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Restaurant review: The Palm Court Restaurant, Chester

Twice-baked Black Bob extra mature cheddar souffle, candied walnut, crisp celery and compressed apple. (c) John Allen Photography
Twice-baked Black Bob extra mature cheddar souffle, candied walnut, crisp celery and compressed apple. (c) John Allen Photography

Val and John Allen dine out on classic cuisine with a contemporary twist, and desserts so good they had to try five

The Nelson Group of hotels and inns already have form with us. We have eaten for many years at the Pheasant Inn at Higher Burwardsley and reviewed the Manor at Greasby earlier this year shortly after it opened to great acclaim. Visiting the Palm Court restaurant at the Grosvenor at Pulford was an opportunity to see if it too carried the creative consistency and ability to host a fabulous meal. Of course it could.

The Palm Court is a modern take on elegant dining, without the pomp and obsequious ceremony. The dining room, a beautiful and tasteful garden interior with imaginative, creative lighting and plenty of the eponymous palms, is inhabited by a highly professional front-of-house team.

Great British Life: The cool and contemporary Palm Court Restaurant at the Grosvenor Pulford. (c) John Allen PhotographyThe cool and contemporary Palm Court Restaurant at the Grosvenor Pulford. (c) John Allen Photography

I chose a glass of the house champagne, a light and elegant Laurent-Perrier, while we perused the wine list. There is plenty of opportunity to enjoy a good selection of wines by the glass, and the cellar is extensive, including some prestigious names as well as a solid mid range of excellent wines. A bottle of Bouchard Père et Fils Savigny-Lès-Beaune was an excellent example of one of my favourite Burgundies, a seductively ripe pinot noir. I was keen to see how a red wine would enhance our predominantly piscine preferences and am delighted to report it was a great success, harmonising with all our dishes, particularly the rich and well-flavoured hake bouillabaisse and the curried monkfish.

Great British Life: Smoked and poached salmon roulade, soused cucumber, baby radish, citrus aioli and lime and avocado puree. (c) John Allen PhotographySmoked and poached salmon roulade, soused cucumber, baby radish, citrus aioli and lime and avocado puree. (c) John Allen Photography

To start, we selected the gin-cured chalk stream trout with a crab rillette, lemon and caviar dressing, which proved to be a delicious chunk of hot, smoked trout, firm and full of flavour accompanied by crab rillettes in a crispy tart case that tasted as good as it looked, although I would have liked a little more crab. It gave the dish a good contrasting textural crunch and the lemon and caviar dressing gave tiny explosions of saltiness, enhancing the smoky trout perfectly. We also enjoyed the smoked and poached salmon roulade – a chunky and generous cylinder of salmon, redolent of smokiness and complemented by a citrus aioli and avocado pureé.

Great British Life: Sticky Asian belly pork, Pad Thai salad, toasted sesame and soy dressing. (c) John Allen PhotographySticky Asian belly pork, Pad Thai salad, toasted sesame and soy dressing. (c) John Allen Photography

This was followed by a gloriously sticky square of Asian belly pork with a pad Thai salad. The belly pork was cooked to perfection, just yielding to the fork with strands of imaginatively seasoned meat, tender and no hint of fattiness. The salad was light years away from the usual offerings, consisting of imaginative vegetables so finely sliced you could read the menu through them, providing contrasting crunchiness and moistened with a toasted sesame and soy sauce. Just for sheer devilment, we also ordered the twice-baked Black Bob extra mature cheddar cheese soufflé, which was utterly delicious and gave us a chance to recommend it to our fellow diners.

This kitchen is producing the best fish dishes I have eaten in a very long time. We enjoyed the pan-seared fillets of sea bass, moist with a well-seasoned exterior and deliciously crispy skin, accompanied by rosemary and garlic parmentier potatoes, topped by a tasty streak of caramelised cauliflower purée sitting in a herby sauce vierge, which refreshed the palate perfectly. The curried monkfish with a balance of subtle and aromatic spices, lentil dhal and onion bhaji with cucumber raita was absolutely stunning and I found the oven-roasted hake bouillabaisse to be the very best version of this dish I have eaten including those I have had in France. By a long chalk. The intense reduction of shellfish was full of flavour, the garlicky, saffron rouille was delicious and the clams, mussels and king prawn were cooked to perfection, as was the hake.

The slow-roasted blade of beef Bourguignon lived up to its clever, slightly deconstructed and stunning presentation. The criteria I have for all dishes is they live up to their visual impact and indeed this did. The glistening cylinder of beef was topped by myriad tiny roasted root vegetables and silver skin onions and bathed in a delicious smoked pancetta sauce. Buttery pommes purée begged to be scooped up and the wonderful flavours became united with one sweep of the fork.

