Restaurant review - Chef's Table, Chester
PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 April 2019
It's five years since Chester saw the opening of Chef's Table: a restaurant which proved the adage that small is beautiful. It's still small...is it still beautiful?
I’ve never quite got the allure of a ‘chef’s table’. I recall being shown a table in the middle of the kitchen of a Michelin-starred restaurant where diners paid a premium to eat amid the hubbub of the food preparation area. Why? There was a lovely restaurant just a few strides away, with views across verdant countryside.
Now it’s almost expected that a new eaterie will have an open kitchen so we can witness sweat and toil as we savour the end result. And, since so much of what we see on TV consists of people cooking stuff, we lap it up. Food isn’t just sustenance and enjoyment, it’s a spectator sport.
As the name implies, there isn’t really a table in Chef’s Table which isn’t a chef’s table. The 30-cover restaurant, tucked away down a back alley in the heart of Chester, is so bijou that every table is a sauce splatter away from the pots and pans. And even if you’re facing away from the action, the array of mirrors on the walls ensures you can still see the chefs at work. And what you will be thinking is: how on earth do they make this fantastic food in a space the size of a shoe cupboard?
Chef Liam McKay and co-owner Tom Hughes hit the ground running five years ago and the awards and rave reviews came thick and fast. In the fickle world of eating out, word of mouth approval remains strong to this day, judging by the length of time it took us to get a table. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, we sit down at a small table to enjoy a lunch menu simply priced: £18 for two courses, £22 for three. A starter of ‘strange vegetables’ is an irresistible choice. It’s a thing of beauty, little cubes of Wensleydale cheese, dabs of caramelised onion hummus and little pucks of beetroot vying with unfamiliar veg (oca de peru, crosnes, parsley root, chervil root) several of which have a look of those witchetty grubs off I’m A Celebrity... tasty and very intriguing.
Our other starter is lemon sole (£1 supplement), delivered in a silky leek vinaigrette with pickled shimeji mushrooms and a dollop of caviar.
I choose the pork main: juicy, still-slightly-pink pork chops with a Cumbrian ham scotch (quail’s) egg, chorizo, morcilla and pig’s cheek, all in a puddle of tomato essence. It’s quite a meat feast, though I also manage a side of truffle cauliflower cheese (£3.50), which is not overly truffly, but a first-rate example of this favourite.
Across the table, lamb (£2 extra) is being enjoyed: a fat portion of rump, with haggis kofte, broccoli, a tabbouleh of pearl barley and whisky molasses jus - a British Sunday lunch with a tinge of the Middle East.
A pud of blood orange polenta cake comes with grapefruit and Campari sorbet, rhubarb and orange sauce - tangy, not over-sweet, beautiful. Our other dessert of mulled pear with toasted almonds and tangerine sorbet is slightly less impressive, the fruit not quite packing the spice you would expect. This, and a weak cup of coffee are the only slightly wrong notes. All in all, an idiosyncratic, memorable meal, for less than you would pay for a pitstop in any number of generic eateries nearby. u
Chef’s Table, 4 Music Hall Passage, Chester, CH1 2EU. 01244 403040, chefstablechester.co.uk