Restaurant review Michael Caines' Restaurant & Champagne Bar

Michael Caines's food is an exciting and welcome addition to the Chester scene

Completion of HQ Chester, the landmark circular segmented building on the site of Cheshire Constabulary’s former headquarters just across the road from the castle and commanding panoramic views over the racecourse, has been much anticipated, not least because it houses the city’s new Abode Hotel.The opening in Chester brings this growing and respected group of exclusive boutique hotels to five and introduces to the city the cooking style of one of the best chefs currently working in the UK – Michael Caines.Caines is not so much a celebrity as a celebrated chef – and in my book there’s a huge difference - his reputation forged at Gidleigh Park in the foothills of Dartmoor, Devon, where he’s retained two Michelin stars for 11 years. The arrival of the Michael Caines Restaurant and Champagne Bar on Abode’s fifth floor means that Simon Radley over at the Chester Grosvenor at last has some very serious culinary competition.When we turned up for dinner on a Wednesday evening just four weeks after ABode opened, it was reassuring to see that word had gone round. The chic, contemporary bar with its colourful, larger-than-life images of stars like Madonna and Debbie Harry, based on renowned photographer Brian Aris’ atmospheric portraits, and the spacious, subtly-lit and stylishly furnished dining area were buzzing. It was doubly reassuring to see Caines himself, in his chef’s whites, moving from table to table talking to diners.He won’t be there all the time, of course, but the executive head chef in the Chester kitchen, Stuart Collins, is not only a dedicated young disciple of Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park and Abode’s MC restaurant at Exeter, but also a student of Gordon Ramsay. When Gidleigh Park closed for its year-long refurbishment, Stuart worked Gordon Ramsay's flagship restaurant on Royal Hospital Road, London. After 18 months there, Stuart went to New York to assist in the opening of Ramsay's restaurant at The London Hotel and then did a two-year stint as head chef at Ramsay’s Maze restaurant in the capital.

Some of the best cooking we’ve enjoyed for a long, long time presenting fantastic flavour combinations from tip-top ingredientsSo much for the pedigree; what about the food? In the evening there are three ways of approaching dinner: via the a la carte route, the six-course tasting menu for �65 (add another �35 for wines matching every course) or the innovative ‘grazing menu’ offering scaled-down versions of dishes featured on the other menus. We chose this last option and encountered some of the best cooking we’d enjoyed for a long, long time presenting fantastic flavour combinations from tip-top ingredients.I began with a starter-sized platter of Scottish scallops with a subtly spiced Thai pur�e, stir fried bean sprouts, mange touts and shitake mushrooms finished off magnificently with a scented lemongrass velout� (�7.50). It was an exceptional presentation showcasing outstanding culinary skill – but then so did all eight of out choices. Next I chose meltingly tender braised pork cheeks with delightful vanilla pomme pur�e, apple and green bean salad (�9) – then superb Deemster House Farm saddle of lamb served with aubergine and tapenade pur�e, fondant potato, tomato fondue, roasted garlic and rosemary jus (�11.50). It was cooking of the highest order.Meanwhile Mrs K was raving over her own trio of delights: quail raviolo with herb pur�e, truffled egg yolk and quail jus (�8) - a pasta dish par excellence; a quite sensational fishy collation of salted haddock and cock crab with chorizo, samphire, tarragon and lemon pur�e (�10.50) and show stopping Goosnargh duck breast and confit leg with apricots and pistachio, sweet potatoes and sprouting broccoli (�12).Except the show didn’t stop there. She rounded off with a gorgeous hot pistachio souffl� with pistachio ice cream (�6.50) while the grazing menu gave me a choice of three (from a five strong list) outstanding artisan cheeses – Bourne’s Cheshire, Crabtree and Golden Cheshire Brie – for �5. The 150-bin wine list features a dozen choices by the glass including a rose and three champagnes; we enjoyed reasonably-priced chardonnay, then merlot from France’s far-south Languedoc-Roussillon region. 

Michael Caines’ Restaurant & Champagne Bar, 5th Floor, Abode Hotel, Grosvenor Road, Chester CH1 2DJ. Tel: 01244 347000; www.abodehotels.co.uk

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Rope and AnchorPaddock Lane, Dunham Massey, Altrincham, WA14 5RP0161 927 7901  www.thedeckersgroup.com

Style of venue Casual and relaxed. This is the newest addition to the Deckers Group who recently gave it a major makeover. It’s a gastro-pub with dining space over two floors as well as outside. Despite its vastness, this bustling place still feels cosy and welcoming. On the menu Traditional British food done well using local produce where possible. There’s Cheshire asparagus with lemon butter sauce, sausages and prime beef burgers from Alan Jackson in Alderley Edge and fresh fish platters and hearty steak dishes in abundance. To start I enjoyed smoked haddock, salmon and scallion fishcake with grain mustard butter sauce (�6.95). For mains I tucked into seabass with provencale vegetables, spiced lyonnaise potatoes and vine tomato coulis (�16.95). My companion was impressed with the substantial crispy goats’ cheese, picked beetroot, walnut and watercress salad (�5.95) as well as big pork and leek sausages, mash, onion rings and gravy (�9.95). Perfect Sunday lunch fodder. For dessert we shared Dunham Massey farm ice cream in raspberry ripple, vanilla and chocolate. Unfortunately the rum and raisin had run out (�5.75).D�cor Country pub style, comfortable seats, wooden tables and big fires that will be welcome in winter. There’s a large outdoor area and a lovely area with glass walls for those sunny, but cool evenings.Ambience Busy and friendly: the ideal place to dine with a group of friends. Service Good, but on the afternoon we visited it was busy and we had to wait a while for some drinks. Cost Expect to pay �60 for dinner for two, if you’re on soft drinks. Allow more for those nights when you’re not driving. Suitability for entertainment Perfect for large groups. If you want something a little more intimate ask to be seated in a quiet corner.

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