All of these dishes have their roots in classic cooking with a contemporary twist that salutes the tastebuds. The recommendation of broccoli with fine French beans and a generous sprinkling of deep-fried shallots was a great accompaniment, as was a bowl of finely cut truffled fries with a dusting of parmesan.

Great British Life: Coconut mousse, amaretti and chia seed biscuit, mango and pineapple salsa and lime syrup. (c) John Allen PhotographyCoconut mousse, amaretti and chia seed biscuit, mango and pineapple salsa and lime syrup. (c) John Allen Photography

The desserts were unbelievably beautiful to look at and utterly impossible to choose from, so we tried five. We started with a coconut mousse that looked like a snowball, topped with a transparent snowflake made of a sophisticated process of sugar syrup, heated and reheated to precise temperatures. The contrast of the stickily soft mousse with the crisp sugary shell was fabulous. This heavenly creation was surrounded by the most exquisite assemblage of little dots of lime sauce interspersed with what looked like pot pourri but turned out to be shavings of fresh coconut, tiny rosebuds and fragrant fresh flowers with a mango and pineapple salsa. Something that looks this beautiful has to taste wonderful and it did.

Great British Life: Lemon and hibiscus flower cheesecake, creme Chantilly and raspberry meringues. (c) John Allen PhotographyLemon and hibiscus flower cheesecake, creme Chantilly and raspberry meringues. (c) John Allen Photography

On to a chilled chocolate fondant, with a white chocolate crumble and a tangy lime sorbet, tasting like a very sophisticated version of chocolate lime sweets we ate as children. Another dish of visual delight arrived containing little squares of lemon and hibiscus cheesecake with hibiscus syrup, crème Chantilly, shards of meringue and some delightfully tart pieces of freeze-dried raspberry, which contrasted well with the sweetness of the meringue. We followed this with a pistachio crème brulée which my husband declared was the best brulée he had ever tasted. A swift spoonful on my part confirmed his opinion. The pistachio flavour of the creamy base was superlative. And finally, I have to return to soufflés (one can never have too many in my view). The second of the evening was the most exquisite feather-light puff of banana enhanced by a caramelised base, a salted caramel sauce, a caramelised slice of banana and a blessing of banoffee ice cream. We subsided into a puddle of perfect repletion, finishing off with a wonderfully strong and aromatic coffee to set us up for the journey home.

Starters from £8.50 to £11.95, Main courses from £18.50 to £37.95, Desserts from £7.95 to £9.50.

Wines from £5.50 by the glass and from £25 for a bottle. Our 2019 Bouchard Père et Fils Savigny-Lès-Beaune £58. The Laurent-Perrier champagne was £13 for a glass.

The Palm Court Restaurant at the Grosvenor Pulford Hotel and Spa
Wrexham Road, Chester CH4 9DG
01244 570560
grosvenorpulfordhotel.co.uk/dine

Great British Life: Will Richardson executive head chef. (c) John Allen PhotographyWill Richardson executive head chef. (c) John Allen Photography

Will Richardson, the executive head chef of the Grosvenor Pulford has extensive experience across the board, from early beginnings in family-run restaurants, through a prestigious chain of pub restaurants to working under the Michelin-starred chef Paul Reid. He tells a lovely story of how his Greek grandmother would use precisely the same ingredients and the same processes, yet he still strives to achieve the effortless perfection of her cooking.

Great British Life: Amanda Astle head pastry chef. (c) John Allen PhotographyAmanda Astle head pastry chef. (c) John Allen Photography

Amanda Astle, the head patisserie chef creates her magical desserts with artistic flair married to a true ability to conjure up flavours and textures, not only for the restaurant but also for an extremely sophisticated and popular afternoon tea menu.

The food and beverage director of Nelson Hotels and Inns, Neil Armstrong, and Jamie Leon, group executive head chef, form a strikingly collaborative team. It was enlightening to watch how creativity and consistency is key to an innovative and modern way to run a collection of diverse hotel and pub restaurants. The support and respect for their staff is mutual in the way they discuss all aspects of the food with everyone, listening to constructive comment and feedback, then moving forward with the ideas having taken shape in the form of this delicious menu.

(((use both pics side by side))) Will Richardson executive head chef

Amanda Astle head pastry chef

Photos: John Allen Photography

johnnallenphotography.org / Instagram: @johnallenphotographyuk



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