Restaurant review - The Grosvenor Arms, Chester Road, Aldford

The Grosvenor Arms

The Grosvenor Arms - Credit: Archant

Some said Brunning and Price were ‘bonkers’ when they took over a dilapidated Grosvenor Arms in Aldford, but since then the pub - now in new hands - has gone from strength to strength

The Grosvenor Arms

The Grosvenor Arms - Credit: Archant

You have to hand it to Brunning and Price, the Chester-based pub company, with its portfolio of around two dozen properties in Cheshire, the north west of England and North Wales and a growing selection in the south.

Though founders Jerry Brunning and Graham Price, whose partnership was forged in 1988, sold out to the Restaurant Group in 2007, they can lay reasonable claim to having become a sort of ‘National Trust’ to the beleagured traditional British pub. And while it’s true that many of the inns are somewhat formulaic (where did all that period furnishing and bric-a-brac come from?), the blunt truth is that a fair number of them would simply not exist at all but for the pair’s eye for location and remarkable business nous.

Take the case of the critcally acclaimed Grosvenor Arms in the delightful west Cheshire village of Aldford, a stone’s throw from the Duke of Westminster’s Eaton Hall estate, where Alfred Waterhouse’s gothic chapel clock tower looms over the treeline like a relocated Big Ben.

Though it’s said that the old Duke dined at the Grosvnor Arms (like the Grosvenor Hotel, Pulford, the work of prolific local architect John Douglas) amid great ceremony in bygone times, the striking Victorian hostelry was closed an in a sad state of repair, damp musty and unloved, when Jerry and Graham first looked at it.

They drove a hard bargain - so much so that the then leaseholders, Allied Lyons, ended up paying the pair £60,000 to take if off their hands - but many people still thought they were ‘bonkers’ to invest so much on a site with such a history of failure.

Today, however, the Grosvenor Arms is anything but the ‘white elephant’ it was once perceived to be and consecutive entries in the Good Food Guide since 1995, accolades in the AA Pub Guide, Michelin Pubs Guide and the Good Beer Guide are testament to its popularity.

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Despite its size, we found the place buzzing at lunchtime on a bright, cold late autumn day and awarm ambience pervading the various rooms with their familiar B&P trappings of pot plants, eclectic furniture, bookcases and galleries of framed pictures, photographs and prints. We chose a table in the big, sunny conservatory overlooking charming patio and garden areas in their rich, autumnal colours, and perused an ambitious menu of mainly traditional British dishes. There is a familiar thread running through the menus of Brunning and Price pubs, but no two are quite the same and, as aformentioned, the Grosvenor has an enviable record of pleasing not only the crown but the critics...this one included.

I started with pan fried scallops with cauliflower purée, curried velouté and lime oil (£9.95), as sophisticated a combination of deliciously harmonious flavours it’s possible to imagine with such a delicate ingredient as scallops. Beautifully presented, the colours sang and the saucing absolutely complimented the perfectly cooked, fleshy shellfish.

Mrs K chose Thai crab ‘bon bons’ with lime and chilli marmalade (£7.95) and declared it another winner (the usual plate swap provided mutual confirmation). The ‘bon bons’ in reality crab cakes fashioned into balls were top notch and the accomanying sweet-sour-citrus marmalade provided an excellent foil.

The one hiccup of the afternoon - a 40 minute wait for the main courses owing to a mix up at the pass - was soon forgotten once they arrived. My pan-fried duck breast, sliced thickly and served pink over a puy lentil, red pepper and chorizo casserole with butterbean purée (£16.25) was a real autumn treat. The duck was just-so, well flavoured and made an excellent marriage with the garlic and smoked paprika richness of the casserole. Mrs K’s ultra-generous pork fillet, served with sage braised pork belly, colcannon and pancetta croquette, baked apple and sauce (£16.50) was an equally fine combination of excellently crafted ingredients delivering hearty flavours. The side portion of chunky chips (£3.50) was exemplary.

We rounded off with a chocolate sharing plate (£8.50) comprising a meltingly fabulous choclate pecan tart with salted caramel sauce, silky white chocolate panacotta with passionfruit sauce and lovely mocha chocolate meringue. From a commendably approachable wine list, we chose glasses of Tiera Sauvignon Blanc from Chile (£3.25 for 125 ml. £17.95 the bottle) and I followed with a large glass of excellent Cru Beaujolais from the village of Chiroubles (£7.50 for 250ml).

The Grosvenor Arms, Chester Road, Aldford, Cheshire CH3 6HJ. Tel: 01244 620228.