The 39 Steps, Styal restaurant review

The 39 Steps Restaurant, 4 Altrincham Road, Styal SK9 4JE. Tel: 01625 548144,

The Victorian apprentices at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, were treated kindly, but I doubt they ate as well as the patrons of The 39 Steps, a few hundred yards from the neat cottages where the mill workers once lived.

The restaurant, next to the Ship Inn just off the B5166 three miles outside Wilmslow, opened under its latest name in 2002 and changed hands last September. It's now owned by chef Duncan Poyser (ex-Obsidian) and front-of-house man Jon Rebecchi (ex-Bridge Hotel, Prestbury), who met when they worked together at the Alderley Edge Hotel.

They have created a busy, intimate atmosphere, with traditional white linen covering the tables ranged in an L shape around the small room. You have to climb a few steps to get into the place, so not ideal for wheelchairs, and then descend from a little balconied half-landing to your table, allowing a dramatic entrance, in the style of Shirley Bassey or Morecambe and Wise, according to taste.

It was full on a recent Saturday night, mainly diners of an age to know who Shirley Bassey is. None of us looked as though we were heading into town later for a night of skate-punk, grime and techno.

After a delicate savoury appetiser, I went for the set dinner, �25.50 for three courses (offering three choices per course, but no vegetarian main course), while Chantal ordered a la carte. The starters were fine, warm gateau of salmon, sea bass and monkfish with chive butter from the set menu, and goat cheese fritters on sweet and sour red onions with parsley salad and Cheshire honey (�8.50), although the fish could have been a little firmer.

No qualms about the main courses, though, especially Chantal's roast fillet of aged Cheshire Charolais beef with braised oxtail mash, confit of mushroom and Burgundy 'five hour' sauce (�22.50). Uncle Harry the butcher always said that meat is sold too fresh nowadays, and when you taste beef that has been hung for a week or two, you see his point. The flavour is so much deeper, the meat more tender.

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A huge lamb shank, slow cooked and basted with honey, rosemary and grain mustard was almost as good, with sweet roasted root vegetables and a rich, dark gravy. Chantal also won the pudding prize, with a 39 Steps lemon meringue pie and lemon sorbet (�5.50), so good I wasn't allowed to taste any. Instead, I had a hot Clementine souffl� and vanilla ice cream.

The 39 Steps has a strong wine list of around 80 bottles, starting with house wines at �15. Our Fleurie Les Vignes Vial 2005 (�21) was fruity and elegant. With pre-dinner drinks and coffees, the bill was �92.30, probably a few years' wages for those 19th-century apprentices, but Styal is on the edge of Cheshire's golden triangle, and the food is very good, substantial enough for any traditionalist but prepared with enough flair and originality to please the gourmand.

The 39 Steps is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, Sunday for lunch only, and closed on Mondays.

The 39 Steps Restaurant, 4 Altrincham Road, Styal SK9 4JE.

Tel: 01625 548144,

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