Oddfellows Hotel, Chester
PUBLISHED: 21:50 28 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:08 20 February 2013
Fine food and fabulous dÃ©cor set this characterful establishment apart from the crowd
Take one of historic Chester's landmark buildings, add the skills of one of Britain's leading boutique and stellar restaurant design teams, sprinkle generously with cash - in this case 3.25m - and you really have something special.
Hence the accolades showered on the project when Oddfellows, hotel-restaurant-members' club, opened its doors in Lower Bridge Street just over a year ago including Life Magazines' award for 'Best Newcomer'. Not only was a prized piece of Chester's rich heritage afforded a new and rewarding lease of life, but the city also acquired an uber-fashionable, top quality, multi-role rendezvous.
As guests at Cheshire Life's luncheon discovered, the conversion of the former 17th century guild house, Oddfellows' Hall, has been a stunning piece of work, showcasing splendidly characterful period features while providing strikingly contemporary facilities. A stylish bar and brasserie open out into a walled garden on the ground floor and a beautifully appointed restaurant and relaxing members' rooms lead from the landing up the magnificent staircase. There are currently four individually bespoke bedrooms, but Ken Roscoe, Oddfellows' managing director, an accomplished entrepreneur and designer, revealed that plans have been approved for 18 more.
Top-end hospitality, however, requires more than a smart venue, however impressive: people are crucial too and Oddfellows boasts an enviable team in operations director Johan Scheepers, who launched the boutique hotel Abode in Manchester and Isabel 'Izzy' Grey the enterprise's energetic commercial director.
We were greeted in Oddfellows' first floor members' room, opening out onto a delightful roof terrace and sipped flutes of refreshingly light Prosecco in the warm summer sunshine. The cavalcade of canaps - dainty goats' cheese tartlets, prawn fish cakes, new potatoes with quail egg, smoked salmon and caviar mini blinis and pt on curly melba toast - paved the way for chef Mark Fletcher's perfect summer menu, dominated by local produce.
Regrouped around our tables in the restaurant, just across the landing, we began with a wonderful celebration of time and place: the intense, peerless flavour of local asparagus grown at Richard Wilding's Cherry Orchard Farm, Delamere, needed only the classic accompaniment of a fine hollandaise sauce to deliver a simple, but world class dish. From the Oddfellows' wine list, the punchy gooseberry fruit of Brampton Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from South Africa's top-rated Stellenbosch region, supplied and described, as were all the wines over lunch by Kevin Sambrook of Gerrard Seel, Warrington, made an excellent match.
The main course brought a succulent, flavourful breast of Highbury free range chicken sourced by Darren Shepherd Littlers Butchers at Sandiway, attractively served with smoked bacon and button onion fricassee, garden peas, wilted gem lettuce and a deftly fashioned fondant potato. It made for the ideal seasonal lunch centrepiece, particularly in company with its partner wine - a delicate cabernet sauvignon from Italy's Veneto, served slightly chilled.
Maybe it's because we encounter dessert wines relatively infrequently that makes them so fascinating, none more so than Maury mas Amiel 2006, produced in the southern Rhone from the black grenache grape and fortified with a touch of brandy. Served chilled it paid the ultimate smooth compliment to Mark Fletcher's sumptuous dark chocolate tart, made with rich Valrhona chocolate from Venezuela, supplied by Rupert Frazer, and paired with tip-top vanilla ice cream and sweet and sour raspberries. Served at room temperature, the wine proffered sweet fruit nuances to contrast with the salty elements of a splendid local cheeseboard selected by Carole and Ann Faulkner of The Cheese Shop, Chester.