners would not.
The dining room was just busy enough to create that balance of atmosphere but with space from other diners so the family secrets were kept safe.
We all started the meal with an amuse bouche for the parents of the Taster starter of Mushroom soup with herb veloute. For us served with an unoaked Leyda 2011 Chardonnay, Leyda Valley, Chile. The soup had an intense mushroom flavour that the wine had no trouble standing up to. Dad decided Marstons best bitter was his drink of choice for the evening and stuck to that.
Mum’s starter of Terrine of duck liver, with a rhubarb compote, rhubarb and lemongrass jelly, pickled rhubarb and shiitake a la grecque (£18.95) arrived with our pan fried scallop with carrot puree, pickled carrot, spiced scallop cracker and ginger and carrot foam. The scallops were succulent and not overpowered by the accompaniments, including the little fishy cracker. Dad enjoyed ten minutes of silence from the women around the table as we tucked into some divine flavours and textures. The scallop was paired with Avondale, Chenin Blanc 2009, from Paarl, South Africa. As you might expect from a carefully thought through matching list, it complimented a complex dish.
Mum and dad ducked out of the next round as we enjoyed Salt Cod with cauliflower, kohlrabi, mussels and curry sauce. This dish certainly lived up to its name. My sister and I played spot the kohlrabi which was clearly missing from the dish, but was quickly rectified when the waitress brought us out a portion and we were glad she did as it was a great component part to a feisty salty dish. The Austrian Lois 2010, Gruner Veltliner from Austria had a great back taste of black pepper that worked with a dish that would have easily over powered a lesser wine.
With a cheer from Dad, he finally joined us for the first time with his choice of Pan fried halibut with white asparagus, broccoli and almond and macaroni cheese (£23.50). Beautifully presented, the fish was cooked to the second. This time the silence was from his end of the table with good reason and as he declared – well worth the wait. He loved the teaming of pasta with fish and his favourite vegetables as a triumph.
Mum enjoyed the Cumbrian strip loin with watercress puree, smoked butter croquettes, shallot and horseradish confit and a red wine sauce (£26.50). Well, I say Mum enjoyed it, but as all parents know you always want to share with your children, so we too tasted the melt in the mouth quality of this dish before tucking into our Goosnargh duck breast with star anise, orange braised chicory and an orange scented sauce. Before you think we were too greedy – we did share our courses with our parents in return!
The duck course was a cirque du soliel of balance. The sharpness of the chicory against the sweetness of the orange was not an easy achievement, but the chef had this right. The wine choice here needed to be equally balanced and it was with a second trip to Paarl, South Africa for a Syrah 2005 from Avondale.
A pause for the parents and a chance for Dad to enjoy some more Marstons as we moved onto the cheese course of Double Gloucester with a Porto Pocas 2000 from Portugal. I love cheese so for me this was too small a portion, but understandably so as we were on a taster menu and not the a la carte cheese board.
At this point we looked forward to the palate cleansing red grape and verjus granite with apple foam, before hitting the final food furlong. For the tasting menu this was Hot Chocolate Fondant with white chocolate ice cream and for Dad from the a la carte; Rhubarb soufflé (£8.95) with rhubarb anglaise and rhubarb sorbet, still accompnaied by Marstons best bitter. At this point Mum decided she needed to go to bed so my sister duly obliged in helping her. We were impressed that her dessert was removed and on her return she was offered a freshly cooked replacement that, she was informed, would take 8 minutes. It was thoughtful and worth it. The melting chocolate fondant was accompanied by a red Stanton and Killeen Rutherglen Muscat N/V from Victoria, Australia. A strong and intense wine that was not overly sweet.
With Mum away, Dad took the opportunity to enjoy a nightcap of whiskey from a staff who seemed unhurried to see us leave – well they were very good at making it appear that way. Service was attentive but not overbearing. The Waiting staff certainly knew their stuff and we enjoyed a number of short conversations about the food and wine choices.
After a great nights sleep we returned to the fifth floor for breakfast. A combination of serve yourself continental style and five cooked options including Full English and Eggs Benedict. Our coffee proved to be a little on the weak side for our taste and was quickly replaced with a more robust pot on request. The waitress returned 5 minutes later to check we were happy with it, even though the restauant was particulary busy.
Check out was efficient with no long queues and we were grateful that parking was onsite (basement) rather than a trekk to the nearest NCP. The whole experience had indeed proved memorable for all the right reasons and the website claim “We are totally dedicated to making your stay simply exceptional” proved no idle boast. It was a great way to celebrate our parent’s anniversary, a special time with two very special people.
We stayed in Desirable Rooms on a Friday evening on a bed and breakfast basis (£114 per room). Rates vary depending upon availability. Desirable rooms have either a balcony and walk in shower or larger beds and a bath/shower.
Chester Ch1 2DJ
01244 347 000