Restaurant review - The Garden by Simon Radley, Oddfellows, Chester
PUBLISHED: 19:19 18 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:06 20 February 2013
Oddfellows in Chester has another lease of life. This stylish establishment now has new owners who are no strangers to fine food and hospitality. Our reviewer enjoyed their expertise
Fittingly, perhaps, the courtship began on St Valentines Day.
That was the day it was announced that the Chester Grosvenor Hotel had signed a 10-year management agreement with Oddfellows, the boutique hotel, restaurant and bar that, in its comparatively short existence, seemed to struggle to define its identity despite an historic landmark location.
The lavish 3.25m conversion of the stunning former 17th century guild house, Oddfellows Hall, was unveiled in Lower Bridge Street in 2008. This prized piece of Chesters rich heritage, afforded a new lease of life as an uber-fashionable, top quality, multi-role rendezvous, promised much - especially when, two years later, celebrity TV cook Richard Phillips was touted as consultant chef, albeit leading the brigade in Chester by video link. But perhaps there was some confusion as to how Oddfellows could be a private members club and be open to the public at the same time.
The collaboration with one of the north of Englands leading hotels, however, has put Oddfellows on a much surer footing. The number of guest rooms is being increased from four to 18, the bar has been revamped, and the redeveloped garden is now home to the new restaurant by the Grosvenors Michelin-starred chef, Simon Radley.
And it was to the secluded Secret Garden that Mrs King and I arrived for lunch one stormy afternoon in the wettest summer in 100 years. Despite the ominous clouds we chose not to eat inside the chic restaurant, but outside. Amid the Astroturf, white picket fencing and spectacular plantings not least an impressive row of standard bay trees are set intimate mini pavilions whose decor is reminiscent of the illustrations in The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, but equipped with their own radiant heaters.
Despite the serious temptations offered by the lunchtime set menu - 14.50 for two courses; 19.50 for three we opted to go a la carte to see how Radleys talents expertisemight translate in totally different surroundings from his eponymous restaurant in the Grosvenor.
Nonetheless I did raid the table dhte for my starter: the lure of goats cheese pannacotta with fresh fig, shoots and lavender honey (5) being just too irresistible. And I wasnt disappointed in the slightest: the flavours and textures of the components especially the velvety cream-cheese subtlety of the pannacotta on its crispy crouton and the herby sweetness of the honey - working in perfect harmony.
Mrs K opted for Gressingham (8), the en vogue one word description of her delicious pressing of crispy duck layered with a crouton with duck liver and pea shoots and served with a tangy citrus sauce with caramelised orange segments. Praise is also due for the basket selection of excellent artisan breads for dunking in top notch Spanish olive oil and balsamic.
At this point the heavens opened and so did the giant canopy umbrella above the garden. Fine for us, but our intrepid black-suited waiter probably wished that wed stayed indoors as the cats and dogs poured down. Nonetheless his good humour never abated as he brought the mains. Mrs Ks roast cod (16), crisp of skin and perfectly moist of flaking white flesh came in a very generous portion on top of an equally well-proportioned paella studded with sweet clams and chorizo, with a cheese-stuffed piquillo pepper and separate bowl of romesco sauce underlining the Iberian theme. She loved it.
My sea bass (19) also showed that Simon Radleys brigade, headed up at Oddfellows by Steven Tuke, has a keen eye for fine detail. Hence the bass three perfectly done fillets came atop braised fennel releasing a gentle anise flavour, with anchovy butter, anchovy fillets and black olives providing flavour enhancements of their own and decoration. The side of fat chips (3) were good but hardly necessary given the portion sizes.
We drank an accessibly fruity Chardonnay Viognier from the south of France (19.50) one of several modestly priced wines available by the glass - and to finish shared a deftly executed baklava (5). The layered filo pastry, packed with nuts and dried fruits, drizzled with honey, was topped by a melting globe of fabulous cinnamon ice cream. And even for just a fiver the plate was decorated with nasturtium flowers. But then thats The Garden by Simon Radley.
The Garden by Simon Radley, Oddfellows, 20 Lower Bridge Street, Chester CH1 1RS. Tel 01244 895700.