Joseph Benjamin, Chester
Chester is a jewel of a town. In an area which, in government circles, is described as "depressed" Chester is a buzzy shopping centre well serviced with everything you need as well as quite a few things you probably only wish you needed. The four main streets enclosed in the old medieval walls are all double tiered with walkways just above road level as well as just below giving you double the outlets for your window shopping minutes.
Nights are also very lively–we saw two people collapse in the streets before 10pm from high levels of blood thinner flowing through their veins. However, it is a good natured city and fun to be in.
So where does a self respecting eater consume their comestibles? After a day or two of good pubs we pottered off to Joseph Benjamin's just inside the North Gate of the town. The restaurant was light and airy with big windows onto the street outside. The cocktail of the day (it was late Sunday morning) was a Raspberry Bellini, an option that was rapidly seized upon by my bevy of beautiful companions (and one charming gentleman) who had joined me for luncheon.
The wine list is lovely and not far from standard retail pricing, which makes for a very civilised lunch with a reasonable bill. We had a minerally Italian bottle of white followed by a '05 Californian red of stunning quality at just over £20 per bottle.
For the vegetarians the menu has a couple of options that kept those who felt inclined. For others the Sunday roast option appealed (beef). Gluten free variants were prepared as required. The vegetables came in a big pot in the middle of the table. I noticed that we ate all of the steamed veggies up front and took a bit longer to get through the roasted ones. Maybe we are all suckers for healthy eating (unlikely) but I do feel that light and open eating spaces need a good mix of light and open flavours. That means a wide range of not-overcooked, not fatty greens to match the richer flavours of the roast and trimmings.
In any event we coped admirably by drinking more of the red and, when necessary, glasses of water from the jugs of tap water they supplied.
Desserts were welcome and well prepared–nothing out of the ordinary (chocolate brownies etc) but all well done. I went with the fruit cake and cheese option and was very impressed, especially as they throw in a glass of dessert wine as well.
It was a grand day out.
Getting There: Get to Chester, snuggle up under the wall beside the North Gate.
Who should eat there: Relaxed people who enjoy a glass of something
while eating something else and talking about something else again.
Dining Style: Cocktails and roast dinners.
Price: £30 each with a bottle of that something to share.
Quality: Local food from a locality that knows how to grow its food.
Would I go back: I'm not in Chester often, but it is a highlight.