Restaurant review - Barristers restaurant at The Courthouse, Knutsford
PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 February 2018 | UPDATED: 18:15 26 February 2018
It's an arresting location: a hotel and restaurant in Knutsford's 200-year-old former court building. Louise Allen-Taylor visits Barristers restaurant at The Courthouse Hotel and delivers her verdict
If most restaurant design is about imposing character on a blank space, the creation of Barristers in Knutsford plainly entailed changing as little as possible.
Sitting amid acres of dark wood beneath a vast vaulted ceiling and a majestic skylight, you are still, very obviously, in a court of law. All the furniture attending the dispensing of justice is still there, though moved around a little. The vast central cocktail bar, for instance, was once the dock - a place of abject misery reimagined as a font of joy. Dining tables now sit where once jurors and anxious relatives of the accused would perch. It’s grimly fascinating to realise that the likes of Alan Turing were tried within these walls, the codebreaker and computer pioneer sentenced to chemical castration for gross indecency in 1952.
Leaving so much of the former courtroom in place may have cost a few covers, but it has paid dividends in terms of the restaurant’s ambience. Well done to owners Flat Cap Hotels, whose first project was The Vicarage at Cranage.
Further on in the rolling restoration of this wonderful building (described as ‘duly grave’ by Pevsner, though good times and conviviality will no doubt quell that notion) the cells will be turned into private dining rooms, and a total of 50 hotel bedrooms will be completed by 2019.
Already, the vast former courtroom number one has had its jury box turned into a bar, and is now a function room and wedding reception venue (insert your own joke here about the condemned man).
Back to the restaurant, adding to the courtroom ambience there are barristers’ wigs hanging on pegs, a profusion of artworks, many featuring celebrities who have got the wrong side of the law, and a menu in which the starters are ‘proceedings’ the puds are ‘closing argument’ and the steaks are ‘grilled on the stand’.
Executive chef Steven Tuke - whose CV includes The Grosvenor and Oddfellows in Chester - gets away with such frivolity on the menu because the food is seriously good. We kick off with some sharing nibbles in the form of padron peppers (£5) deep fried until deliciously soft and served with coarse salt and a dip of onion mayonnaise (I’m salivating again just writing about it!).
One starter is a stripy raviolo of oozing goat’s curd (£9), with a jam of sticky figs, a honey tuile and whey - lots of ripe yet subtle flavours there, very attractively presented. Across the table, a deeply delicious Gruyère soufflé (£7.90) with smoky baby leeks is worth raving about, even in the same town where Brasserie Blanc serves one of our favourite versions of the classic French cheese soufflé.
On to the main evidence (no, this judicial theme does not let up) and I choose stone bass (£19) - a hunk of meaty fish atop a slab of confit pork belly, pretty nuggets of romanesco broccoli and a raviolo from which bursts chicken consommé. As with that raviolo starter, it’s an inspired bringing together of ingredients which all yet manage to assert themselves individually. On the side comes a little jug of tomato and fennel consommé which proves just the ticket for dipping the fat cut chips (£3) we have as a side order.
Our other main is Scottish sea trout (£18) with a cannellini bean purée and slow cooked fennel, a similarly accomplished fish dish.
A pud of Manchester tart (£7) comes as a dense brick of creamy custard with a delicious raspberry sorbet. Poached pear (£6.90) is a deep purple fruit with a singed cylinder of marshmallow and gingerbread ice cream. All very lovely.
So, what’s the verdict? Is Barristers an exciting addition to Cheshire’s foodie offer? Guilty as charged.
Barristers restaurant is at The Courthouse, Toft Road, Knutsford, WA16 0PB, tel 01565 743 333, www.thecourthousecheshire.com