Spirit Restaurant and Lounge, Warrington

PUBLISHED: 11:38 15 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:17 20 February 2013

Head chef, Rick Barlow, and Sous chef, Darren Tate

Head chef, Rick Barlow, and Sous chef, Darren Tate

A top chef, new owners, new décor and first-rate food make Spirit one to watch.

The Old Warps estate, laid out in a loop or warp of the meandering River Mersey just outside Warrington town centre in the 16th Century, became the town's Victoria Park in the old queen's Diamond Jubilee year of 1897. But the name stuck to the fine Georgian house in its midst.

Old Warps Lodge became a 'temporary' maternity home in 1917 and remained so until 1982. Eight years later the house was registered as a care home for the elderly and, perhaps not surprisingly, Old Warps Lodge became Park Manor.

Then, just 11 months ago, the name and role of the white rendered building changed again. Enter Spirit Restaurant and Lounge, an ultra-contemporary rendezvous behind its historic, classical Grade II-listed faade.

And as guests at Cheshire Life's November luncheon discovered, Spirit's young owners Parag and Mene Bhatnagar have presided over a stunning conversion. To the left, once through the colonnaded portico, the spacious modern bar area boasts tall Georgian windows letting in plenty of light, enhanced by the gleaming white dcor. Here we enjoyed flutes of a top-notch Spanish sparkling wine before crossing the hall to a similarly light and airy dining room sporting handsome contemporary furnishings laid out on an impressive polished wood floor.

The luncheon, also a fundraiser for the local St Rocco's Hospice, established in Warrington 25 years ago, showcased the talents of head chef Richard Barlow and his kitchen brigade and highlighted some first-rate local ingredients.

Richard, formerly of The Assembly in Didsbury, with a stint at London's iconic Oxo Tower to his credit, opened with a starter of beautifully creamy and subtly-flavoured Delamere soft goats' cheese to which the sweetness of roasted beetroot and the intensity of spiced beetroot chutney provided a delicious counterpoint.

Simply garnished with a tangle of wild rocket, the dish looked and tasted a treat, but provided a major challenge for Cathy Swift of James Pickup, the wine arm of brewer Daniel Thwaites, to come up with a partnering wine. Her choice, however, was inspired - a fat, rich pinot gris from the Pfalz region of Germany with the weight and merest hint of sweetness to cope with the cheese and beetroot. We've been ignoring German wines for far too long.

The main course was a modern Cheshire classic - a perfectly cooked square of locally-reared, slow-roasted belly pork that melted in the mouth yet sported a delightfully crispy crown, served with fine layered potato gratin, Chantenay carrots and Granny Smith apple pure. The accompanying wine was a cracker, a gloriously plummy, spicy red made from the syrah and mouvdre grapes in Chile's Colchagua Valley.

Dessert was a chocolate joy - warm Valhrona chocolate torte topped by a scoop of excellent malted milk ice cream and finished with the flourish of a praline wafer; complimented in exemplary fashion with a glass of honey-sweet Loupiac, an accessible neighbour of famous Sauternes and made by a man trained at the Legendary Chateau d' Yquem.

The spirit was indeed willing.

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