Restaurant review - The Church Bar & Restaurant, Chester
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 October 2013
Our reviewer spent a pleasant afternoon dining at an impressively refurbished church in Chester
Breathing fresh life into historic buildings by adapting them for new uses rather than tearing them down has been one of the great positive strides of the last 20 years. It is especially important in a city like Chester where architectural heritage is a vital factor in its key tourism industry.
Over the years I have enjoyed hospitality in many inventively converted buildings, but few have undergone a transformation quite so imaginative and dramatic as the former St Andrew’s United Reform Church that stood inactive in Newgate Street for a decade. With an investment of £1.5m and three years of development, businessman Simon Rodenhurst, who converted the 18th Century Plough Inn at St Asaph into an extremely popular contemporary bar, restaurant and live music venue, has created The Church.
As with the Plough, his new enterprise is an eye-catching blend of ancient and ultra modern, but on a much more ambitious scale. The Church retains its Victorian features – grand entrance, soaring ceilings, stained glass windows; even the original organ. Now a stylish bar has been slotted in at ground level and the spacious modern Gallery Restaurant laid out on a mezzanine floor above. There is also an expansive outdoor terrace and, again like the Plough, a ‘built in’ wine shop where diners can choose from a wide range.
The venture is an all-day operation with a breakfast menu operative from 10.30am until 1pm, dovetailing with sharing platter and a la carte menus available all day. ‘Gastro dishes’ – though we are certainly not talking excessive cheffiness here (calf’s liver with dauphinoise, confit duck leg, pan-fried lamb rump etc) – kick in from 6pm. The venue hosts regular music nights featuring DJs and live musicians.
We called mid-afternoon on a Monday, joined by a friend and former colleague who had just moved to Handbridge on the opposite side of the River Dee. After a pleasant stroll in the sunshine across the Old Dee Bridge into the city, we found an al fresco table on the terrace at The Church and mulled the day time choices. When the waitress brought the pre-lunch drinks she revealed that the short-ish menu was even shorter with several dishes, or components of dishes, unavailable. Perhaps there had been a big congregation over the weekend. However, by way of compensation, a couple of the usually post-6pm dishes had, as it were, been brought forward. Hence our friend Andy and Mrs K both took advantage..
Andy and I both started with a smoked haddock, salmon and pea fish cake garnished with rocket and tomato and partnered with a lemon mayo dip (£5.95), while Mrs K opted for a honey-glazed goat’s cheese, garlic and creamed field mushroom tartlet with onion marmalade (£5.95). The fishcake was generously proportioned if a little light on seasoning, thus a tad bland; but the tart, on a plate criss-crossed with balsamic and marmalade dressing like an early Jackson Pollack, was crisp and flavourful.
For the main course I had an 8oz sirloin steak from the grill (the menu names suppliers – this was from Williams of Flint) which came exactly medium rare as requested with the usual trimmings: roasted tomato, fried field mushrooms, excellent chunky chips served in a wire mesh basked and truly fabulous onion rings (£17.95). The steak was tip-top as was the creamy peppercorn sauce in its own little boat which somewhat mischievously added another £2.25.
Mrs K chose chicken breast fillet filled with chicken mousse, field mushrooms and spinach wrapped in bacon and served on leek and potato mash (£13.95). The chicken was full of flavour and the whole dish was lifted by mushroom, sage and tomato herb saucing. Andy had the seared calf’s liver, cooked pink and accompanied by creamy dauphinoise potatoes, crispy bacon, roasted tomato and rich onion jus (£15.95) which he pronounced ‘spot on’.
The wine list provided a couple of glasses of fresh, crisp Chilean sauvignon blanc at £4.95 a time and a bottle of seriously juicy Errazuriz Teno Block Merlot from Chile’s Curico Valley (a very reasonable £17.95) which Andy and I finished off while Mrs K tackled a so-so raspberry crème brulée – grey-pink in colour below the burnt sugar glaze (£4.95).
It’s often the case that multi-purpose venues miss something of a trick in culinary terms, but for us The Church ticked almost all of the boxes and provided charming service throughout; it was a thoroughly pleasant afternoon.
The Church Bar & Restaurant, Newgate Street, Chester CH1 1DE. Tel: 01244 318854; www.churchchester.com
Cheshire Life’s restaurant reviews are conducted ‘incognito’. We book and pay for meals as ordinary diners do, so as to experience the same treatment as any member of the public. If we are ever guests of a hotel or restaurant, the review will mention that.