Just a hop over the Cheshire-Shropshire border, Whitchurch is a tiny, upmarket market town with a tempting selection of independent retailers surrounded by lush, green countryside. It’s also the home of Docket No.33, a very fine restaurant, run by chef patron Stuart Collins.

Stuart trained under so many of the current greats - Gary Rhodes, Michael Caines MBE and Gordon Ramsay – it's no surprise his food is just fabulous. You may already have enjoyed his food, indeed, as he held the executive chef role for Michael Caines at the opening of the Abode Hotel in Chester. Stuart’s food is inspired by his travels across the globe, and by an understanding of what people actually want to eat. As we worked our way through an outstanding 10-course tasting menu (on a Saturday lunchtime, no less), it quickly became clear that there was nothing ‘avant garde’, or just plain weird, on the menu, which is rarely the case when a top chef lets rip on so many courses. When Stuart came out to chat to the diners, I asked him if this was a deliberate decision. “I just want people to have a really great time,” he explained, “so I make sure the food is all relatable.”

It was the same focus on customer happiness that led to adding a Saturday lunchtime tasting menu, a treat more usually reserved for weekend evenings only. Again, Stuart explained that they tested it, gently, in the months after lockdown, and were soon selling out for every service. It seems those of us who see staying in as the new going out simply adore the opportunity to discover incredible food, and still be in bed at a reasonable hour...

Great British Life: Potato, golden ale, cucumber, dillPotato, golden ale, cucumber, dill

Our meal opened with tiny, pop-it-all-in-at-once soft diced potato wrapped in a fine beer batter, with teeny tiny pops of cucumber and a dill oil, with popped barley on top. Salty and creamy and crispy and unctuously delicious, I could have even a platter full.

Next, the mysteriously described chickpea, chicken, saffron, chive. This is in fact Docket No.33’s signature dish, on the menu consistently since Stuart developed it, due to customer demand. He creates chickpea chips, which are in effect rectangular croquettes of smooth, creamed chickpea, which he then deep fries and rolls in his own chicken salt, a condiment he discovered in Australia, and then refined to create his own version. These little wonders are then to be dipped in a chilled cream cheese enhanced with saffron, for a taste and texture and mouthfeel sensation that makes Whitchurch feel like a town worth visiting every weekend. Just glorious.

Great British Life: White onion, smoked bacon, thyme, spring onionWhite onion, smoked bacon, thyme, spring onion Course three was the Docket No. 33 cuppa soup – a light white onion soup in a cup, served with a tiny duck muffin. Yes, it was absolutely as good as it sounds. Next came perhaps the most cheffy of dishes – celeriac, buckwheat, egg yolk, celery. This was in fact celeriac several ways – a puree, a glaze, braised and confit, with a fistful of frisée on top, dusted with a liberal serving of grated cured egg yolk and popped buckwheat. It barely touched the sides, as my dad used to say as he threw a biscuit to the dog. Soft sticky confit, smooth cool puree, crunchy, slightly bitter frisée and, oh, the egg yolk. All the flavours, all the textures, just bliss.

Great British Life: Chickpea, chicken, saffron, chiveChickpea, chicken, saffron, chive We moved next to our first meat dish – pork, black pudding, apple, mustard seed. A fine terrine-style slice of soft-as-soft pork, layered with black pudding and served with soft apple puree and crunchy mustard seeds. I think I actually may have inhaled mine, it disappeared so rapidly. Honestly, Stuart’s food does nothing for one’s table manners.

Next came a dish I was unsure of on reading: tenderstem, Jerusalem artichoke, miso and parsley. Wow – can that man cook veg. The broccoli was at perfection point, firm without being raw, the artichokes were made into crisps and the miso was presented as a fine puree, alongside a walnut and kale pesto, all sitting in an incredible turnip butter sauce. So many contrasting flavours, but it all hung together just beautifully. A genius dish.

The main meat dish, seasonal venison, with endive, swede and cocoa. The meat was the prettiest of pinks, dusted along its edge with cocoa, and served with a venison sausage and salt baked swede, draped with the most incredible red wine sauce I have ever tasted. My table manners were intact enough not to lick the plate, but it was a close call.

Great British Life: Orange, dark chocolate, mandarin, CointreauOrange, dark chocolate, mandarin, Cointreau A selection of British cheeses, optional but snapped up by Mike, came next – Finn, a brie-style soft triple-cream cheese; Golden Cenarth, a soft cheese from Wales; Pavé Cobble sheeps cheese, from Somerset; Appleby’s Cheshire, made in Shrewsbury; and Trefaldwyn Blue, a creamy blue cheese from mid-Wales.

Next – our pre-dessert. The ice lolly has become a fixture on Stuart’s tasting menu since his successful run on Great British Menu in 2021, where he made it to the national finals. It doesn’t remain the same, and ours was orange ice cream, with a mandarin and Cointreau glaze, all dipped in dark chocolate all dressed with mandarin and Cointreau puree. The best ice lolly ever. No contest.

Great British Life: Pineapple, passion druit, timur berry, vanillaPineapple, passion druit, timur berry, vanilla The main pudding was described as pineapple, passion fruit, timur berry, vanilla. What arrived was a perfectly balanced (not too sweet) vanilla sable, topped with a ring of passion fruit and mango cremeux, dressed with pineapple steeped in timur berry (a close relation to pink peppercorn) and dotted with passionfruit gel. After all the deliciousness that went before, I was sure this final course would be impossible to eat, but no, every spoonful led to the next delicious spoonful.

Mint tea, accompanied by Stuart’s handmade pick’n’mix (truffles and fruit jellies) was the final perfect finishing touch to a simply outstanding meal. We made our stately progress home, replete with the very best of food, and smug in our discovery of a new ‘highly recommended’ restaurant to share.